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Generate a Plan

Think ahead to ensure your stores have backup generators when it counts

When a tropical storm begins advancing toward your stores, that’s the wrong time to begin thinking about securing backup generators. Just as the scene at grocery stores can be chaotic as residents hurriedly stock up on necessities ahead of a storm, unprepared retail facilities managers can find themselves competing for a dwindling supply of backup generators when severe weather is expected.

“It’s important every retailer has a plan, to not reach the point where there is a failure due to a severe weather event or even a random power outage and then have to scramble to find a backup generator,” said Brant Williams, Regional Sales Manager, Gulf South, for Sunbelt Rentals Inc. “If you don’t have a backup plan in place, it becomes a very stressful exercise for the retailer to try to find a generator.”

Tyler Cochran, the Southeast District Manager for Herc Rentals ProSolutions, said having a backup generator on-site can help to minimize risk for stores in the event of a power outage. Customers will need emergency lighting to safely exit the store, and they will expect a working HVAC system to keep the store comfortable as possible if an outage takes place when it’s hot or cold outside.

Backup generators also can ensure stores don’t have to discard frozen or refrigerated products due to a power outage lasting only a few hours. “A backup generator can save hundreds of thousands of dollars of inventory,” Cochran said.

For other retailers, renting a backup generator during emergencies makes more sense, but either way, it’s important to plan ahead. Here are some things to consider.

  • Have a site survey performed. Williams said it’s not uncommon for a retail store to request a generator and then discover the store lacks space to accommodate a temporary generator. A site survey performed by a generator supplier or electrical contractor will ensure the store gets a backup generator that is the right size and voltage and that the generator can be easily hooked up at the store. Facilities managers also will know whether they have a manual or automatic transfer switch and whether any emergency exits or high-foot-traffic areas will be blocked by electrical cables.
  • Determine your power needs. Facilities managers should decide in advance whether they want a large generator that can keep their stores fully operational during a power outage, or whether they can use a smaller generator that will only power some areas or some systems in the store.

“A facilities manager has to decide what functions of their business are critical to run 24/7 versus what’s not critical,” Cochran said. “A lot of stores have emergency lighting, so is it critical to run all of the lighting in your store in an emergency? It might be, or it might not be. You have to determine what business operations you want to continue without interruption.”

  • Have a fuel source lined up. Most generator suppliers like Sunbelt Rentals and Herc Rentals can provide fuel for their generators, but some retail facilities managers might prefer to use a fuel vendor instead. Make this decision ahead of time.

  • Act early. You can always cancel a generator delivery if your store emerges from a weather event unscathed. Williams said generator suppliers will almost always be able to find a backup generator for a store, but those who wait might have to secure one from several states away, leading to significantly higher transportation costs.

“If severe weather is coming your way, the sooner you commit to renting a generator, the more cost-effective it is based upon transportation,” Williams said. “The longer you wait, you risk less inventory and decreased ability to deliver the generator to your store. If there’s massive flooding, we’re not going to be able to deliver to your store. But if you order 72 hours before an event, I might be able to have that generator there today.”

Some retail chains are entering into contingency plans with rental companies that provide them the right of first refusal for a certain number of generators in the event of an emergency. There is a recurring cost to reserve those generators, but when a severe storm hits, it often proves to be money well spent.

•  Perform proper maintenance. Cochran said stores should test their generators regularly to ensure that they are working properly and should schedule regular maintenance with their suppliers. “We recommend running them for an hour each week to make sure that it’s actually a functional piece of equipment, because if it’s not, then it’s not a backup,” he said

By: Nick Fortuna

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