Don’t neglect the most visible part of your business—the forecourt.
By Roy Strasburger
“How did it get to this point?”
Have you ever experienced the situation when you are looking around and, suddenly, your eyes seem to snap into focus and you see the teetering piles of papers on your desk, dirt on the floor, shoes left out or abandoned cars in your front yard? I can go for days, if not weeks, in blissful short-sightedness, never noticing the untidiness and rubbish that often surrounds me.
(Note: To be clear, my wife is a very neat person. Any and all references to any type of mess are the sole responsibility of the author.)
The cleaning up is not difficult and, to be honest, it doesn’t take much time. The key is motivation. Once you have cleaned and tidied everything up you feel a real sense of accomplishment, and the “encouragement” that you have been receiving from the rest of your household to do something about the mess now becomes focused on a new project that needs to be done.
In retail, the inertia to “just let things be” contributes to a larger picture of neglect and untidiness. It is not intentional. It is incremental, and you don’t even notice that it’s happening.
I find that the area of a fuel and convenience store that suffers the most from incremental untidiness is the fuel forecourt. It is an interesting paradox because it is the most visible part of your business to the customer, but it is the area that you, the owner, look at the least.
Attention to the details on the forecourt declined when the gasoline industry went to being completely self-service and the attendant disappeared. The person now responsible for the upkeep of the forecourt is safely ensconced inside a building, whose interior is almost always more comfortable than being outside.
Sadly, almost all fuel retailers rely on their customers to tell them when something under the canopy is not working. The customer is the last person you want to see those kinds of issues.
You should look at your fuel site every day to see what needs to be done. Start with the basics, asking yourself, are the trash cans in good repair and empty, trash bags properly fitted, water buckets full and where they’re supposed to be and squeegees in the buckets?
Is there trash on the ground, are the decals on the pumps fading and need to be replaced, are the pump toppers properly fitted and do they have the correct signage, do all of the lights in the canopy work?
Check to see whether the security tape is in place on the fuel pumps, and closely inspect the credit card reader for skimmers or whether the front panels look like they have been tampered with. Are the hoses and nozzles clean and working properly? Are the safety brakes connected properly, and do you have working retractor cables? Is there paper in the credit card reader? Are all the electronic displays working properly?
If you have air and water dispensers, do they work? Is the emergency shutoff switch prominently visible? Are there paper towels in the dispensers? Do you provide gloves for people to handle the nozzles, and are they stocked?
Make a note of the more time-consuming issues that you need to address: Is the paint on the concrete or the poles starting to chip or crack, is the underside of the canopy dirty, does the concrete around the fueling positions need to be cleaned or power washed? Are there oil stains? Is there gum stuck to the concrete?
This type of inspection should be done on at least a weekly basis if not daily. These areas create a lasting impression with the customer—for better or worse.
I highly recommend that you develop a checklist of all of the items that need to be inspected. Have the person on duty fill it out, take before and after pictures of the things that were fixed, sign and date the inspection sheet, and put the checklist in a specific location in the office. When you conduct your own inspection and you see something that is not right, look at the previous inspection reports to see if it was noted—or whether the inspection even took place. If the problem is not already listed, it is time for a counseling session with the team to explain to them how important this is.
Most of these repairs and maintenance items do not cost a lot of money, but they do take a lot of attention. Be sure to hold specific individuals responsible and accountable for getting the work done.
This is a different type of clean fueling, but it is as important to your business as the product itself.
Roy Strasburger is the CEO of StrasGlobal. For 35 years StrasGlobal has been the choice of global oil brands, distressed assets managers, real-estate lenders and private investors seeking a complete, turn-key retail management solution.