This article was first published on PetrolPlaza, March 2, 2021.
Q&A with Angela Wisdom, Executive Vice President of Global Sales at Leighton O’Brien and a leading industry software executive. Angela provides insights on key forecourt technology trends and the value for fuel retailers and c-store owners.
Q: How is the c-store industry shaping up for 2021 and beyond?
Across the globe we’ve learned that we have to do more remotely and with ‘less touch’ without impacting the customer experience. To achieve this c-store owners are embracing technologies both in-store and on the forecourt to drive efficiencies and really add value for the customer.
Take for example recent innovations at the pump. You can now market to and interact with your customers through digital media and loyalty rewards at the dispenser to lure them in-store to make frictionless purchases.
From a forecourt compliance and maintenance perspective, the rise of smart, connected alarms to reduce the ‘noise’ and alert network operators to key issues like sudden fuel loss, water in tanks, drifting meters or stuck ATG probes across 1,000 locations without stepping foot on site has reduced the need for service technicians by up to 80 per cent.
I think this is the future of our c-store environment and given the wave of change from the pandemic, we will never go back to a high touch economy.
We’ve also seen a huge emphasis on high margin food service offerings. If you do it right and do it well customers will keep coming back. This played out during the pandemic when grocery stores didn’t have the necessities we needed so we went to a c-store instead.
There will always be a place for the corner store; they’re our ‘easy button’. As long as they continue to evolve and provide a great customer experience.
Q: What’s keeping fuel retail managers up at night?
Invest now or later? COVID-19 taught us that we don’t necessarily know what’s coming next or what governments are going to do. C-store owners are questioning whether to continue to invest in technology and infrastructure or do they save for a rainy day.
There’s also a misnomer because of past experiences that technology implementations – especially in the back office – are long, painful and expensive. Cloud software solutions today are flexible, light, low cost, easy to implement and make a big impact.
Fuel quality. It’s a big concern for UST operators who want to protect their underground investment and brand reputation. No one wants to be the c-store that sold contaminated fuel that’s damaged their customer’s vehicle.
It can be quite a reactionary response, but operators should be asking themselves do they actually know what their fuel quality is like, is it being tested regularly and are they taking the necessary steps to avoid long term damage to the tank like corrosion which becomes a very expensive fix.
So getting on the front foot and proactively monitoring your fuel quality, preventing water intrusion and having your tanks cleaned is really key.
Attracting and retaining staff. It’s a perennial challenge that was accentuated during the pandemic. C-stores can be seen as high-risk workplaces with low pay, and when you add in COVID and being face to face with customers it’s easy to understand why someone wouldn’t just take a job at a fast food place down the road. Then you’re dealing with the leave policies around that if an employee gets COVID.
Being a c-store employee is a hugely under-appreciated role because it was a very frontline job during the pandemic, but they weren’t seen as frontline heroes.
Q: What are some global best practices in wetstock and logistics management?
Artificial Intelligence. The key development is using Automated Intelligence in wetstock software to understand every litre of fuel and where it goes to prevent accounting write offs.
The analogy I always draw is think of fuel floating around in a tank as bundles of hundred-dollar notes. Imagine if you had 15 or 20 notes float out and fly off – you’d been panicking! The lost fuel results in a $20,000 write off each month. That is not and should not be the status quo.
With AI tools we can understand and pinpoint where every litre goes and why the losses occurred, which means a huge reduction in write offs.
Leighton O’Brien has been in business for 25 years and in that time we’ve worked with our customers to reduce their fuel losses from the tens of thousands, to the hundreds and now down to the litre by continually deepening the breadth and depth of our IP. Others have tried but can’t crack the code.
AI is also hugely beneficial in terms of the customer experience. For example, if your pump is over dispensing it’s bad for your business but if it’s under dispensing it’s bad for customers. It’s also illegal.
At Leighton O’Brien we make sure our fuel retail customers understand exactly where their fuel is going, which gives their customers peace of mind knowing they’re getting every drop of fuel they came to buy and that it’s flowing at the right speed. No one wants to stand there and pump gas any longer than they have to.
Before the advent of AI, it wasn’t uncommon for the wrong fuel to be delivered into the wrong tank, which can wreak havoc. Store operators wouldn’t know until a bunch of customers complained that their cars broke down because they filled up with diesel instead of gas.
Now with our intelligence and what we understand through our pinpoint monitoring of tanks, our delivery matching and cross delivery features can alert c-store owners if the wrong fuel is in the wrong tank and prevent it from happening – saving significant costs but also protecting the customer experience.
Real-time replenishment. The days of pulling up at gas pump with a bag on it are long gone. There’s too many ways to monitor when a fuel load is needed and the right time it needs to arrive at the site.
This is also really important from a customer standpoint because you never want to pull up to your favourite store and not get the fuel you need. It’s the number one complaint from customers.
With today’s tools you can determine exactly what, how much and when that fuel needs to be delivered and communicate that to all parties, digitally.
At Leighton O’Brien our VMI software tool provides visibility into inventory levels historically and projected demand to schedule optimal delivery timeframes so a customer never has an experience of coming to that store and not getting what they need when they need it.