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Maximizing forecourt potential

Forecourt_Lg_032619Forecourt offers huge opportunity. Are you taking advantage?

Forecourt sales are all about creating positive first impressions. This is the view of Russell Large, a leading consultant in the convenience store sector. He views the forecourt as a c-store’s front yard and tells operators to take advantage of this prime piece of real estate beyond selling gas.

“Recently, many food establishments have switched to an almost exclusively ‘patio-based’ service model, and I think retailers are onto something,” he says, pointing to sites that offer smaller footprints with fewer staff and no formal layout. “With a little imagination, this is the forecourt of most gas/convenience sites. The trick for success is leveraging the time the customer is filling up, against something ‘fun’ for them to do while pumping gas.”

Here Large mentions Wayne’s interactive touchscreen pump topper. “The pump topper can be used to entertain while at the pumps with content, such as short funny YouTube clips, or used to direct customers into the store itself for specials or guide them to forecourt products, such as windshield cleaners.”

Interactive pump-side systems will soon use facial recognition software to address customers directly when they approach the fuel dispenser. “These systems would greet the customer and display specials that the system’s data has pre-determined a preference based on past purchases. Customers could be directed to an island pop display, propane cage or other area of the forecourt. Already we see prompts for car wash as pretty standard on most dispenser systems. Certainly, this capability is going to be enhanced as technology moves forward.”

 Large suggests that much like the bathroom in a restaurant, the forecourt or ‘front lawn’ of a gas/convenience store location speaks volumes about the service, or lack there-of, that awaits them inside. “A clean, well organized, fully stocked and innovative forecourt will eventually sort all the players out, as curb-appeal isn’t just for homes. You’ll need to have solutions in place for Millennials that want a frictionless interaction, and those that want good old-fashioned service. They are your future customers. Embrace the tech.”

Getting the service and product message out to customers is key to success at forecourt. Tim Walker runs Revin Media Inc., a marketing and brand strategy agency based in Mississauga, Ont. He suggests gas station customers need to be directed with clean simple design communications. “People are often overwhelmed at retail sites with not just marketing messages, but with cellphone communications and other inputs. Good communication cuts through the clutter and there are lots of places to do this at the forecourt,” he says, pointing to bollard sleeves and dispenser nozzles, as well as highly visible flags that can pull in customers off the street. “We have been seeing success with LED reader boards that display specials and other commercial messages in custom sizing tailored to each unique application,” he says.

At Vancouver Island’s Peninsula Co-op they have been working to streamline the forecourt in an effort to present sites with cleaner visuals and enhance curbside appeal.

“Investment in a clean, uncluttered exterior, good lighting, and appealing landscaping will draw people in,” says Tom Humphreys, petroleum operations manager, Peninsula Co-op. “More is not better. “The large fixed exterior merchandise cases full of oil and washer fluid that often sit between pumps or against the building are no longer what we want. We like a limited selection of oil and washer fluid on two-wheel rolling carts. These are easily moved into the store at close, easily refilled from back stock and much less inventory investment sitting outside.

At Breakaway gas stations, they too are paying very close attention to forecourt opportunities to add customer value and fuel retailer revenue. According to Veronique Murphy, VP retail & marketing at Greenergy Fuels Canada Inc., the company behind Breakaway, everything starts with research to drive effective marketing activities. “Once operators really know their customers—whether they are traveling to cottage country or motoring in a city-setting—they can make better seasonal forecourt product choices to address changing customer needs and, most importantly, effectively encourage them to go inside their Breakaway c-store and make more impulse purchases.

 “At Breakaway, we also use forecourt advertising as a powerful way to grow retailer revenue. Building on Breakaway’s unique hockey theme that pulls consumers into its bright and modern forecourts, we position advertising on pump toppers, nozzle talkers, feather flags, posters and dispensers. This multi-channel forecourt messaging is highly integrated with our in-store promotions and technology, such as our eye-catching hockey-rink styled mini jumbotrons, which get customer attention and increase sales.

“On full-service forecourts, Breakaway is also using technology, such as portable debit and credit card payment terminals, to enable operators to offer customers convenient and seamless car-window service,” she says, concluding that communicating the right messaging at forecourt generates tremendous opportunities.