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New London, Ont. service site breaks away from the competition

Screen Shot 2020-07-06 at 12.24.09 PMOperator Harsha Nimrani is making a strong play with the opening of her latest business in London, Ont. Nimrani’s winning hand includes her partnership with Greenergy Canada and its Breakaway brand as well as her development of an innovative new car wash that uses state-of-the-art technology. Already, she operates five other fuel and vehicle service sites in Ontario with a variety of gas brands, but this is her first with Breakaway and she is enthusiastic as the facility opened this January.

Screen Shot 2020-07-06 at 12.25.00 PMNimrani reports that after coming to Canada in 2012 the family got involved with the service station business when her husband took on a job as an accountant at a location in Mississauga. “My husband and I agreed after our children were born that we needed to get into businesses of our own. We had experience with gas stations so there was a natural fit. My first location was in Niagara Falls and now I have five sites in Ontario and we are looking at two more this year,” she says commenting that she brings a background in banking and real estate to the business.

Development on Nimrani’s new London Breakaway station began last September and lasted five months with the opening in mid-January. What Nimrani has on offer is a triple threat site with c-store, gas bar and car wash. Under the Breakaway canopy, her new business features six gas dispensers with two diesel pumps. Fuel is provided by Greenergy, a growing supplier that launched Breakaway in 2018 and Inver in 2019.  The c-store and gas bar are branded as a Breakaway location and comes with all the bells and whistles such its signature hockey-themed look and feel and promotions in the c-store and under the canopy. Majestic Auto Wash features a 90’ tunnel Fusion Process wash as well as detailing area.

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“This site was previously a Shell,” says Nimrani. “When we looked at this location we had interest from both Mobil and ESSO, but after our research, we decided to go with Greenergy and Breakaway. Early on we saw that they could do more for us and would be a more willing partner in our success,” she says, mentioning that the simple fact that Greenergy staff just pick up the phone when she calls was a big improvement over her experience with other fuel brands.  “Breakaway gives us the flexibility to price match on fuel. This is important to us. We are competing as the best price option in this market and are selling 17,000 litres of fuel each day. It is the fuel quality and price that gets people onto our site where we can sell them other goods and services such as car wash and convenience products.”

Screen Shot 2020-07-06 at 12.23.44 PMHere, Nimrani mentions the Breakaway c-store and points to the business as a key aspect that drives the location’s success. The c-store kiosk is approximately 200 square feet and is replete with sports themes throughout. “Canada is hockey crazy. We saw this theme as highly attractive to our target market here in London,” she says, noting that Breakaway’s hockey-theme makes their site stand out from the competition in a tough local market.

Screen Shot 2020-07-06 at 12.23.56 PMThe car wash is yet another key point of market differentiation and innovation. Nimrani went with a Fusion Process system from Diamond Shine and Sonny’s. “We turned to Washlinks for advice and came up with this new system that is the first in Canada. The tunnel can clean 90 cars an hour with a staff of seven or eight on the crew that handles detailing as well.” She reports that their Majestic Auto Wash offers four clean packages – Ace, King, Queen and Jack. “Every gas fill gets a free ‘Jack’ wash,” she says mentioning the basic exterior service. Products such as their King wash with interior and exterior clean is $60 and the basic with an interior clean is $36. Customers can choose between a monthly subscription for $29 or an a la carte offering where they can add on services such as tire and rim cleaning.

Helping to drive wash business is a dedicated app for payments, loyalty program and promotions. “We went with ICS for this system and have found that our growth in this area is very good. The app allows us to better know our customers and their preferences and it makes it easier for customers to access our services. Already we have more than 1000 customers signed up to our club membership and expect this to grow to 5000 customers over the next several months as more people learn about us.”

Screen Shot 2020-07-06 at 12.25.20 PMIn the wash, Majestic’s Fusion Process system offers six-stage cleaning, a step up from the usual four stages typically found in most wash tunnels. It starts with a Fusion Bath designed to break the bond of surface contaminants with a specialty low pH detergent. Next is a Fusion Prime application, an ultra-low pH chemical coverage that preps the surface of the vehicle for better adherence of the upcoming sealant and makes the painted surfaces shine. The Fusion Rinse cycle is step three. Here a thin sheet of water with a chemical additive helps dissipate any remaining foam on the vehicle. This step clears out vehicle crevices and removes any left behind soap or hard water in preparation for the upcoming paint sealant. Fusion Seal is the next step. Fusion Seal is a paint sealant that, with the help of the Fusion Prime, bonds with the vehicle’s paint to capture the shine and smooth out the surfaces. The seal forms a glossy shell that protects the paint against UV rays and contaminants. Applying it in a stream of droplets ensures the chemical penetrates and completely coats all surfaces. The Fusion Wax cycle provides an additional layer of protection on top of the sealant that helps the vehicle retain the benefits of the full Fusion Process for longer. Lastly, the system applies Rain Repel, a glass specific step where finishing touch applicators are targeted at the glass surfaces of the vehicle and apply the chemical in a fanned spray. Once the Fusion Rain Repel is applied, water beads and runs off the glass providing additional safety and visibility in adverse conditions.

The Fusion system uses Sonny’s Bullseye backroom chemical storage and distribution system. Nimrani remarks that she likes the ease of calibration, lack of waste and total control over chemicals. “The environment is important to us. We already have water reclaim where we reuse 70% of the car wash water. We don’t want to use more chemicals than necessary and the Fusion system allows us to be very careful with amounts and its easier on our staff who don’t have to lift heavy pails and containers of detergents,” she says, noting that Bullseye features a cost measuring sight tube, instant cost per car analysis and easy product mix.

“Establishing a new site is always a challenge. There is much to do and much to learn. We were fortunate to have partners in the process that helped to take some of the bumps out of the road,” she says concluding that their upfront research, previous experience and leading suppliers helped them enter the London market with a winning hand.


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.