CCentral-Main-logo-EN-trans

Convenience Central
Join our community
extra content
Forecourt_Innovation

Forecourt innovation

Fuel retail sites look to the future with product and service refinements

Forecourt_InnovationInnovation at Canada’s fuel site forecourts has been top of mind for operators since the first gas station opened in Vancouver in 1907. Back then, electricity to power pumps and flameless canopy lighting was considered the latest big buzz. Today, forecourts have solar power systems, interactive media, alternative energy fuels and systems that use less energy than ever. Innovation at forecourts is on-going as operators seek out ways to improve profitability on low margin fuel sales, meet ever-changing consumer demands and deliver on societal needs such as climate change.

Screen Shot 2021-02-16 at 11.28.11 AMIn Vancouver, Shell and Hydrogen Technology & Energy Corporation (HTEC) have built two hydrogen refuelling stations in the greater Vancouver area over the past couple of years in a move to reduce our carbon footprint. Now, 7-Eleven, alongside ESSO, will be offering hydrogen fueling at two sites of its own in the city, with a third coming to the Okanagan.

“The innovative hydrogen refuelling solutions we are building with HTEC continue to reduce our carbon footprint while meeting the evolving transportation needs of our customers,” says Norman Hower, VP & general manager, 7-Eleven Canada.

Electric vehicles (EV) use has been ahead of hydrogen in equipment placement. Companies such as FLO (AddÉnergie), IVY (Ontario Power Generation and Hydro One), and Chargepoint are helping to grow the market through partnerships with key industry stakeholders. For example, FLO has inked a deal with Canadian Tire to offer EV charging at locations across the country. Chargepoint, a company with 115,000 chargers worldwide, just announced an agreement with Volvo Canada to provide fast charging for its XC40 customers. 

Pump talk

Pompe Media is a Quebec based company that is bringing new merchandising tools to the forecourt. Pompe Media puts news, weather and other content such as c-store specials and promotions in front of customers as they fill their gas tanks. Currently, Pompe Media is partnering with Sobey’s and is present at 90 gas stations in Quebec. In addition, Pompe Media provides a new purchase experience inside the c-stores and is partnering with several hundred c-stores in Quebec including Circle K, Voisin, Bonisoir, and Beausoir.

According to Sylvain Béland, VP of development, Pompe Media, dispenser-top systems offer a 21.5-inch display screen that delivers content to motorists while they spend up to four minutes fueling. “The systems create the unexpected for the customer. They also create additional sales for operators who are telling us lottery purchases have increased by 15% to 20% thanks to the prompts from Pompe Media screens that get people into the store to buy merchandise.” 

Pompe Media joins others such as Bennett Pump, Gilbarco Veeder Root and Wayne Dover with new content laden dispenser systems.

Bennett Pump has come together with Gas Pump TV to bring more messaging to the forecourt. Similar to Pompe Media devices, standalone screens on top of Bennett dispenser units deliver customized content to thousands of fuel sites in the U.S.  

At Gilbarco Veeder Root, they have created a powerful media package with Applause TV, a system that works with their Encore dispenser platform. Gilbarco has teamed with NewsBreak Media Networks, a company that creates unique programming for both fuel and convenience channels. The new on-demand product is available with Encore Experience, a system that enables operators to customize what appears on-screen at Encore dispensers. Fuel customers can choose among news, weather, sports and other content instead of watching a linear content loop at the dispenser.

The new DFS Anthem UX (user experience) platform on the Wayne Ovation fuel dispenser features a 27-inch colour touch display, loyalty abilities and marketing opportunities delivered by a Microsoft Azure cloud-based platform. The Anthem UX will launch in the fall of 2021. The system will deliver personalized experiences in content and targeted advertising, right at the pump. The innovative platform has multi-language capabilities that allow customers to interact with equipment in their language of choice. Returning customers are recognized and can be offered products based on their purchase history, purchase a wash or receive marketing and loyalty messages that drive in-store business. 

The Anthem UX platform is built to perform in the harshest outdoor environments. The display is designed to operate across wide temperature ranges and consists of toughened glass with four to five times the durability of regular glass, while still responding to gloved finger touches. Keyless locks give easy access to the dispenser for maintenance while protecting against unauthorized access. And, it accepts contactless payment options for gas purchases, including Apple Pay and other digital wallet tools to protect your customers and your business.

Reducing enviro footprint

Screen Shot 2021-02-16 at 11.28.39 AMCanadians use a lot of windshield washer fluid. It is estimated we go through as much as 70 million jugs of the product each year. Now, EcoTank is offering a more sustainable solution to the massive plastic waste from fluid containers. 

EcoTank is a standalone dispenser that takes up just two square feet of forecourt space. Systems are low voltage and will be powered soon by individual solar panels. EcoTank uses gravity to pump windshield washer fluid to receptacles in cars.

According to Robbie Mair, president, EcoTank, they are piloting in the GTA and partnering with companies such as AirServe and UltraClear. He reports that the product got its start in the European Union, but EcoTank plans to manufacture in Canada.

Innovation in hand

Dispenser nozzles is another important area where constant innovation is key to success. For example, Husky, a leader in dispenser and fueling products and accessories for decades, has just released an upgraded three-quarter-inch nozzle exclusively through National Energy Equipment. “Canada became the first country to have this product rolled out nationwide,” says Ray Dugan, Husky Corporation regional manager. He reports that the CXS model features a comfortable lever design that requires half of the squeeze pressure to control the nozzle. “It is the only widely used nozzle in North America that complies with disability requirements regarding hand manipulation of an object. This feature, combined with other upgrades including the tilt poppet and stream shaper, makes a great forecourt impression.” 

OPW has not been quiet regarding new nozzle developments. OPW reports it has come out with new spout technology designed to enhance the fueling experience with a dripless gasoline nozzle. The new OPW 14E dripless spout is designed to keep gasoline from dripping on customers’ hands, clothing, and vehicles, not to mention the ground. According to OPW, the CARB ECO OPW 14E utilizes a unique interlock system inside the bellows to activate the flow of fuel.

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2021 issue of OCTANE.


Shutterstock

Gas price war attracts drivers on the hunt for savings

Shutterstock

Shutterstock

More than a few people driving through Barry’s Bay this past week had to do a double-take on the three large digital signs displayed by three local gas stations here. When most people in Ontario were paying $0.97/litre on average for regular unleaded gasoline, people filling up in Barry’s Bay were paying $0.88/litre.

“I usually get my gas where I get my smokes, at the Reserve in Golden Lake,” said Shayla Meek at MacEwen’s County Line Express in the heart of Barry’s Bay. “I usually pay about $1.47 for premium gas but today it’s $1.07 here. It’s even lower now than the Reserve.”

A few weeks ago, when MacEwen’s replaced the Esso branding at this Barry’s Bay gas station at the corner of Highway 60 and 62, MacEwen’s began driving down its local gas prices to attract new business. But in some ways MacEwen’s was only entering a price war that’s already been going on in Barry’s Bay for years. The Ultramar gas station, now managed by Jackie Chiang and located along Highway 60 in the east end of town, by all accounts had started a price war about six years ago. It left Barry’s Bay with one of the longest-running lowest average gasoline prices in the area — with one notable exception: The Golden Lake Reserve.

Or as one veteran of the gas wars in Barry’s Bay who preferred to remain anonymous said: “A big part of it is the Reserve. It is usually 6 to 10 cents below our average, but this (move by MacEwen’s) is the first time a Barry’s Bay gas station has undercut the Reserve.”

The real driving force behind the local price war begins with the usual seasonal change in the automobile gas market. The high summer volume of retail gasoline customers usually decreases by Labour Day or Thanksgiving at the latest, and so when the market grows quiet and there are fewer customers, particularly in rural, less populated areas, some nationally-branded gas companies tend to get more aggressive or as another keen observer put it, “They want to get a bigger part of that shrinking seasonal market, but with COVID this year, more people are staying around and so the fight is even worth more to them.”

Where local retail gas prices are set can also make a significant difference. In the case of Ultramar, Jackie Chaing says his prices are set each morning by his Toronto head office. The Shell Station, however, sets its own price locally. Either way, those prices are attracting a lot of out-of-town attention.

Richard Drydak arrived at the Ultramar in Barry’s Bay this past weekend to gas up for his return trip to Toronto.

“On my way up I gassed up on Hwy 11 north of Orilla, just outside of Barrie, where I paid $0.94/litre; that’s usually the least expensive Ultramar anywhere near Toronto, but when we saw the sign that said $0.88/litre, we said we’re going to stop here because you can’t beat that price!”

MacEwen’s and Ultramar gas stations in Barry’s Bay are also responding to the increasingly steeper competition now being offered up by the full-service Shell Station in Barry’s Bay located along Highway 62 on the edge of town. Unlike the other two Barry’s Bay gas stations that depend almost exclusively on their retail gasoline sales and retail store sales to make ends meet, the new Shell Station, owned and operated by Mark Stamplecoskie has, along with its gas pumps and robust retail store, a full-time licensed mechanic, a state-of-the-art car and truck wash, and a popular chip truck, a favorite with Madawaska Valley District High School students from across the street.

Michelle Recoskie, who works at Stamplecoskie’s Shell Station, says business is definitely up.

“We’re more busy because of the price.”

She used to co-own the Combermere Service Centre that gave up its gas pumps years ago. She understands why customers like the lower prices but she’s also quick to remind people that retail gasoline sales have a very thin margin for gas station owners:.

There’s no money in it.”

Still, she knows people will drive out of their way to get a good bargain, and Barry’s Bay gas prices are certainly a good bargain while they last. Take Alicia O’Brian who stopped by the Shell Station on the weekend.

“I live in Quadville,” she said. “I would normally get gas in Golden Lake, but when the price is this low here, I come here.”


Screen Shot 2020-07-16 at 2.19.38 PM

Forecourt’s new normal

COVID-19 has created tremendous change in the marketplace

Screen Shot 2020-07-16 at 2.20.39 PMCanadian convenience, car wash and gas businesses worked hard to keep staff and customers safe during COVID-19. Behind the effort has been a push from major retailers to enhance operational practices and from equipment manufacturers that sped design and production to meet the public health challenge.

Canadian Tire was an early adopter of PPE for customers. When the virus hit, Canadian Tire sites used disposable glove dispensers to help customers stay safe at its gas bars. At Petro-Canada and 7-Eleven sites, they didn’t offer gloves, but fuel dispensers came with a placard that asked customers to use paper towels to keep hands from touching gas dispenser nozzles. At 7-Eleven operators also changed how they handle cash. Certainly, customers can utilize the pay-at-the-pump features at the dispenser, but in-store, customers are asked to place cash on counters so that hands do not touch. When the sale is complete, staff sanitize the area ahead of the next customer.

Shell is another major that has taken action to safeguard staff and customers. According to Shell Canada spokesperson Kristen Schmidt, the company has installed plexiglass at payment counters, added floor signage to maintain physical distance, and enhanced cleaning procedures. “We also have the Shell app, available in the Apple app store and Google Play store, which includes Shell EasyPay. This is a secure and touchless way for customers to pay for their purchases at the pump or in-store. We recognize that customers may wish to limit interactions at this time and practice safe social distancing, which can easily be accommodated through Shell EasyPay.”

Other Shell initiatives include recommendations laid out by the World Health Organization and the Public Health Authority of Canada. Schmidt points to six key items.

Screen Shot 2020-07-16 at 2.20.06 PM

At Esso and Mobil stations the company worked alongside its independent branded retailers to ensure the customer experience was safe and convenient. Imperial Oil is present in the market with 21 fuel terminals and more than 2000 Esso and Mobil sites across Canada.

Screen Shot 2020-07-16 at 2.19.38 PMAccording to Jon Harding, public affairs advisor, Imperial Oil, Esso and Mobil service station personnel have been tasked to make sure sites in Canada are frequently cleaned and sanitized – from fuel nozzles to store countertops to door handles. “When at the pump, we encourage customers to leverage the mobile payment option through the Speedpass+ app to reduce contact with surfaces.  We also recognize the importance of and, where appropriate, are striving to provide services to essential service providers, such as truck drivers. Specific to cardlock sites, we enhanced our online Esso cardlock locator tool for truckers and made it easier to identify cardlock sites and call ahead for information about facilities.”

Help at hand

Like retailers and fuel distributors, equipment manufacturers have been quick to come forward with much-needed innovation. These products have greatly helped retailers keep up their guard on cleanliness and site performance.

Fixture fabricator Gorrie RCP, a frontline company that designs, develops, and builds tailor-made waste and recycling management products as well as amenity fixtures and merchandising displays, got to work early on a range of personal protection equipment (PPE) for staff at c-store, car wash and gas bar. According to Gorrie’s business development manager, David McLean, the company had to speed up production to meet the sudden demand.

“Normally we take about four weeks to design, engineer and manufacture a product. We cut that down to two weeks. Many of our customers are essential services and we had to get products to them to keep them safe,” says McLean mentioning that face shields were the first offering followed by hand sanitizing stations. “At first people were looking for temporary solutions, but as the challenge grew it could be seen that more permanent solutions were necessary. The COVID-19 crisis is one that will be with us for the next couple of years at least. We are seeing that consumer behaviours have changed and retailers need to offer a higher level of safety to make customers feel secure. Our teams are actively looking at not only what is needed now, but we have to look to the future for products that will be needed tomorrow as well as we continue to face great change in our society.”

Gorrie RCP offers a range of PPE that includes distancing signage, clear plastic partitions, sanitizer gels and hand washing stations as well as masks and face shields.

RTS Retail is another manufacturer that came forward quickly with protective equipment during COVID-19. According to Darren Norley, national accounts manager, RTS Retail, the company has been making protective gear for years before the novel coronavirus made itself known. One example is Citrus Wirx a line that has been helping grocery and convenience shoppers keep carts and baskets virus-free for years. Now, this product is at the front lines during the COVID-19 pandemic. “In the last three months we have seen demand soar for sanitary wipes and other items,” says Norley remarking that sales for things like Citrus Wirx have climbed 700% over the past three months. “We have been able to supply our regular customers with PPE, but even with three factories (Canada, US, China) demand was so great we had to step up production and it was a challenge to fully meet this increase.”

RTS Retail also offers Grab Wirx, a protective glove system that is ideal for gas stations where dispenser and windshield wiper handles can carry COVID-19. Grab Wirx dispenses up to 200 gloves in a touch-free environment. 

“We are seeing sectors such as grocery retail now preparing for future health crisis scenarios similar to the current COVID-19 problem,” says Norley. “They don’t want to get caught empty-handed again without proper PPE.  The cost is small compared to the size of the problem to business.”

McCowan Design and Manufacturing, a Canadian leader in-store fixtures and displays for convenience, gas bar and foodservice as well as a range of other retail environments, quickly added new virus safety-related products to their lineup. Helping staff work safe McCowan now offers acrylic screens for retail and service desk personnel as well as stands and supports for hand sanitizers.

The new hand sanitizer stands can accommodate a variety of hand sanitizer bottle sizes and can be set up as a freestanding or wall-mounted unit. Stands can also handle dispensers or bottles and stands come with the ability to lock sanitizer into place to prevent thefts. The acrylic screens are made using 1/4-inch acrylic sheets and come with a solid metal base. Overall size is 40” X 23” X 12” with a large 8.5” X 12” pass-through.

“The ways that convenience store and gas bars offer safety and protection to their customers tell people volumes about the overall service at hand,” says McCowan VP Anthony Ruffolo. “Having a prominently displayed hand sanitizer during these challenging times is a simple way to tell customers you value their business and you are a responsible community member. It’s not an expensive service add on and it says you care.”

Originally published in the July/August issue of OCTANE. 


IMG_5051

Esso: A new shopping experience

Esso revamps to meet changing consumer needs Read more