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01/24/2022

Three trends to watch in c-gas

The pandemic is rewiring the convenience/fuel/car wash channel
Kelly Gray
Editor, Octane
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1. More reasons to stop at neighbourhood fuelling and convenience centres

As COVID-19 took hold, people quickly discovered a valuable ally in the fight. Multi-facetted neighbourhood convenience retailers were there with food items, fuel and a way to sanitize our cars. Convenience had never been so needed, and operators stepped up.   

According to Kendra Keller, VP, general manager, North America, Dover Fueling Solutions, “Customers recognize the margin on fuel varies, and that can’t be the only place to make money. Site owners are trying to find creative ways to drive an increase in revenue. They realize technology can help to increase customer loyalty and foot traffic, drive more in-store sales, lower the cost of ownership, and drive efficiencies at the site,” she says, adding that new products such as their innovative Anthem UX™ user experience platform promises to revamp the forecourt with greater connectivity between c-store and dispenser positions.

Petro-Canada operator Vinod Iddya agrees, suggesting that gas station operators have to think beyond fuel sales. “Times are changing, and customers need more reasons to stop in. Having a c-store with a strong food component and a branded foodservice marquee drives more business. A&W has a winning formula that helps create solid profits. And, customers understand the brand and trust it to provide quality menu items. When you team a trusted brand such as Petro-Canada with a well-known foodservice brand, great things can happen. I think success in this area is about trust. Good brands that deliver this trust are working to create great partnerships,” he says, adding that 70% of his business occurs at his foodservice drive-thru window.

2. In bay makes gains

In-bay rollovers can squeeze into a 40-ft. commercial space for a lot less upfront cost than going the full tunnel route. Consider that a full-scale tunnel operation can run close to $1 million (without land costs), while a compact in-bay rollover might be $300,000. A smaller footprint, lower acquisition costs and acceptance by motorists are behind the shift.  

Circle K moved away from touchless operations last year looking at soft touch friction systems at its sites, while 7-Eleven Canada offers both soft-touch technology and touchless options. This ability to provide choice has proven to be a good fit for 7-Eleven Canada as it expands its wash packages to more locations where in-bay is viewed as a perfect fit for the chain, given its typical placement in high population areas where space is at a premium. 7-Eleven locations utilize systems from Ryko and Mark VII

“The industry has seen a change in the in-bay area,” says Jamie Shaw, national car wash manager Canada, 7-Eleven Canada, Inc., “Customers used to seek out touchless systems because of concerns about paint scratches. Now, with new brush technology, there is no need for worry. One of our sites in an upscale Vancouver neighbourhood attracts a range of drivers using the soft-touch in-bay .”

3. HR continues to challenge

Keller points out that the bumpy business road caused by the pandemic continues to impact the fuelling sector. “We continue to see challenges in the business with extreme supply chain disruption and ongoing management of the impacts of the pandemic on our employees, customers and suppliers,” she says, adding that despite the challenges new technology is helping to keep operators on track.

On the car wash side of the business, the message is the same. The pandemic has reduced cohorts and made hiring more difficult.  

“Like almost every business in Canada, the car wash industry is feeling the effects of the labour shortage,” says Karen Smith, president of the Canadian Carwash Association. “It has been a difficult time keeping the washes staffed appropriately.  Managers, supervisors, maintenance and general workers are hot commodities in this market.

“Although many people want to blame the Canadian Recovery Benefit (CRB) and enhanced unemployment programs, there are other factors. Immigration of potential workers has decreased and many people have decided not to return to work rather taking early retirement. Many women have had to stay home for childcare reasons. You also have to consider some workers have been off work for so long, collecting government funding, that they have learned how to live on less money, and might be reluctant to come back to the structured work life. Employers have to figure out this mindset and come up with ways to make their workplace more enticing,” she says.

Smith is also compliance & training manager at Valet Car Wash. From her vantage point, she sees that operators might have to sweeten the pot to attract workers. “Money always talks but is not the only thing workers are looking for. Benefits, flexible schedules and paid time off are all things to consider. Workers are also looking for job security, a safe and healthy environment to work in, and a company that fosters advancement, care for their well-being and appreciation. It can be as simple as recognizing birthdays and milestones, job titles, regular communication on health and safety issues, good training and regular feedback.

“(At Valet) we have taken this concept of the employees come first, one step further and have implemented a program to help our employees achieve their goals and dreams. This is not a monetary program. We help the employees by recognizing their goals, dreams and ambitions and lead and assist them down a path to achievement they can call their own. Happy employees that feel respected and supported tend to stay with the company, and the word may get out," she says.

Originally published in the January February 2022 issue of OCTANE