According to the experts, many forecourt retailers are not using their epos systems to their full potential. Steve Watts, sales director at Torex Petroleum and Convenience, is one of those experts. He says: "We have been working hard with our customers to ensure that reducing queues and increasing margins are top of the agenda. We have been holding free consultative reviews and have achieved some remarkable results. It has proved that, where the functionality allows, by using their epos to manage their business rather than just to add up numbers, it can significantly improve margins and increase customer spend."

Watts says he is aware that many smaller forecourt traders do not use advanced epos systems and still spend valuable time manually managing stock levels, monitoring the shelf life of consumable goods and keeping an eye out for theft.

"This is a time-consuming and costly process, leaving more room for human error," he says. "One key area where forecourt traders can get more out of their epos systems is stock control. Automatically tracking and analysing sales can reduce the administrative headache, and help owners to maximise sales."

Obviously some systems can do a lot more than handle stock: "Some epos systems can help reduce theft, combining CCTV and epos scanning to give stores a visual record of each transaction, with details of the scanned item superimposed on the screen. Managers can ensure they know when an item doesn’t get scanned. Integrated CCTV functions mean a live feed from the camera is streamed directly to the epos screen to allow staff to monitor what’s happening in store without turning their backs on the shop floor."

Watts adds that the Torex OP, a standalone outdoor payment terminal allows "unrivalled flexibility and control of the forecourt throughput".

"This means that when customers need to ’splash ’n’ dash’ they can. Likewise when customers want to browse and purchase shop goods they can without the pressures of either holding up traffic on the forecourt or being delayed by endless queues."

Top 50 Independent forecourt MRH (GB) Ltd, has implemented Torex Iridium Pos and Torex Prism SQL for Back Office across 220 of its sites. The Torex systems were chosen to help business development, giving head office a holistic view of fuel sales, operator performance and the ability to improve convenience retail across the board.

MRH needed flexible and scalable IT systems in place to support its growth strategy. It operates Jet, BP, Esso, Total, Texaco, Shell and Pace petroleum fuel brands, and also supplies fuel to 140 independent retailers under the Pace brand. Torex is able to link the organisation to each of these separate fuel brands, giving them insight and control of stock and sales.

The Torex solutions were also chosen to help MRH make use of all retail space across its sites, enabling it to boost convenience sales, while giving head office the ability to view and track sales. The automation of manual tasks should reduce the amount of reporting administration across the organisation, increasing the amount of time operators can spend with their customers generating sales. And head office can now also look at customer spending trends across each site and recommend seasonal variations and special offers to help boost sales.

The implementation of Iridium Pos and Prism began in October 2009 and was completed in June 2010. Torex worked closely with MRH to provide on-site training for staff.

John Lynn, managing director at MRH, comments: "As the fuel industry changes and customers’ requirements change, we have implemented a plan to transform our sites to optimise sales generation and encourage business growth. It has been essential for us to have powerful and reliable epos and back-office systems to support our development. Torex has proved to be a valuable partner, providing us with powerful tools that allow us to be flexible as we grow the business. The improvements brought by the new technology will help us develop stronger and more successful sites, while offering a range of petroleum and convenience goods that more accurately meet the needs of our customers."

Baljit Tank, managing director of Indigo Retail Technology, reckons there is a case for some retailers to undergo refresher epos training. "We offer this free of charge so that areas of the software that could be used, or could be used better to help the business operation, are identified," he says.

One of Indigo’s customers is Mark Callaway, who uses I-Store at Bathway Services in Somerset. He believes that access to real-time data is essential and uses the sales reporting to understand trends and investigate where spikes and dips in sales figures occur. Mark is also a great fan of the promotions tool in I-Store which enables him to manage all types of promotion from ’buy-one-get-one-frees’ to meal deals.

Last month, Indigo launched I-Bos a Windows-based head-office management solution for retailers, whatever the size of their network. It has been designed to ensure longevity, speed and ease of use, great functionality and third party interface capabilities. Key features include multi-user access for control of retail pricing throughout the network, full promotions management and supplier interfaces.

SK Fuels will be the first retailer to install I-Bos. Managing director Solly Patel says: "The pricing and promotions functionality within I-Bos is exactly what we need to help us grow our business. The electronic link with P&H and Jet will enable us to ensure optimal pricing at all our Jet/Mace-branded stores and with I-Bos being true real-time and multi-user, we’re maximising efficiencies now and for the future."

Tank says software development is key to the future-proofing of any epos system. "We invest heavily in development to ensure that our solution is compatible with banking and government guidelines such as PCI and that enhanced functionality requests by our customers are delivered in a timely manner. As with the remote support of I-Store, new releases are installed via broadband and, as well as upgrading the software, we download supporting documentation onto the customers’ desktop so they know what new functionality they have and how to use it."

Indigo has also just developed I-Loyalty, a simple points-based loyalty card scheme which can be branded by the retailer. As well as giving their customers discounts it provides the retailer with valuable customer information for demographic analysis and future marketing purposes. It is currently on test.

Operational efficiency

"Smart service station operators are acknowledging the potential of operational efficiency that helps combat the pressures of declining retail margins," says HTEC chief executive officer Paul Cooper. "They are selecting and implementing epos systems that give them the lowest possible total cost of ownership without compromising the robustness and resilience they need to run a demanding forecourt environment.

"High-speed management tools can provide detailed data on every single transaction, from nozzle lift to payment, offering real-time wet-stock control and analysis modules, including tank gauge data, automated pump price changes and monitoring.

"Systems need to be industrial strength yet user-friendly, enabling quick and efficient staff training, important in an industry with high staff turnover."

Cooper says service and support are things forecourt retailers need to carefully consider. HTEC provides a fully-manned technical help desk offering full remote support with hours customised to meet retailers’ requirements.

Meanwhile, Tokheim FuelPos and its various peripheral services are installed in over 30,000 sites worldwide.

Paul Cooper, business development manager for systems at Tokheim UK, says FuelPOS is a "user-friendly, touch-screen pump control and epos terminal that can offer full control of any modern filling station".

On-site controls are enhanced by the interface to all pump manufacturers’ products and tank gauges, along with major oil company card terminals. Integrated credit and fuel card schemes have also been developed to allow a single system to operate card transactions without the extra clutter and "finger troubles" that can occur when using a third-party card terminal.

Store promotions and promotions linked to fuel/car wash sales also enhance the margin generation demanded by today’s forecourt retailers.

Cooper says margin improvement is addressed by the use of Tokheim’s own back-office system. The Flow control system offered by Tokheim’s subsidiary company, Background 2, allows all aspects of wet and dry stock controls to be managed on site with onward reporting to head office and links to accountancy solutions as required.

"The combination of FuelPos and Flow from one company allows for a "one-stop shop and support" concept which is essential to keep forecourts operating efficiently. Remember, systems are more involved than ever. Gone are the days of an engineer visiting a site to do a "warm start" or change boards in a control box.

"While there may be some sites still operating on this basis, the product range from Tokheim can be remotely diagnosed and fixed online allowing more site ’up time’ for profit earning."

Cooper says that over 94% of Tokheim calls are resolved online without the need for an engineer visit. "As legacy systems become harder to repair due to the lack of useable spares, an increasing number of business-savvy retailers are looking to Tokheim to supply their site control needs," he comments. "By using the latest eMis programme FuelPos can report stock variations, price changes and send alerts via SMS or email for specified events that may occur on remote forecourts. Remote reporting is becoming an essential tool for operators of groups of sites. These Tokheim solutions enable an efficient site operation. Imagine, for instance, that as a site owner you are away on business or even on holiday, you can be alerted if the tank stocks are low, the sales of car wash are lower than usual or even if a pump or site service hasn’t been used for a few days. EMis and Petrol Manager can be employed over an internet connection to allow site management, fuel price changes, wet stock management, alerts and reporting."

Finally, epos systems can provide retailers with other services such as contactless payment, Chip & PIN and PayPoint in the terminal. Torex’s Watts comments: "Touch-and-go card payment systems reduce the time it takes to process transactions, which will cut checkout queuing times as well as payment costs for retailers. An integrated PayPoint system also gives the retailer more space on the counter, speeds up transactions and reduces the risk of theft as the retailer has less reason to turn away from the customer.

"Ultimately, there are still many forecourt traders who don’t make use of the full range of additional functions within epos systems. Those that do are more equipped to cater for the products and services that customers want from their local petrol forecourt, ensuring a better customer experience and boosting sales for the business."