When businesses are trading in a difficult economic climate, it’s tempting to cut costs wherever possible, but scrimping on the maintenance of your forecourt could prove to be a false economy. Not only will a site start to look tired if basic maintenance isn’t carried out, your business could also be exposed to health and safety issues.
Dee Patel, a Budgens retailer and managing director of maintenance company Forecourt Facilities, says: "Scheduled maintenance is very important. If you don’t keep everything well maintained, you could get a lot of health and safety issues. Having an attractive forecourt is also more inviting for customers. Some smaller retailers are not doing enough to maintain their sites."
Phil Maud, managing director of Brulines Fuel Solutions, agrees: "Not doing certain scheduled maintenance such as electrical testing, vapour recovery checking and interceptor cleaning can mean you are trading in breach of your licence conditions. Other omissions can mean poor customer service and unnecessary losses and wastage.
"Forecourt retailers’ attention is, in the main, devoted to the shop, and sometimes they forget that it is the forecourt outside that actually brings customers into the shop," adds Maud. "Money is tight, but breaching your licence conditions isn’t acceptable and losing money through over-dispensing nozzles giving fuel away is not good in any economic climate."
Areas that need regular attention include pump meter checking and recalibrating, electrical system testing, vapour recovery checking, interceptor cleaning and fuel quality testing.
According to Maud. pump meters should be checked at least once a year, if not twice a year.
Dave Coombe, Gilbarco Veeder-Root’s managing director for UK & Ireland, says there is value to be gained from regular planned preventative maintenance to pre-empt potential faults. "Our experience indicates that overall downtime can be reduced through investments in predictive maintenance programmes," he says. "Remote management services can drive meter drift and flow-rate optimisation, while remote error code detection and alarm management ensures quick first-time fix status, and status checks pre-determine fault before attendance."
Pole sign, canopy and other external signage are the first things motorists see, and if poorly maintained, could mean the difference between a motorist pulling onto the forecourt or driving straight past.
Steve Martin, managing director of Xmo Strata, which specialises in sign installation and maintenance, says signs can’t just be erected and forgotten.
"Like gardens, they have to be tended, and if they’re not, they won’t grow old gracefully," he says. "Another reason is your bottom line, because bright, clean, sparkly forecourts attract more customers. If you don’t maintain, sooner or later you will have to repair, and the cost of ongoing maintenance is generally less than the deferred cost for repairs."
Unexpected call-outs are always more expensive than scheduled call-outs, and an effective service company will work with a retailer to reduce cost over time and ultimately ensure that sites always look their best. Martin says that by having a planned maintenance programme, the experts can pre-empt problems such as failed fluorescent tube lighting.
"Manufacturers won’t guarantee the life of a tube in advance because there are too many variants that can affect life from weather to usage patterns but by using historical data, a maintenance company can make educated assessments, which will be pretty close to the actuality. That means they can plan for a crew to arrive some time before the expected demise of the tubes, replace them at reasonable cost, and avoid the image problems and unexpected call-out cost resulting from tube failure. It’s not just fluorescent tubes, of course; it is everything from guttering to stanchions, and from canopies to sign fascias."
Planned maintenance is also vital for areas of the forecourt that can’t be seen. "An old canopy is rotting, for example, but this is not visible from the ground," says Martin. "Another problem could be the gutters being blocked with leaves that haven’t been cleared and a considerable weight of pooled water begins to build up, and the canopy starts to get top heavy. Or water seeping into live electrical wiring and panels that have been poorly maintained forecourt staff can’t see this, but suddenly there is the potential for a major incident involving life-and-limb risk to members of the public and site employees."
Following growing interest in CSC Forecourt Services’ Gutter Lining System, the company has introduced a Gutter Mesh Service to prevent leaves and debris gathering in gutters.
Fitted together, the gutter lining and mesh will help create maintenance-free gutters, eliminating the need for the usual cleaning and maintenance, risk of injury and associated liabilities, claims the company. Lorraine Binnie, sales and marketing manager at CSC, says: "Canopy guttering tends to be a problematic area and there are many issues faced by forecourt owners when gutters start to rust and degenerate. Holes begin to form allowing water through to the canopy. This can damage the undersheeting, lights and electrics, before leaking onto pumps and customers below.
"Our Gutter Lining System is far less costly than conventional replacement of gutters and it comes with a 20-year guarantee. The lining is seam-free and watertight; flexible so it can cope with movement of the canopy; and durable, not susceptible to weather damage.
"What has impressed our customers about Gutter Lining, is the speed and efficiency with which it’s fitted. In the majority of cases gutter lining works are completed within a day," adds Binnie. "Gutter Lining is fitted without the need to interfere with any part of the guttering or sheeting although generally fixings are replaced for good measure."
Retailers also need to pay particular attention to the actual groundwork not just the fixtures and fittings such as pumps, car washing facilities and signage. As Forecourt Facilities’ Dee Patel says: "Retailers should maintain the concrete and aco channels, which are a typical cause of a trip hazard, as well as the general painting and cleanliness of the site. A lot of groups are doing this but you do find some smaller retailers not keeping up with things because of budget constraints.
"Instead of being proactive about maintenance some companies are only being reactive because they’re having to cut costs back.
"If people are aware of a potential problem, they should deal with it straight away rather than wait until it becomes an actual problem," says Patel.
"The classic examples are if they see some concrete coming loose in the ground before it becomes a trip hazard, they need to have it fixed. Or the aco channel grid starting to break it’s important to resolve these things early before it becomes a problem."
TOP TIPS FOR CAR WASH/JET WASH MAINTeNANCE
At the beginning of each day
1.Check all wash and DIY equipment is working, in good condition and there is no damage that is likely to harm a customer’s vehicle. It is better to find a problem and get it fixed before a customer complains.
2.Sweep and hose down the bay to maintain the quality of the wash and ensure there are no stones or dirt from wheels that can damage a customer’s vehicle.
3.Check the water softener salt and the chemical levels, as the wash will not work without them. Do a test on the chemical pumping units. You should be able to feel the pulsing of the pump when you put your fingers on the output.
4.Check the coin mechanisms in jet washers and other DIY equipment to ensure they are clear. Some customers will just drive off if they cannot use the equipment straight away.
5.Check the compressor and drain and add oil if necessary.
6.Check rollover machines are in start position.
7.Check overload and stop button.
8.Ensure everything is switched on.
9.Ensure all machines, screens and signage is washed down regularly. Point-of-sale works better when it looks presentable and customers prefer to use clean equipment to clean their vehicles. Use a professional cleaner to thoroughly clean the bay with the right chemicals and equipment every three months a service Wilcomatic provides.
10.Clean all photo cells on a weekly basis and grease or lubricate any moving parts on the machine ie guide runners on top brush, dryer hood and wheel washer.
11.Check you have a regular service scheduled.
12.Test car wash on your own car once a week; if you are happy with the wash quality then hopefully your customers will be too.
Robert Campbell, area manager for Intake Developments, which operates six Jet-branded forecourts in South Yorkshire, places a high importance on the maintenance of the network.
"We see many thousands of customers a week and customer and colleague safety is top of our agenda. We maintain safe sites with regular walk-rounds of the forecourt and work hard with our Jet regional manager, Carl Smaller, to keep sites safe, clean and attractive so customers come back time and time again."
Intake Developments has invested heavily in replacement of under-canopy sheeting and lighting.
"This has given us brighter, more attractive forecourts and improved the sites’ kerb-side appeal, as well as reducing energy consumption," says Robert.
When it comes to equipment, Intake Developments has a comprehensive service contract. "Our commission operators can make one phone call and organise an engineer either same day or next day to minimise annoying ’site out of order’ placards that are seen on many less well-run sites."