The future of forecourt maintenance is green. That’s the opinion of Steve Martin, managing director at Xmo Strata, who says fuel retailers are increasingly using their maintenance budget to try to reduce their carbon footprint. This trend can involve anything from fitting energy-saving lights on the forecourt to simply putting doors back onto chillers.
Martin says: "We’ve seen a huge trend in companies working to lower their energy consumption on sites. This is due to a combination of government legislation and also companies wanting to be seen to be more environmentally-friendly. We’re currently working with some of the major oil companies to reduce their maintenance costs while also cutting energy usage and running costs. One big area is LED lamp replacement. LED lamps are cheaper to run, can provide a massive reduction in energy use and they don’t need to be changed as often as fluorescent tubes. Forecourts don’t need to be lit the whole time they are operational that’s what daylight is for. We are also retrofitting a number of sites at the moment with reduced energy, movement-sensitive lights so pumps are only fully illuminated as cars drive up."
Xmo Strata has also been looking at the plumbing on some sites, in a bid to save water consumption, and retrofitting doors onto fridges to reduce the amount of cold air escaping into the shop. "Energy consumption goes down considerably if doors are fitted on fridges," says Martin. "There’s a significant outlay for some of this work but the oil majors perceive the payback period to be worth doing."
Wayne Freeman, construction sales manager at Graphite UK, has also noticed this trend. He says companies are looking at energy management on forecourts with great interest. "One of our sister companies provides an energy management box which manages the energy consumption of all of a forecourt’s equipment, such as air con, lights and refrigeration, allowing companies to save money on their electricity bills and reduce carbon emissions. Our energy management boxes pay for themselves in as little as six to nine months."
Gilbarco Veeder-Root has also been developing a new product to monitor and manage energy consumption. Matt Clayton, Gilbarco Veeder-Root UK sales director, says the Wisdom system, for remote management and site automation, has been piloted in the UK and will monitor all forecourt utilities. It will also set the temperature that starts the air con and alert the site operator if fridge doors are left open.
In addition to working on energy management, Graphite UK has recently expanded its range of products and services, and can now build, rebuild or refurbish a complete petrol station.
This includes being able to supply all or part of the equipment required to operate a site. Freeman says: "We have a programme of projects at the moment including a major development at Bolton West Services on the M61 for Euro Garages where, over the next year, we will completely renew both sides of the motorway. However, where a client just wants his shop remodelling or new pumps, we can also assist."
The recession is having an effect on the sector. Baljit Tank, managing director at Indigo Retail and TQIPS, says the credit crunch is making retailers less risk averse when it comes to maintenance, and so more likely to opt for a contract rather than paying nothing today and then risking a big bill at a later date.
Tank says: "We thought retailers might reduce costs by not renewing their contracts, however we’ve found the opposite to be true. It seems that the potential cost of any prolonged down time due to the site not being covered by a maintenance contract outweighs the price of the annual support."
The TLM Group says it is dedicated to offering forecourt maintenance solutions and prides itself on recruiting the best engineers available to ensure a high level of knowledge and service ethics.
Sales manager, Tim Lamb, says: "We look after a diverse range of customers from hypermarkets right through to rural independents so our engineer skill set is integral to our success as we look after both obsolete and state-of-the-art pumping equipment.
"All of our major customers have comprehensive service contracts with us which is key to their operation as they rely on us to carry out repairs.
"Tank gauge maintenance has been a massive growth area for us over the past nine months and while we have a dedicated team looking after this specific area, all of our engineers have the capability to diagnose and repair tank gauges."
Budgens retailer Dee Patel, who has built up his own forecourt maintenance business Forecourt Facilities, reckons there’s no point avoiding maintenance because it will have to be done at some point: "If you leave it then it will only get worse. It’s a false economy not to spend the money. People sometimes ask us to temporarily repair something but in the end it will just cost more."
Patel, a former fuel retailer, set up Forecourt Facilities because he thought there was a gap in the market for a good cleaning firm. From small beginnings his business has thrived, covering all parts of the country and doubling its number of vehicles in the past year to eight.
Forecourt Facilities covers just about every aspect of forecourt maintenance except for pumps and lines from replacing a collapsed manhole cover to sorting out canopies and shop fronts that have been wrecked by lorries driving into them. The company has also won several awards, including being crowned the ACS 2010 Community Hero at the association’s Summit event in May.
However, Patel prefers not to tie retailers into a contract. He explains: "If we do a bad job then a retailer won’t use us again. So we do a good job and get paid per visit." The company can, however, adapt prices for regular customers.
Don’t hit the roof
Xmo Strata’s Martin says forecourt canopies are one of the main victims of poor maintenance and can suffer from various forms of damage such as blocked or corroded guttering, fallen under-sheeting, ageing materials, adverse weather, poor design or construction, or a lack of drainage maintenance.
Richard Mould is commercial manager at DBS Maintenance, which specialises in canopy and roof work. He says: "The most common work we do on canopies is gutter or roof-sheet maintenance or replacement. Some canopies have more trees and grass on the top of them than a small garden. We find all sorts up there, including dead birds. If you don’t clean the canopy and gutter, leaves collect and water starts collecting." According to Mould, this can lead to a raft of health and safety problems. "If the water pours through the canopy then it can hit the lights and electricity. And, of course, if it flows onto the forecourt in cold weather then it can freeze, causing customers to slip or fall."
Mould advises retailers to get a maintenance contract and have their forecourts cleaned twice a year. Contracts with DBS, which has worked with companies like Shell, BP and Esso, cost from about £500 per year. He adds: "It’s better to have maintenance visits regularly than pay nothing for a while and than having to pay a £12,000 bill in 10 years’ time."
Mould says life is undoubtedly harder in this recession, and retailers have never counted maintenance as one of their top priorities. He says one of the services that saves money in the long run is over-cladding for forecourt shop roofing. Mould points out that there are many advantages compared to completely replacing an old roof including being more economical as the forecourt can stay open while the work is being carried out. Mould says: "The cost for the roof itself is probably a little bit more but it comes with a 20-year guarantee. And there are obvious cost savings as the business doesn’t have to close while the work is being done."
Meanwhile, Midlands-based CSC’s new Gutterline product also aims to save retailers money. The company says it has received a very positive response to the product since it was launched at the IFFE show in March. According to CSC, Gutterline is made to measure to create a seamless, joint-free liner supplied in one continuous sheet. It is described as a solution to rusting or leaking canopy roof gutters. The company says it is incredibly strong, pliable, will not crack or split, can be used with all profiles of gutters, will fit under cladding and conform to irregular contours, and can cope easily with building movement and varying temperatures. CSC says Gutterline is also around 60% cheaper than replacing gutters by using traditional methods.
When it comes to pumps, Indigo’s Tank says the key is to make sure any problems can be fixed as quickly as possible to minimise downtime. He explains that the Indigo Retail and TQIPS contracts are very competitively priced and, with more than 40 field engineers, the company has good coverage throughout the country. He adds: "Coverage is the first thing a retailer should ask about when purchasing a maintenance contract as this will have a direct impact on how quickly most of their issues will be resolved."
He says Indigo Retail and TQIPS focus on providing ’service excellence’, so when a customer logs a fault with pump one with its help desk, they can always ask the field engineer to look at a problem with pump two when he arrives at the site. And this is the same with any hardware problems in the shop.
Tank says: "Broadband-based remote diagnostics coupled with real-time service reports and parts ordering ensure Indigo reacts as quickly as possible to resolve pump and hardware faults. A comprehensive, cost-effective maintenance contract is highly recommended."
Finally, FuelQuest director of global business solutions, Greg Salverson, advises against cutting back on wet-stock maintenance, saying it can be a false economy.
He explains: "Whether driven by fluctuating prices, taxes, or public policy, fuel costs continue to drive the market and independent retailers are looking for quick wins ways to minimise the cost of fuel. Most forecourts either have a gauge and pos system or are recording inventory levels, deliveries and sales for book close. But using a simple application to identify faulty gauges and incorrectly calibrated dispensers reduces the cost of inaccurate equipment on their bottom line.
"This same data should be used to identify ’lost’ product due to drive-offs, under-delivered fuel, or a leak in the tank, as well as for planning fuel deliveries to maintain a just-in-time inventory strategy. Independents must look for new ways to remain competitive on price, without having to invest heavily in hardware or IT resources. Keeping petrol costs and the costs associated with managing it low can help independent retailers protect their margins."
Car wash tips:
l Get equipment serviced regularly by a qualified engineer it will keep your equipment working better for longer. According to Dawn Frazer, marketing manager at WashTec, a service contract which offers preventative maintenance and a guaranteed response may seem expensive but means machines are less likely to break down. And in the event that they do, they will be fixed quickly.
l Make sure that you have a daily maintenance schedule that covers checking chemical levels of all equipment and salt levels in the water softener. And checking for debris and wear on brushes.
l Keep wash bays clear of debris, including sweet wrappers. Most car washes use proximity sensors to know when the car is in the wash.
l If your bay and equipment are dirty it won’t encourage people to use your services, so sweep out the bay daily and have regular professional cleans.
l Photocells on a car wash need to be cleaned every day. Not doing so will lead to a machine stopping during the wash and a dissatisfied consumer.
l Check your compressor has oil and is switched on.
l Emergency stop buttons kids love to push these in, so check that they are pulled out.
l Give jet washes and vacuums a couple of extra checks such as looking at the joints on the spray and brush arms for leaks. With vacuums, make sure the bin is emptied daily.
l Get the best quality equipment and chemicals you can afford. They will give a better quality of wash and your customers will keep coming back.
l When your wash services are in top condition, market them.
The next WashTec training workshops will be held in October. For more information email email@example.com
l Keep the site looking as bright and tidy as possible.
l Protect your identity it’s the face of your business.
l Get a maintenance contract, especially if you have more than one site.
l One visit a year should be enough if this includes a proper clean, forecourt valet and change of the florescent lighting tubes in signs.
l Don’t just go for the cheapest option. If you appoint a contractor, remember that you are legally responsible for any accidents, and can be fined up to £20,000. Employ a safe contractor and check they have insurance and carry out a safe system of work procedure (a formal assessment to make sure a task can be completed safely and without risk to the person carrying it out).
(Source: Xmo Strata)