Although keeping your site in full working order has to be at the top of your list of priorities, important maintenance is being neglected by many retailers, according to equipment and maintenance companies.
Steve Watts, sales director at Gilbarco Veeder-Root, says: “There is a lack of proactive and preventative maintenance in the industry. Because margins are so tight, no one is investing on forecourts so equipment ends up costing them money – it’s a vicious circle.
“With a lot of new equipment, such as remote monitoring of wetstock and remote diagnostics, potential problems can be detected early. But if retailers cannot afford to replace old equipment, they should be doing preventative maintenance.”
Barry Jenner, sales director at Cameron Forecourt, agrees: “Preventative maintenance is an important link in keeping equipment up and running,” he says “Sadly very few of our customers recognise this and are willing to pay for the service. A number of equipment problems can be identified and put right long before the problem turns into a failure.”
Watts adds that Gilbarco Veeder-Root advises retailers to take out a fully comprehensive service contract that meets the site’s needs and is not just what the retailer can afford. “It’s like an insurance policy, retailers shouldn’t wait for something to go wrong,” he says. “About 70 per cent of our customers are taking service contracts. But that’s still 30 per cent that are just taking a chance, so if the site goes down, they’re going to be paying premium rates to get it up and running. With a contract, the retailer is getting a years’ maintenance so they can spread the cost over the year.”
Although many independents are neglecting maintenance work, there are those who realise its importance. Alister Campbell of Campbell Fuel Oils in Riccarton, Kilmarnoch places high importance on preventative maintenance. As well as having a service contract for maintenance of pumps, canopies and imagery as part of his agreement with Jet, Alister also has a dedicated engineer to make monthly checks on all equipment – from hoses and fire extinguishers to storage tanks and gantries.
“You’ve got keep on top of things nowadays,” says Alister. “You can’t wait until an accident happens, you’ve got to prevent it. Our maintenance engineer is a qualified electrician and plumber and part of his job is to make regular monthly checks on equipment and report back any problems.”
BP’s maintenance programme is managed by Global Alliance – an alliance between BP and Bovis Lend Lease. For BP’s company-owned network, the alliance maintains all fuel systems, shop equipment, signage and the car wash offer. For dealers, Global Alliance can offer contracts for fuel systems and the valet offer.
Mark Goldsworthy, BP’s market launch manager, says that for BP’s company-owned sites, Global Alliance is focusing on BP’s store maintenance for its Connects and Express outlets. “We’re focusing on the customer facing elements to maintain visual standards because blue chip companies want their image to be right,” he says.
Global Alliance has a four-hour response for rectification works such as making a canopy safe following an accident, and for the shop side, its remit is to make the shop offer 100 per cent available. This includes all refrigeration, coffee and hot food equipment. “In the dealer environment, BP retains the image on a dealer site, which Global Alliance makes its priority to maintain. We also maintain the fuel system,” says Goldsworthy. “There is a lower take up of valet maintenance. This is probably down to awareness that we’re offering the service so we’re looking to change that through dealer forums.”
Goldsworthy adds that standards of maintenance within the industry are a mixed bag. “Larger dealer chains have similar standards as the BP company-owned network. There’s potential for lost sales if you don’t have the shop and valet offer working. A good maintenance programme can drive availability and sales and retailers must focus on availability.”
When it comes to car washes, equipment will generally be maintained by a specialist, and Simon Walker, after-sales manager at WashTec says that the key to maximising machine availability is a decent service contract from a recognised car wash supplier who understands the equipment and carries spare parts for it.
“Within the contract there should be provision for at least four scheduled preventative maintenance visits to ensure that up-time is kept as high as possible,” says Walker. “Equally there should be a response time for engineer visits if the machine breaks down between these scheduled visits.”
Walker adds that site staff can also do their bit. “Staff should keep the bay and machine clean and free of rubbish and debris, ensure photo cells are cleaned regularly, check brushes for tangles, ensure chemical pumps are primed and that chemical bottles are well stocked, and check lighting is working properly.”
FUEL SYSTEM MAINTENANCE
According to Roncol Services, preventative maintenance of the fuel system should include measures being checked for accuracy to ensure that any expensive over-delivery does not get overlooked.
“It is important that leaks are found before they become a hazard or an environmental problem,” says a spokesperson for Roncol Services. “Panels can also be secured before they come adrift and cause them damage.” Service engineers should also check the condition of filters, belts, bearings and other moving parts to prevent any loss of time due to breakdown.
There are many common problems that can be resolved through maintenance before the issue becomes a financial nightmare. “Damaged hoses are quite common and should be promptly replaced, but often the damage goes undetected until either there is a leak or the Petroleum Officer issues an improvement notice,” says Barry Jenner at Cameron Forecourt. “Additionally it is far better to have tightened a weeping seal or to have attended to a failing pump lighting tube before the customer becomes inconvenienced.
“If operational considerations are not sufficient to encourage fuel site operators to undertake preventative maintenance, then safety considerations should do,” adds Jenner. “Obviously the site operator will carry out his own regular inspection of the equipment but there is nothing better than a new look at the site by an experienced engineer.”
Fuel pumps have become complex pieces of equipment and are able to reliably and accurately pump very large quantities of fuel during their lifetime. The most common faults on fuel installations, says Cameron Forecourt’s southern service manager John Smith, are failures in the hoses and nozzles following accidental damage, either by being dropped or driven over. “People fuelling from the wrong side of their vehicle can also introduce kinks in the delivery hose that eventually result in a weak spot and ultimately failure,” says Smith.
Other common problems with fuel systems are as a result of the environment equipment is located in. Robert Howell, northern service manager at Cameron Forecourt says: “Fuel pumps are very reliable when you consider where they are located, but we mustn’t forget that they stand in the elements and experience extremes in temperature as well as humidity. The electronic components and connections must withstand these extremes as well as the vibrations from the motors.”
John Smith adds that problems can have unexpected origins. “We regularly attend sites where a fault has occurred following the pumps being cleaned,” he says. “Water ingress from pressure cleaning can damage electronic components. And another problem associated with cleaning occurs when a product change has left a pump with the same grade fuel at each fuelling position – nozzles are sometimes confused and put back in the wrong holster. The result is that the pump starts but no fuel is dispensed.”
Because first impressions count, keeping signage and graphics in tip-top condition can make all the difference to site image. Global Alliance uses XMO Strata to maintain all signs and graphics. Launched 18 months ago as a signware installation and maintenance company, XMO Strata is contracted to do maintenance work for both BP and Shell. For Shell it installs and maintains all signware – canopy fascia, pole sign, facility signs and shop fascia – at 140 Shell forecourts in the north and Scotland.
Steve Martin, director of XMO Strata, says: “Signage is the brand people associate with and is the only thing that differentiates the different companies, so it’s important for brand loyalty and creating the right impression. Companies like BP spend a fortune getting their brand image right so there’s no point doing all that work if it fails on the forecourt. People are putting more and more value on brands so maintaining that brand is critical.”
Maintenance inspections cover structural issues such as broken signs or panels, as well as brand related issues such as faded or damaged graphics, illuminated signs with internal dirt, and health & safety issues.
Canopies require particular attention to help create the right impression of your business. “Visual impact is the most important thing,” says Chris Moore, sales & marketing manager at High Cross Forecourt Canopies. “You can liken it to going to a pub – you wouldn’t go into a pub if it looked dirty and run down. If a forecourt is badly lit, badly maintained and dirty, people are less likely to drive on.”
Retailers should make sure that the under-sheeting and fascias are cleaned regularly, and lighting is well maintained and bright. “A lot of people leave lights but lights that have been around for ages look dull,” says Moore. “They can be replaced relatively cheaply and bright lights make a big difference – the forecourt looks much more welcoming when lit up.
“We do a lot of work on repairs when artic lorries have crashed into the canopy – people often leave it, which makes the forecourt look unloved. We also raise the canopy to eliminate the risk of crashes – we’re getting about 15 enquiries a week for that. Lorries have got bigger and taller over time and a lot of canopies were built before that so there’s danger of lorries colliding with the canopy and tearing the fascia off.”
The cost of a service contract is based on the equipment needing to be maintained on each individual site, hours of cover needed, and number of days covered. According to Steve Watts at Gilbarco Veeder-Root, a typical contract will cost between £1,500 and £3,000 and should be tailored for the needs of each individual site.
But it could be well worth the investment. “The whole point of maintenance is that you never get a second chance to make a first impression,” says Chris Moore at High Cross. “If the site is clean, well lit and well maintained, motorists are far more likely to go to that site than the one next door that looks run down.”