Maintenance is a crucial, but often neglected, part of running a forecourt site. Maintaining the equipment on your site can seem like a tedious chore and it is difficult to quantify the effect that it has on your business, but ignoring day-to-day maintenance can have long-term damaging effects.
The pumps are at the heart of every forecourt, so if they’re out of order or don’t work properly, quite simply it’s money down the drain.
Mike Piggot, general manager at Tokheim UK, says the most common problems with pumps, and the reason for many pumps being out of order, is damage through wear and tear of the hoses and nozzles or loss of power.
“The hoses and nozzles are abused by the user – pulling the hose across the car for example. The user has no appreciation of the sensitivity of some of the products used in our market and in some cases, those tend to get damaged through abuse,” he says.
Piggot adds that while manufacturers are focusing on the quality of the material used for fill lines, “there’s not much the retailer can do to prevent wear and tear or abuse of the hoses and nozzle”. However, he says a regular preventative maintenance check would often help deal with such issues before they become a problem or cause pumps to be put out of use.
“At the end of the day, maintenance is fairly predictable, you just have to plan for it,” he says.
But this is where many sites fall down. Piggot says retailers could make better use of third-party service providers: “The missing element in our market today is the partnership between the operator and the service provider. We share the same goals – hose availability – but we lack understanding of the care and maintenance needs of the equipment.”
He points out that many problems the company is called out for could have been avoided if an ongoing maintenance programme had been in place: “Service contracts tend to be typically reactive, yet all too often the service provider is expected to resolve problems as a result of poor quality maintenance of equipment on sites. Equipment with moving parts needs to be maintained regularly and not only when it eventually breaks down.
“As a service provider, Tokheim can provide continuous maintenance of products, not only reactive, but planned maintenance and upgrades.”
However, the low margins in the industry have also contributed to neglect of equipment, says Piggot: “Due to difficult trading conditions, generally speaking the forecourts in the UK have been starved of investment in the new technology and equipment. Electronic technology is developing rapidly. In other markets, the life cycle of electronic products is around five years. Yet as a service provider in the petroleum market, we maintain equipment in some instances of up to 15-20 years old. Not only is this extremely difficult due to the age of the equipment, but achieving a fix time within a service level agreement (SLA) is sometimes impossible. Additional problems are the procurement of replacement components and the logistics required in getting parts to site within a specified time frame.”
He adds: “The key manufacturers in the UK have developed integrated systems for the forecourt due to the problems encountered when servicing different manufacturer’s integrated equipment on site. Due to these complex interfaces (mostly software based) it is often very difficult to trace the root cause of a fault. This may result in a number of service providers being on site together in order to resolve a problem – often resulting in increased downtime and escalated costs to the service provider. Our recommendation is to procure an integrated solution from a single manufacturer. Site operators must select service providers with compatible SLAs in order to ensure seamless support and timely resolution of faults.”
Piggot concludes: “With regards to future legislation, Vapour Recovery Stage II, the euro or prices above £1 per litre, many products in the UK will not be able to cope with these requirements. Some products will become obsolete overnight – for others it may be possible to upgrade them.”
Dresser Wayne also offers maintenance of pumps and pos systems. Its service contracts on the UK mainland are usually set up on an annual basis, although the company has extended expired contracts for monthly or quarterly periods and operates a ‘club’ for forecourt owners offering responses on a ‘pay as you go’ basis.
Dresser Wayne says all main manufacturers’ equipment can be maintained, subject to a survey report. In addition, there is no age limit to the type of equipment maintained, although again this is subject to survey and parts availability, with the company holding more than £1.5m-worth of parts for the maintenance of Wayne and third party equipment.
Meanwhile, Cameron Forecourt also maintains pumps and related equipment. The company says that being smaller than its main competitors, puts it in a position to “provide the flexibility required by many independent fuel site operators”.
Barry Jenner, managing director of Cameron, says: “We are happy to discuss specific requirements and are often able to gear our service to the customer’s needs. Our customers are important to us; being more regularly recognised by their name rather than an account number, this is no better demonstrated than by our happy customer’s annually renewing their service contract.
He adds: “The company prides itself on the ability to provide an effective service covering a large range of modern as well as older fuelling equipment. At a time where there is considerable pressure on fuel sites to scrap ageing pumps and control equipment we are proud to be able to offer reasonably priced service contracts and provide first class service levels.”
Following an agreement with Pumptronics, Cameron has acquired the sole rights to the Pumptronics Series 100 and 200 range of fuel pumps and dispensers, which it says ensures that this pump range will continue to be professionally supported and maintained.
Forecourt operators should check third-party service operators have the correct training. Cameron has a dedicated training school and is also accredited as approved trainers by the Safety Passport Alliance/UKPIA to provide the industry standard Safety Passport training (see box, right).
The canopy is a large part of the average forecourt site – and not just in physical terms. The appearance of the canopy is, of course, paramount to the overall impression of the site, while the lighting within it is crucial to customer safety and wellbeing.
John Binnie, operations director, proprietor of CSC, which specialises in forecourt canopy and shop fascia cleaning for multiples and dealers, says: “The canopy is the first sighting a potential customer will see of a petrol forecourt and therefore will be the main impression of the standards maintained by that company – maintaining the condition and cleanliness of the forecourt will certainly encourage custom.”
Binnie says that canopy cleaning is a specialist job for which specialist tools need to be used: “It is very physical work as most of the cleaning is overhead and therefore when attempted by inexperienced staff the job is not completed to a high standards. Most cleaning is carried out from the ground using a system of extendable water-fed poles with built-in brush heads to remove dirt and grime.”
“Ideally canopies should be cleaned every three to six months to prevent build-up of dirt which can become ingrained and cause damage to the canopy paintwork if left for too long.”
Global MSI managing director Malcolm Froud agrees that such maintenance is paramount – and that neglecting canopy cleaning and maintenance can lead to many problems over the years – the most common of which is leaking.
He says: “The most common callout for us is leaking canopies. If they had been maintained many of these would still be fine,” he says, adding that maintenance is straightforward, but must be carried out by professionals.
“Another consideration for retailers is new Health & Safety legislation, which says that only qualified people should climb onto a canopy and with safety equipment. We offer to install overhead lines so qualified people can clip safety equipment on and all our new canopies have places to attach these lines to.”
“Canopies need to be maintained by the cleaning of the guttering with the correct mechanical equipment and a rust inhibiting paint needs to be applied bi-annually after five years,” he explains.
Froud points out that poorly maintained canopies can be a result of today’s tight market. “The problem is that with low budgets, maintenance is the first thing to go – we used to have more maintenance contacts to upkeep canopies, but today’s market makes it difficult for retailers.”
Another common cause of canopy damage is through contact with vehicles. “We have two calls a week about vehicle damage – many are minor but last year three canopies were completely destroyed in this way,” he says.
Froud warns retailers though that cutting corners when repairing canopies can often backfire. “Ongoing maintenance should be carried out by the original manufacturer because structural materials taken out or use of incorrect materials could affect the structural guarantee and could lead to
Health & Safety issues.”
CSC’s Binnie says that CSC only uses fully trained staff that have attended the SPA training course required to work on petrol forecourts to carry out forecourt cleaning works. Regular maintenance contracts are encouraged although CSC also carries out cleaning programmes on an ad hoc basis.
As technology improves, there is an increased reliance on the use of electrical equipment on site. Such are the Health & Safety issues involved with electrics, that poor maintenance or repair could have serious consequences.
Paul Williams of Worcester Electrical Services, which deals with all areas of electrical work on forecourts, points out that the electrics on a petrol filling station site must be annually tested for the licence renewal (all the forecourt electrics) and the sales building itself should have a routine testing regime in place – “although they rarely do!”.
He adds: “The most common reasons to be called out to a site are cabling and distribution problems with pump supplies; problems with the site’s electrical distribution system and the servicing of the canopy and general lighting.
Williams says: “Most retailers work on the basis that ‘we will call somebody if and when it goes wrong’ – and in this situation routine electrical maintenance would obviously help.”
The electrical industry’s regulatory body, The National Inspection Council for Electrical Installation Contracting (NICEIC), has a roll of approved contractors that are inspected every year to check that their work meets the national safety standard BS 7671 and other relevant technical standards. With an NICEIC approved contractor the following should apply: your electrical installation will be assessed for safety before work begins; the work will be carried out to the latest national safety standard; it will be tested to the latest safety standard and on completion you will be issued with a certificate showing the requirements of the standard have been met.
More and more retailers look upon third-party wetstock control as an essential part of forecourt maint-enance, not least because of the high penalties of something untoward happening. Fairbanks Environmental offers a full management service to multiple and dealer sites, which aims to detect and act on wetstock problems before they result in a major incident.
Wendy Clarke, Fairbanks’ dealer business co-ordinator explains: “While all forecourts suffer wetstock losses, the difficulty is in identifying whether that loss is ‘normal’ or not and then what can be done about it.”
While you might think that you’d soon know about it if you had a leak, small leaks are difficult to detect and can go undiscovered for months.
As part of its full management service, Fairbanks looks at the complete petroleum system including tanks, lines and off-set fills. Statistical trend analysis is also used, which will identify the cause of any variances.
Clarke says: “Using Fairbanks management service can lead to the removal of the requirement for statutory tank testing. Sites that require regular statutory tank testing can make savings, which can be anything from £750 upwards.”
Fairbanks employs auditors who carry out site inspections, pump meter audits, HS(G)146 inspections and disability access surveys.
According to Fairbanks, the benefits for the retailer in using a third party
monitoring service include savings through reduction in wetstock loss; early leak detection; reduced administrative time and the possible removal of the requirement for statutory tank testing.