The demands on forecourt owners and managers are increasing all the time. They need to ensure that fuel and the equipment dispensing it is in tip-top condition. There are increasing numbers of c-stores that need to be fully stocked and have all their facilities clean and tidy, not to mention the canopy and its imaging. Meanwhile customers’ expectations seem to be rising inexorably and they will go elsewhere if they are not met.

To ensure all the disparate elements of a forecourt are working smoothly, a growing range of third parties are offering the support and expertise required. Phillips 66 has organised a wide range of support for its dealers. Stuart Cufflin, transport and retail contracts manager at Jet, comments: "Forecourt maintenance is key to a site’s success and is something that Jet places a great deal of emphasis on. Jet dealers benefit from a wide range of services to ensure their forecourts consistently deliver on maintenance and customer satisfaction."

These services include:

An annual compliance audit by Suresite, which also identifies other issues that need to be addressed, such as damage to pole signs, canopies and pumps or any fuel spills. Forecourt ancillary services, such as car wash equipment, are checked to ensure they are in working order at the time of visit.

An annual forecourt deep clean by CSC Forecourt Services which encompasses cleaning of canopies, forecourt surfaces, pole sign and external buildings.

Pump maintenance: dealers can opt for Jet to manage all their pump maintenance through its agreement with Tokheim. SLAs (service level agreements) and KPIs (key performance indicators) are put in place and dealers have a dedicated call centre should any pumps require attention.

Imaging repairs and maintenance through Astleys. Any problems with the site’s imaging are dealt with at no cost to dealers.

P&C Services also offers a wide range of maintenance solutions for forecourt operators. Steve Watts, director at the company, explains: "When we talk about ongoing maintenance contracts, it’s often questioned as to why you need to pay for a service when something isn’t broken? Our answer is simple by paying an expert to carry out regular check-ups on your tanks, pumps, software, hardware systems, etc, you can ensure your data is always up to date and any contamination or issues that could lead to major problems for your site can be rectified, in most cases, quickly and efficiently with minimal disruption to your site. In the long term, this will cost far less than having your entire site shut down. By having a fully operational site with all of your products and services working at their best, you’re giving the best quality service to your customers, ensuring they stay loyal to you and your brand."

Software is a crucial component of any modern forecourt, and Tim Lamb, an account manager at P&C, says: "As an Oracle Gold Partner, P&C has been chosen to provide maintenance, upgrades and support across all Oracle EPOS and back-office products, software, hardware and helpdesk services, ensuring the life of Iridium and Prism systems is extended for all of our customers."

He says P&C’s support can make it far less likely there will be any downtime, and if there is a problem they can resolve it as swiftly as possible.

When it comes to facilities management, Helen Rounce, project manager at P&C, says: "Our tailored contracts offer fully planned preventative maintenance a cost-effective way to help our customers avoid any major problems. Simply log a problem and we fix it. Taking the worry away from the customer so they can focus on running their business."

Tim Foster, project manager for P&C’s tank cleaning division, recommends regular maintenance check-ups on fuel tanks: "At P&C we provide a variety of tank maintenance and cleaning services. Our experts use the latest technology and products from the very best in the industry to help prevent microbial contamination in fuel tanks with our ISO-certified prevention and control services, as well as cleaning contaminated fuel and tanks, when required."

Keeping track of all this maintenance is becoming ever more complex, particularly if multiple sites are involved, and software has been devised to help managers. Urgent Technology developed and markets an online maintenance and asset management platform, eMaintenance+, which is currently installed in 30,000 sites in 18 countries. It was initially developed as a bespoke system for BP UK, and in 2006 Urgent began to market it to other retailers.

Initially, each customer received its own version of the software, customised to its requirements, but in 2015 a new version was released meaning all customers now operate on a single piece of software. The system is configured rather than customised, which means the platform can meet a customer’s internal requirements without the need for costly customisation. All customers also benefit from quarterly software updates and new functionality.

Rontec, which is ranked fourth in the Top 50 Indies with more than 200 stations across England and Wales, has been an Urgent Technology customer since 2012. "We need the most advanced, robust systems to support our business," says Parsya Amin, engineering contracts manager at Rontec. "Urgent Technology’s eMaintenance software underpins the day-to-day maintenance operations of our national forecourt network, while delivering real-time management data to enable us to make process improvements and cost efficiencies."

Paul Djuric, Urgent Technology’s UK operations manager, says: "Petrol retailers comprise over 90% of our customer base. This, combined with our BP beginnings, means we have a deep understanding of the industry, the problems faced by forecourt maintenance managers and the common complaints received from site managers and service contractors.

"For site operators, eMaintenance+ is simple to use. The software automatically dispatches a contractor once a job is logged, speeding up the time to repair and minimising equipment downtime. Site operators can see the real-time status of a job at any time.

"For senior managers, eMaintenance+ provides a single view of the entire maintenance operation across a portfolio of forecourts. Management reporting across the business drives accurate budget and planning decisions."

He says eMaintenance+ results in improvements in contractor performance through tight SLA monitoring and works verification. It can be used to record incidents that may have an impact on a business, then link such incidents to maintenance tasks and provide data to make improvements to reduce incidents.

Coping with canopies

Signage and canopies have to cope with everything the British climate can throw at them and careless drivers in overheight vehicles so there is plenty of work for the companies specialising in their maintenance.

The potential danger of corrosion causing older canopies to collapse has been highlighted by Global-MSI managing director Martin Steggles for a number of years, but he says: "We continue to find canopies that give us cause for concern as our surveyors are out assessing for leaks, which is what we typically get called out for, or if a customer wants to alter a canopy in some way." He stresses the problem is not restricted to dealer sites, and adds: "Some of the canopies are in very bad shape, particularly near to the coast because of the corrosion."

If forecourt owners have any concerns about the age or history of their canopies, Global-MSI offers a desktop study of its archive, which covers the majority of canopies in the UK. Global-MSI has expanded its service over the past year after its parent company took over a signage specialist called Petrol Sign. It means maintenance and reimaging can be done at the same time, minimising disruption or any closures.

DBS Maintenance offers a one-stop shop for any work on canopies and roofing for forecourt shops and car washes. Project manager Jacob Lamburne says services range from cleaning gutters to new builds. He says bigger forecourt companies are more willing to do regular maintenance, with many of the smaller players deterred by the up-front cost. He explains: "The bigger companies can see that in the long term it’s going to cost them less. We’re looking at ways to offer a service for smaller companies with a limited budget but it’s difficult. If it’s a canopy or a pitched roof and the only way up there is a cherry picker, that will push the cost up." He adds: "A lot of times when a dealer buys a site from an oil company they revamp it and then they don’t do anything for 10 years."

Repairing impact damage is a common job for canopy specialists. Lamburne says motorway service areas seem to be particularly vulnerable with some hit by lorries multiple times.

He adds: "We are doing more and more raise ups. If the canopy is raised to about five metres the HGVs don’t hit them. It’s relatively expensive but, if you are getting hit several times with the repair costs and disruption to business, it is worth it."

Forecourt Maintenance Services (FMS) is another canopy specialist. Director Dave Morgan also says preventative maintenance is rare among dealer sites when it comes to canopies.

"With gutters and sheeting it’s ’oh my canopy’s leaking I must do something about that’. Until then no one is interested. They could potentially save themselves a lot of money in the long run if they did do preventative maintenance."

He says maintenance should involve checking top sheeting and under sheeting, that fascias are still secure, checking gutters for leaks and whether anything above ground is nearing the end of its life.

Winter planning

Before the temperature drops below freezing, forecourts should be taking steps to mitigate the damage caused by winter weather, says Alan Scrafton from Adler & Allan.
Planned Preventative Maintenance (PPM) to ensure all aspects of the forecourt are in top working order will give peace of mind in extreme conditions, but he says there are other issues that also need to be considered.
Flooding has affected many businesses in recent winters and he advises that a Flood Risk Assessment (FRA) will determine whether or not your business is at risk, as well as the level of flood water that could occur. Following this, drawing up a flood plan is essential, which will cover aspects such as relocating stock, critical records, electronic equipment or anything of high value, as well as making sure that electrical appliances are disconnected and the gas supply is shut off to reduce the risk of fire. Once a clear and effective plan is in place, forecourts will be in a position to consider what their options are with regards to permanent flood defences.
If flood water does take hold, contamination of fuel can be a risk. Regular fuel testing, regardless of disaster, will ensure fuel stays in top condition and issues are caught before they become big problems, with mobile and laboratory testing available, followed by fuel polishing where necessary.
Freezing pipes can be a problem. Maintenance procedures should include keeping fuel and related assets in top condition not just from a pollution risk, but to ensure your firm is complying with industry legislation. Fuel tanks are governed by Fuel Storage Regulations, which require owners to have them inspected annually, with subsequent maintenance requirements.
Flooding and freezing pipes can also cause fuel spills. Correct spill procedures must take into account effects on equipment, staff and the environment. Within a business, there needs to be a designated employee in charge of the plan and appropriate spill-care kits, which are essential for ISO14001 compliance.
Adler & Allan provides a range of forecourt services, as well as flood mitigation, spill and general emergency response.