So there you are - up to your eyes in frustration at trying to find out why, when each of the shifts on their own balance, you can’t get the day to balance when you put the three shifts together - when the phone rings.
"We’ve got a great new deal on company mobiles" or "Do you know you’re paying too much for your electric?" or some other similar, annoying, prattle assails your lugholes and you just want to scream. Having told them to bugger off because you’re busy, you then waste another 30 seconds or so shaking your head in disbelief at how some companies waste so much money on such fruitless cold calling.
Then later on you get a call from someone ’phoning on behalf of the local fire brigade’ asking you to sponsor fire safety booklets to be distributed to your local primary schools. Just think of all that valuable PR when the kids show the books to their parents and they see how caring your petrol station is. Of course, the real purpose of the phone call is not so much as to raise awareness of fire safety, or to promote your business, but is rather more connected with earning the caller 33% commission from your ’contribution’. And the chances of the booklet even being produced, let alone distributed, are as likely as your numbers coming up in Saturday’s Lottery draw.
Interestingly enough, despite all the hundreds of such phone calls I’ve received over the years, I don’t remember ever getting a call offering me ways to effectively market my business. And, apart from being invited to have my name printed on give away pens or diaries, I don’t think I’ve ever even been approached with the offer of help or advice on marketing.
Now, that could either be because the ’marketeers’ are crap at marketing their own business or, perhaps, because the perception is that petrol retailers don’t need to spend any money on marketing. Well, we don’t do we? Let’s face it, people need fuel, they see our site, they pull in and they buy. Besides which, we’ve been here for years, so if people don’t know about us by now it’s a pretty rum do!
ln truth, for most of us the nearest we come to marketing is our alliance with big brand names. It’s either the pole sign we display or the name we have over our shop front. Nothing wrong with that, but that alliance doesn’t come cheap. Whether it’s the involuntary contribution to the loyalty scheme, the less-than-competitive supply deal or the franchise/membership fees payable, we’re all paying fortunes to share in the benefits that accrue from our association with these national and multi national players. But does any of this expenditure actually strengthen our own position in the market place? And does that really matter?
Obviously much depends on the location of your site. If you’re on a trunk road with lots of one-off visits there’s no doubt that the major factors influencing whether you get custom is location, price, public confidence in the brand you are displaying, and the fuel cards you can accept. And even in a local neighbourhood site I’m not suggesting that many of us could ever become stronger than the major brand we display. But are we ignoring the choice that our local customers have?
Unless you are lucky enough to be the oasis in a petrol station desert, there’s another site nearby that’s probably also got a big brand on its pole sign and over the shop front. Assuming (a big assumption, I accept) that your pole prices are the same, why should you get the custom rather than them? That’s easy, I hear you say, we’re miles better than them because of x, y and z. Okay, you might believe that but how do all those customers out there know that?
It seems to me that either we sit back and do nothing, happy to receive our percentage share of the market and rely totally on the efforts of our big brand masters, or it’s time we started to try and skew the odds in our favour. Now where’s that phone directory?