SO WHAT DID YOU THINK of the show, then? Now okay, as far as the equipment side goes this was the ’intermediate’ year in the two-year cycle so I wasn’t expecting a massive turnout from the suppliers. So I wasn’t disappointed! Having said that, those suppliers who did attend put on a pretty decent effort and there were a few new ideas to seek out.
AS SOMEONE WHO DOESN’T LIKE to part with his dosh unless he has to (on the subject of which, I think a £7 car parking charge is outrageous for trade exhibitions) the most startling thing for me was the cost of new petrol pumps. While I know it was a top-of-the-range, all-singing, all-dancing six-hose special, Tokheim’s latest baby - at over £13,000 - certainly had me reaching for the paracetamol. I guess my circa 1990 old faithfuls will have to do a few more years yet. The big push on the pump front, apart from vapour recovery, seems to be in the direction of outside payment terminals (OPTs).
IT SEEMS TO ME there have always been three main issues with OPTs. The first was, who paid for the fraud? Until the advent of Chip & PIN it was us, and that was a very good reason not to have them. I don’t know just how much the average site lost in the past, but with the apocryphal tales of forecourts littered with discarded credit cards, I would imagine those losses were pretty hefty. The second was whether we really wanted to stop customers from coming into the shop. With margins on fuel thinner than ever, it seems a strange time to start to encourage the punter to drive off without being tempted by a Mars bar or a packet of mints.
WHILE SOME MARKET RESEARCH suggests that there are customers who only want to fill up and will never buy anything else from us, I’m not so sure these people really exist. I can remember a few years ago that a customer survey revealed that the top reason for choosing a forecourt was whether the air line was free or not. Which if you think about it must have been absolute rubbish, because if the driver was so uptight about spending 20p to pump up his tyres, do you really think that the pole price would have been a secondary issue? Sometimes market research gleans the answers customers think they ought to give rather than how they actually think. Perhaps our fill-up-only man doesn’t want to admit that he gets tempted from time to time, although I can accept that there are occasions when you’re in a hurry and all you want to do is get away in the fastest possible time.
THE THIRD ISSUE WITH OPTS has always been their cost. At £3,000+ a pump, this was a hefty ’premium’ on the cost of re-equipping your forecourt. At this year’s show, other exhibitors had caught up with VBI in offering one single OPT terminal that could cover all pumps. While very much a half-way house to the extent that the motorist has to walk away from the pump to access the terminal, at an overall cost of £3,000+ for all of the forecourt, this solution does radically alter the economics of unmanned operation for night time or weekends.
AS THESE STAND-ALONE TERMINALS operate by using an inbuilt mobile phone to get authorisation for the transaction, they appear to add yet a further twist to the ’mobile phones on the forecourt’ debate. First we were told how dangerous they were. Up went all the notices prohibiting their use and our cashiers got accustomed to the volleys of abuse when telling motorists to switch them off. Then I read reports that no one had actually ever proved a mobile could cause a fire. Now we have them licensed for use, albeit housed in their own structure. So what really is the truth? Where can the ignition source come from by using a mobile. With all the solid-state technology, do they really generate a spark when they ring, or is there only a danger of explosion if they drop to the ground and impact on the concrete?
DOES ANYBODY out there actually know?