A couple of months ago we mentioned that despite the apparent myriad of information sources available to them, many operators seemed to be more in the dark about the state of their business than ever before. The point was that on many forecourts reports were being churned almost non-stop, but nobody had the time to read them - let alone try and form some coherent picture of what was really going on. The response from a number of retailers since that article has been ’so it’s not just me then!’. No, you are not alone. Information overload might feature all across our culture, but it does seem to have hit petrol retailing pretty hard already. Take just one example.
WETSTOCK LOSSES, WHAT LOSSES?
Most of the oil majors, and many of the independent network operators, use remote tank monitoring of some or other variety. It’s a good idea if used as a failsafe, raising a real-time alert if the apparent stock losses exceed any particular threshold; after all petrol isn’t just expensive, it’s also very dangerous stuff and you don’t want it draining down the road.
Of course, some retailers decided that if their wetstock was being watched by someone else, then they needn’t bother keeping any of the detailed tank-to-pump reconciliations that they used to do. Over time many more retailers came to dispense with the routines of pump meter readings - why bother when there’s an electronic monitor in place?
Well, on some sites we are still paid to undertake a physical pump reading and reconcile it to recorded sales volume figures and physical stock movements. It’s called an ’audit’ and some owners/operators still want to know that all of their fuel stock is actually accounted for physically, as well as electronically. There are also some very experienced site operators who’ll privately admit that they feel more comfortable doing these same checks themselves.
Strange then, how on some sites both we and the individual retailers consistently see very high wet-stock losses which we would have expected to have produced some sort of reaction from the oil company. But the network head offices seem to be oblivious - either they’re seeing completely different figures or there’s actually nobody there at head office to read and/or understand them.
Experience suggests the latter. Unfortunately, the person who would have done it previously was probably made redundant and even if they are still in the job, they don’t have the time to look at figures arriving from sites around the country. After all, if there’s a problem, surely the site manager/operator will have seen it themselves - won’t they?
IT’S MORE COMMON THAN YOU IMAGINE
The wet stock situation is just one example. We see similar things happening with dry stock, cash balances and other key performance criteria.
Take drystock: sites reporting huge ongoing negative stock figures to head office. Across every sales category. Every month. Those figures being (presumably) reflected in head office’s main stock control and accounting systems. Utter nonsense but nobody seems to notice, or understand.
It starts at site level when the over-stressed manager/retailer is hopelessly and irredeemably ’behind’ with their paperwork; so the POS/BOS is showing ridiculous theoretical ’stock’ figures which get transmitted to head office and affect their view of site stock values and order requirements; it ends with ’head-office’ basing their decisions on information that’s hopelessly unreliable.
There is a difference between ’information’ and ’data’. Information is data that has been filtered, with the noise removed and hence with some degree of coherence. Unfortunately for all of the ’data’ being produced these days, there are fewer and fewer filters. No wonder the humans left to interpret it can’t make much sense of it all. More worrying still, is the thought that people are putting their trust in the notion that there’s always someone else monitoring the same stuff who’ll tell them if there’s a problem.
It’s a little like the blind mouse relying on the deaf mouse to tell him when there’s a train coming into the tunnel they’ve just entered!