People want much more from a forecourt than fuel and a good convenience offer. They want services too
You’ve got a great forecourt with fast pumps and a smart canopy to keep your customers dry. You’ve also got a modern convenience store with a comprehensive food and drink offering including that all-important food to go. That’s all great but what else do you offer? Busy consumers are looking to get things done as quickly and conveniently as possible so they’re favouring sites and stores where they can send or collect a parcel, withdraw cash, do the lottery and even do their washing!
For Tim Garner, co-owner of Forecourt Trader of the Year winner 2019, Woolmer Service Station, these types of extra services are vital. At the Woolmer site they have the lottery, PayPoint, Amazon lockers, Collect+ and a free-to-use ATM.
"We use space at the side of the building for the Amazon lockers and we get a yearly rental fee, which is paid monthly.
"They’re really easy to use, in fact we use them ourselves. You get sent a code to unlock yours to gain access to your parcel," he explains.
"It’s difficult to quantify how much these types of services add to your business but it’s all part of being an ultimate destination for consumers. You make very little money from the services but they do bring people in. People come in to use Paypoint, for example, and then buy other things.
"Our ATM is very busy and we get a pence per transaction fee but that’s very low. However, our ATM is inside our shop for security reasons and because we want people to come in the shop."
Duncan Fraser, owner of Bridgend Filling Station in Beauly, Invernesshire, says that if his site wasn’t offering add-on services, such as laundry, they would not be able to compete with the Co-op nearby.
Historically, Duncan’s family had a separate laundry business and when they expanded their shop, they moved into that space and moved the laundry business to a separate building. However, they kept a few washing machines and dryers in the filling station shop as it’s open much longer hours than the laundry.
"Because of the layout of the building, the structure didn’t lend itself to opening it out so it was easier for us to keep some machines," says Duncan. "We have three washing machines and four dryers and there’s always at least one person doing something in there. They could be washing a duvet because our machines are bigger than theirs at home or their washing machine could have broken down."
When Duncan heard a Co-op was opening close to his forecourt, he decided to add a Post Office to the business.
"We had to do something to survive," he says. "The post office brings footfall; a different set of customers to what we have normally had so that has been a benefit. It’s brought in people getting their pensions and folk who don’t have a car. We’ve also benefited from increased stationery and card sales."
With many rural post offices closing, it’s been a major boost to the community, however, Duncan says that financially he couldn’t have the post office without the sorting office business that comes with it, which gives him a fairly substantial remuneration.
"We now have the largest sorting office outside Inverness, with 13 postmen operating out of it. It’s an essential service in a rural community."
Another retailer doing well with post offices is Steve Smith, who owns Tanerdy Garage in Carmarthen and Gwalia Garage, about three miles outside of the town. When Stephen bought his second site it had a post office, which had to close.
He says the reaction to it closing was so strong that he then looked at having post offices in each of his sites.
Tanerdy got its Post Office last March, after nine months of preparation and training. And the predicted earnings from the Post Office are already 25% ahead of target and growing daily. Steve says the goodwill created by the presence of the Post Office has been exceptional.
"With the banks closing branches we thought there could well be a good level of demand, and there has been," he says.
Steve explains that having a post office in both sites means all staff are trained to do everything: they can do the post office, serve in the shop and stock up shelves etc.
"The Post Office actively contributes to our bottom line and it’s made us become a destination. It’s brought new customers in. I have one guy who runs an internet business and he comes in with 15-20 packages at a time. We were very busy before Christmas with people sending packages and busy again after Christmas with people returning them.
"There is no cost to us at all apart from the staff the Post Office pays for the safes, the alarms and on-site training. They do commit a lot to it.
"Other benefits for us are that we can bank our own cash which saves a trip into town and also saves me around £8,000 a year in bank charges. We also get the lottery and although we get paid 4% for it instead of 5%, the Post Offices does all the work for us.
Another service offered by Tanerdy is food-to-go ordered and delivered via an app.
"We use a generic phone app that’s been modified for us. It costs around £75 a month to have. It’s easy to download and then to order food. We use the Stripe credit card service and have to pay them a commission.
"When people are using the app they have the opportunity to add a delivery charge then their meal is delivered to them by a local taxi company. Most orders come from within a mile radius and we usually deliver out to about 2.5 miles away.
"We will also accept telephone orders but only if we know the person calling."
Steve says the food is cooked to order and it’s things like burgers and chips that are most popular alongside Coke and beer.
Stephen’s latest service is Click & Collect and he is currently working in conjunction with Point Four on the software for this new service.
"We’re trialling the software now and hoping to go live by the end of the month. It means people will be able to order every item from the shop online, just like they can with the supermarkets. I think Click & collect has got really good potential."
According to the Association of Convenience Stores’ Forecourt Report 2018, forecourt stores had the following services:
86% offered mobile top-ups
61% had a loyalty card
59% had the lottery
57% had bill payment services
51% had free-to-use cash machines
40% had customer toilets
33% had a parcel collection point
32% had a Click and Collect service
How to Revolution-ise your site
Photo-Me’s most popular service on forecourts is its Revolution laundry system. The company’s managing director, Elliot Andrews, says this is because it enables customers to use the machine, use the forecourt store (while their personal washing is on) and return to the Revolution once they have received a text message telling them their washing is ready.
Andrews says demographic is key to whether a Revolution system will work for a forecourt as it needs to offer unmanned laundry services to both private customers and local businesses. With regards to technical criteria three-phase power, foul draining and space allowance are all required. In terms of space the machines occupy an area of 4m wide x 2.4m deep x 2.3m high.
"We have had excellent experiences thus far with many different sizes and locations of premises. Forecourts that promote a wider and more substantial offer (petrol, two-to-three food outlets, branded coffee etc) to their customers normally operate much better, simply given the increased population usage and the dwell time that is spent at their locations."
Photo-Me installs the unit, makes weekly operational visits and scheduled preventative maintenance visits so it takes all of the operational hassle away from the site owners. Sites get a commission from the takings on a monthly basis.
Sood Enterprises has been dealing with Photo-Me since the company introduced its Revolution machines onto forecourts. It says customers are very pleased with the service and the convenience they provide.