The wet-stock management market in the UK is in a state of flux after a flurry of takeovers by US companies resulted in the prospect of the two biggest players, Vianet and Fairbanks, as well as Tokheim ProGauge, all being owned by the same American company.
The first deal took place late last year when Wayne Fueling, the US-based global provider of fuel dispensing, payment, automation and control technologies for fuel stations, agreed a deal to buy Vianet Fuel Solutions. Fairbanks moved into American hands at the end of May when it was acquired by OPW, a business within the Dover Corporation that had recently acquired the dispenser and systems divisions of Tokheim. This was followed two weeks later by an announcement that Dover had agreed to buy Wayne Fueling for $760m. The deal is currently being scrutinised by competition authorities and the two sides hope it will be completed by the end of the year. A week after the Wayne announcement, OPW also acquired Tokheim ProGauge. While the Wayne deal is scrutinised none of the parties are able to comment on future plans other than to say it is currently "business as usual".
For Vianet that means its wet-stock management system becoming part of Wayne’s Clearview solution. Using real-time fuel monitoring it provides statistical inventory reconciliation (SIR), theft and leak detection and can identify meters that are out of calibration. It also offers pricing and margin management administered by BigOil, which enables retailers to increase their fuel profitability by linking the daily Platts price to real-time sales, inventory levels and deliveries.
In June, Wayne announced the first contract win for Clearview when Morrisons had it installed across its network of 344 filling stations. "The integrated approach and modern technology that Wayne is supplying provides the platform for a significant move forward in our approach to managing our petrol stations," said Ahmed Mulla, forecourt operations manager at Morrisons.
Fairbanks has more than 100 analysts monitoring its customers’ sites and its Station Manager 365 web portal gives customers total visibility over their business. Margin Manager is the most recent addition to the Station Manager 365 dashboard and provides dealers with everything they need in order to make essential fuel pricing decisions.
Marketing manager Cheryl Ashton says: "It can be very difficult for forecourt owners to set the selling price of their fuel day-to-day and still maintain desired profit margins, without knowing the exact value of their underground stock. With regular deliveries all supplying fuel charged at differing rates, it is impossible to be sure that the price at which they are selling their fuel is earning the desired profit margin.
"Margin Manager removes the guesswork. The intelligent application continually updates dealers on the optimum selling price range required to retain the right margin, as the stock depletes and the value changes, so that they can set their daily rates safe in the knowledge that the price will directly reflect the true worth of their fuel stock."
Of course, other factors can also have an effect on fuel pricing decisions, such as competitor rates in the local area. Using Fairbanks’ fuel pricing tool, dealers can look back over their selling prices and compare them to those of their competitors’, allowing them to make a more informed pricing decision. Margin Manager can also be used to evaluate those decisions to help create successful pricing strategies in the future, as it can be used to compare historical selling prices against actual sales or profits, making it easy to view how pricing choices have impacted on the returns.
Looking to the future, communications manager Gareth Jenkins says the next tool in the development pipeline will link up with ordering, assessing stock levels and sales rates so that ordering can be automated if customers wish.
A newcomer to the wet-stock management marketplace is Suresite, best known in the forecourt sector for card services, where it has about 25% coverage in the UK. Group business development manager Keith Bevan says Suresite has long wanted to develop a wet-stock management solution and teamed up with Leighton O’Brien, an Australian company. He explains: "They are probably the largest provider of wet-stock analysis in the world and were looking to break into Europe."
After three years of development the official launch will be at APEA in November, but Suresite is already working with a range of independents with 12 installations so far, and is beginning to market and sell the product.
There are two versions, Wetstock Core and Wetstock Live. Core provides real-time data to a remote location so site managers can monitor vital elements such as fuel tanks, APG, sudden loss and water alarms, nozzle usage, delivery information and reconciliation information. Bevan adds: "Live takes all the other feeds and allows us to manage that for them. For instance data on alarms, meter drift, looking at automatic temperature compensation and telling them whether it is effective."
Bevan says that the crucial difference between Suresite’s system and the competition is the speed with which it monitors. While they all collect data in ’real-time’, analysis can lag behind. He says: "As an expert in data collection from our card business we are very good at that. It could be sent every 15 seconds, and as we send it we also analyse it. So our accuracy is better than anyone elses, and we record in true real-time so everything you see on screen is what is happening at your site."
Another benefit of the system is that it can bring in different feeds such as fridge and air-conditioning temperature monitors so it can incorporate much more for the dealer sites to make their jobs easier. Referring to the Wayne/Dover deal, Bevan emphasises that Suresite has been developing its system for three years, adding: "We didn’t get into this because we knew this was happening, we did it because we thought we could do it better."
Gilbarco Veeder-Root provides a cloud-based solution for wet-stock management Insite360 and has recently completed its roll-out to all BP’s company-owned, company-operated sites.
Insite360 provides a broad range of services organised by a series of packages, from entry level to advanced. Marketing director Pedro Pacheco comments: "From the myriad of possibilities offered by Insite360, those that set it apart the most from the competition are its advanced level of variance detection achieved through Gilbarco’s 30-plus years of experience in tank calibration and the fact that we offer a 24/7/365 analyst service. For instance, our analyst will contact the customer, by e-mail or phone, when a critical alarm is detected at one of their sites, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. For many of our customers, this is an essential tool in ensuring peace of mind and great value-for-money."
Latest additions to the system include a Margin Management Module and an Inventory Forecasting/Inventory Planning Module, which can define the best fuel ordering timing and making sure the level of inventory on hold is not too high or too low (for cost reasons). In addition, this system can also shift delivery timings in order to take advantage of fuel price fluctuations.
Another player in the market is Tokheim ProGauge. Fergus Heading, business development manager, says Tokheim ProGauge provides a complete set of environmental and wet-stock management solutions.
"We offer a variety of systems from entry-level probes, to innovative consoles, right through to head-office wet-stock management packages. Our wet-stock solutions ensure you comply with local legislation, allow you to manage fuel throughout your network, track inventory and delivery information, and ultimately increase your profits."
The ProGauge ATG solutions consist of a range of wired and wireless probes, and have one feature Heading describes as unique: "One probe fits all, which translates to being able to use the same probe for all types of fuel from classical fuels to LPG, AdBlue, and bio products, with the added advantage of utilising the same product float for both gasoline and diesel-based products.
"We also have a flexible and scalable range of ProGauge consoles, offering all the industry standard features with a user-friendly colour touch-screen. The console supports remote access from any device with a web browser such as your PC, tablet or smartphone."
Precise data about the size of tanks is crucial to the accuracy of monitoring systems and Eurotank has introduced Calibex, an Atex-approved, laser calibration system, which can scan live petrol and diesel tanks. As long as the fuel level is below 30% of capacity, Calibex can be fitted into a live underground storage tank.
After approximately 30 minutes, Calibex will have scanned the inside of the tank, and the data is then sent to the manufacturer, which can convert the data into a new strapping table for the tank gauge.
Group managing director Edward Wheeler says this dramatically improves the accuracy of the tank gauge and means leaks can be detected faster as well as picking up meter drift and short deliveries in a short space of time with less margin of error.
He adds: "Calibex works in harmony with our pump calibration system, TrueZero, which eliminates pump meter calibration errors, caused by vapour loss and temperature variations associated with open-neck metal cans. Using Calibex and TrueZero together, effectively eliminates two major sources of data error associated with wet-stock monitoring.
"In the future, the use of statistical analysis of wet-stock data will not be necessary as the data errors that require smoothing by statistical inventory reconciliation (SIR) will have been eliminated. A true wet-stock loss or gain figure will simply be a case of subtracting sales figures from stock figures.
Certas Energy has implemented a real time wet-stock management programme along with regular pump and tank testing across the whole of its company estate. "I cannot overstate the value of real time wet-stock management," explains Paul Muncey, head of network sales retail, at Certas Energy. "Wet-stock loss is potentially the third largest cost drain on a forecourt and the payback from working with companies such as Fairbanks and Vianet can be pretty much immediate. The cost of fuel is far too high to tolerate any losses and I would urge all dealers who do not feel that they have day-to-day control of their wet stock to take action now. Most available systems are very user friendly and easy to manage."
Case Study: Falcon Sharma
"We work in a low margin environment and cost control is everything," explains Rakesh Sharma, of Top 50 Indie Falcon Sharma Group. "But there are some aspects of the business that cannot be compromised and wet-stock management is one of them. Take a chance and there are few things more costly for a forecourt retailer if things go wrong.
"I know of one operator who, as a result of a slow leak that went undetected for months, was eventually served with a six-figure bill from his local council for contamination.
"At the Falcon Sharma Group we work closely with Fairbanks and that provides us with real-time management, pump by pump, nozzle by nozzle, tank by tank. We can pinpoint and resolve discrepancies before they become issues. If there are any losses Fairbanks will notify us by text immediately."
On its high-volume sites, Falcon Sharma Group has also installed Automatic Temperature Compensation (ATC), in an effort to eliminate fuel losses caused by temperature fluctuations. The system calculates the volume of fuel dispensed to motorists at precisely 15 degrees Celsius.
"As a general rule, fuel shrinks in colder temperatures and while conditions vary from forecourt to forecourt, underground storage tanks are lower than 15 degrees." continues Sharma.
"We are able to reduce shrinkage and further improve dispensing accuracy to the motorist."