When you get a call from a customer, backed up by a car dealer, saying that water in your fuel has ruined their engine, panic can set in but not if you have a decent wet-stock management service in place.

Tristan King, managing director of King Family Stores, which owns Castelle Service Station, a 24-nozzle Jet/Spar dual-branded forecourt and c-store on the outskirts of Warsop, Nottinghamshire, recently got such a call. He explains: "A customer filled up at our forecourt and then drove to Edinburgh, where he started to have problems with his engine. He took the car to a local Vauxhall dealer who said there was water in his fuel. When the dealer and customer contacted us, we immediately contacted Fairbanks who found the transaction on their system and within seconds they could prove that all the necessary checks had been carried out and that water hadn’t been in the fuel at the time of purchase.

"Fairbanks instantly put our mind at ease and we could, in turn, reassure our customer who went from being irate to satisfied in the knowledge that there hadn’t been a problem with our fuel. I can’t imagine how worried we’d have been if we didn’t have that back-up. We would have had to shut up the site and could potentially have lost thousands of pounds worth of fuel.

"As a nation we don’t think twice about insuring our cars and homes, so why wouldn’t fuel retailers insure their forecourt businesses in a similar way? Wet-stock management ensures that if you have a problem then you are covered. Yes it’s an extra cost, but the potential losses your business could incur if anything did happen could be astronomical. In my opinion, it’s money well spent."

Tristan took over the Castelle site in December 2016 and almost immediately appointed, Fairbanks, part of Dover Fueling Solutions (DFS). "Although we own four other convenience stores, this was our first venture into fuel retailing and we had been advised by quite a few other forecourt retailers that appointing a wet-stock management company was the way to go.

"It’s given us peace of mind knowing that such a high-risk product is managed properly and that if anything goes wrong we will be notified almost immediately. We take comfort in knowing that we are dispensing correctly, that there are no leaks and that we are making the margins we should be making. From a health and safety perspective, we’re dotting the Is and crossing the Ts."

Tristan says that as Fairbanks is constantly analysing his wet stock, if ever there is a difference in the figures he provides them with and the information their technology is capturing it’s picked up immediately. "They would, for example, pick up on a pump that is dispensing more or less than it should. When you make such small margins on fuel, you can soon lose a lot of money if you aren’t dispensing the right amount. It is also invaluable having a third party on board should you encounter any customer concerns about fuel quality like we did recently."

Listen and learn

Gilbarco Veeder-Root (GVR) has been spending time trying to understand what matters most to independent forecourt managers, working with various independent retailers to really find out what drives them.

James Crowe, ATP/STP marketing manager at GVR, says the findings indicated four areas that made a big impact on these businesses daily and led to the creation of four guides to unlocking the potential for business success. These four guides available at eu.gilbarco.com/unlock-your-business-potential are entitled Saving Time, Community Spirit, Peace-of-Mind and Better Business.

Crowe says: "The information in the guides is distilled directly from station owners’ comments and thoughts, giving an insight into the daily operation of top performing forecourts."

One recurring theme that came up in the research was not having enough time to do everything in a day. Crowe says: "Here at GVR we aim to provide the best solutions that fit into the daily routine of a busy forecourt manager, allowing them to take back control over the business logistics. Solutions that aim to take the stress and pressure off, freeing up time and precious energy to focus on areas that derive the most business satisfaction, like spending time with customers."

Rick Bardsley, Insite 360 FuelQuest marketing manager at GVR, says Insite360 FuelQuest is offered as a tiered solution, giving station and network owners the freedom to dictate the level of control they want from the service. "This allows for complete peace of mind through delegation to expert analysts who take care of all aspects of wet stock allowing managers to free up a lot of valuable time daily."

Bardsley says one of the most powerful features of Insite360 FuelQuest is Advanced Variance Analysis, which identifies the sources of loss which can occur for many reasons, and is able to identify meter drift by nozzle to prevent dispensing ’free fuel’ as well as identifying leaks, thefts and, more importantly, is able to deliver actionable insights and prevent further issues.

Best in class

As for providing local wet-stock management control, Bardsley points to the best-in-class TLS range of automatic tank gauging systems. "Having been the world’s number one go-to solution for tank monitoring for many decades, the TLS range has always offered accuracy and reliability. The latest generation of TLS now combines accuracy and reliability with superior connectivity. This enables fuel data to be accessed 24/7 either via the Iniste360 FuelQuest service or standalone smartphone/tablet applications.

"By taking care of the more stressful elements of fuel management, and generating real costs savings, Insite360 allows forecourt owners to focus their attentions on providing their customers with better services and gives them the capacity to re-invest in new features on the forecourt that offer more value for their customers to generate more profit for the business."

Kit Tandon, owner of Chessington Service Station, says: "My tanks are too important not to control them properly. Insite360 FuelQuest, together with the TLS monitoring system, give me the assurance that my wet stock is fully under control."

Maximising fuel margins

Eurotank Service Group has invested in two pieces of technology to help retailers maximise fuel margins by reducing wet-stock loss.

To fully understand when and how retailers experience wet stock loss, Eurotank can accurately calibrate retailers’ tank gauges using a laser calibration system called Calibex.

Edward Wheeler, group managing director of Eurotank Service Group, says: "Nearly all fuel retailers in the UK suffer from inaccurate tank gauge readings, which have to be analysed using statistical inventory reconciliation (SIR). This is primarily down to tank gauges not being calibrated using the tank’s exact dimensions.

"As more retailers move to temperature adjusted supply contracts and either retrofit automatic temperature compensation (ATC) at the pumps or buy new pumps with ATC fitted, it becomes even more essential to calibrate the tank gauge as this will be the only consistent volume reading that is produced," adds Wheeler.

"Sites with ATC fitted at the pump will take a long time to show up meter drift in the wet-stock data; perhaps even as long as a full 12 months, which would amount to a lot of lost product."

Wet-stock loss also happens during deliveries. Vapour is created when petrol is dropped into the tanks and the tanker recovers this vapour via the Stage 1b vapour recovery system. The tanker returns the vapour to the terminal where most of it is recovered back to liquid petrol.

"Low-cost diffusers and air purge valves can be fitted to your tank fill pipes to reduce turbulence and vapour creation so that the tanker takes away less vapour," explains Wheeler. "Stage 2 vapour recovery will also replenish the vapour lost during tanker deliveries. The cost of fitting vapour reducing devices is low and, with the cost of petrol high, it makes sense to do something to reduce losses now."

In addition, wet-stock loss occurs through petrol pump meter drift. "As motorists fill up, the meters inside petrol pumps will eventually drift so that, in almost all cases, they give away more product to the consumer than was paid for," says Wheeler. "Regular meter audits and cut-back programmes should be in place to reduce the impact of meter drift. The higher the volume throughput, the more regularly you should have your meters checked."

When petrol pump meters are cut back/recalibrated using open-neck cans, some of the liquid petrol dispensed through the meter turns into vapour and escapes to the atmosphere. This lost petrol is built into the calibration, meaning the meter will give away petrol to the consumer from the moment it is put back into action.

To address vapour loss during meter calibration, Eurotank launched TrueZero, which is a 20-litre piston meter.

"TrueZero removes the vapour loss error from the pump calibration process and can save retailers, on average, £1,000 per one million litres of motor spirit," says Wheeler.

The company now has two TrueZero units operating out of its Southampton and Stoke-on-Trent depots.

Queue-busting on forecourts

Dover Fueling Solutions (DFS), a Dover company that delivers advanced fuel dispensing equipment, electronic systems and payment, fleet systems, automatic tank gauging and wet-stock management, is using the Fairbanks Station Manager 365 online web portal to help reduce queues on forecourts. The company says the power of Station Manager 365 comes from centralising and interpreting data from many sources. It can identify the strengths and weaknesses of an operation to give complete visibility and control by delivering accurate information straight to the user’s fingertips.
Cheryl Ashton, marketing communications manager for fuel management at DFS, says: "Fuel retailers now demand more insight into consumer behaviour, pump activity, competitor pricing, margin management and historic sales trends. Station Manager 365 delivers all this and more, but it’s not only the retailers who can benefit from this intelligent software solution.
"Forecourt service providers can take advantage of Station Manager 365’s ability to identify potential problems, such as slow nozzle flow rates, ensuring that they can carry out the necessary, preventative maintenance before it becomes an issue. Early indication that a filter needs replacing or cleaning will help to minimise dispenser downtime, drive fuel sales and improve the customer experience."
Ashton says pump maintenance contractors can benefit from the ’nozzle usage’ report which details pump activity, highlighting any inactive pumps, showing the number of idle days and displaying the time they were last used. This invaluable information helps the contractors to react swiftly to problem pumps and therefore provide a better service to the forecourt owners.
Similarly, by understanding the volume dispensed by each nozzle, contractors can ensure that pumps are serviced at the appropriate time intervals which will help to reduce overheads and prolong their life.
Future developments will see Station Manager 365 responding to diagnostic codes from the pump and relaying them to the maintenance centre before the forecourt owner is aware of the problem, allowing contractors to resolve the issue promptly.

A Sure winner

Following its launch in late 2016, Suresite has now made significant in-roads with its wet-stock management solutions in conjunction with Leighton O’Brien, the global fuel software and field tech company. 
Successes include Greenergy, where Suresite has been appointed as preferred supplier to provide wet-stock management across its Esso dealer network and, most recently, Silverstone Circuits Ltd where working on behalf of Gulf, the world renowned motor racing venue can now manage, in real time, the throughput of its Gulf Endurance range of fuels. These include Gulf’s premium unleaded, Gulf 99 Octane Track unleaded and Gulf 102 Octane specially blended racing fuel formula for even greater performance. The forecourt within Silverstone Circuits National Paddock has been extensively refurbished with Gulf Retail the official fuel partner.
 "It has been a pleasure to work with Gulf Retail on this exciting project at one of the world’s great motorsport arenas," explains Dan Gibson, wet-stock manager at Suresite Ltd.
"The Silverstone Circuits’ forecourt is used 24/7 and its product range includes Gulf’s high performance, high octane track and specially blended race fuels. These are expensive, specialist pin-sharp blends that have to perform at their optimum and therefore monitoring flow rates is very important."
Lee Thomas, procurement and contracts manager at Silverstone Circuits Ltd, comments: "Our forecourt has now been refurbished to meet future demand from both the racing fraternity and motoring public. It operates unmanned 24 hours a day, and with such high-precision products on site, we recognised the importance of working with Suresite to implement the best available wet-stock management solution."