In the latest edition of Convenience World we delve into the importance of the forecourt and how retailers can maximise its success.
ACAPMA CEO Mark McKenzie describes the forecourt as “somewhat like the front garden of a home”.
“It conveys to the customer an impression of your business,” he says.
“Forecourts that are clean, well designed, well-lit and fitted with modern equipment convey an impression to the public that the business is well run and gives customers a general sense of wellbeing when entering your business.
“Conversely, forecourts that don’t meet these criteria often result in customers driving past your business, no matter what the fuel price is on your price boards.”
Mr McKenzie says he believes this aspect of a business is often missed by fuel retailers, which “will spend lots of time cutting corners with the aim of getting their fuel price as low as they possibly can”.
“But,” he says, “there’s a point at which you make the physical look and feel of your forecourt so unattractive that people start to wonder about the quality of your fuel product.”
In this world of petrol and convenience, Mr McKenzie says, the customer’s experience on the forecourt will also “most likely” impact their buying behaviour in the shop.
“If the customer feels comfortable on your forecourt because it’s pleasant and clean and well lit, then they’re more likely to take the time to browse in your shop,” he says. “The converse applies: if the forecourt is dirty or daggy, then there’s every chance they’ll want to get away as soon as they can.”
Beyond just appearance
The physical appearance of the forecourt is not the sole consideration as a service station owner, though.
“The forecourt must also be managed to ensure that it’s safe for customers and staff alike and that it’s managed in such a way to meet your absolute obligation to prevent environmental damage,” Mr McKenzie says.
“From a safety perspective, your forecourt must be operated in such a way to ensure that your customers are safe while on your premises. This means that appropriate signs and instructions are clearly displayed on all pumps, that the operation of the forecourt is being overseen at all times by a qualified individual, that emergency controls and safety equipment are highly visible and operational, and that staff are appropriately trained in emergency management procedures.
“In this day and age, it’s also important to ensure that the business has considered the consequences of aggressive customer actions towards other customers and staff.”
When it comes to environmental performance, Mr McKenzie says business owners have an “absolute responsibility” to prevent pollution and comply with all relevant environmental regulations.
“Essentially, this is about managing fuel spills, whether they be in the tanker unloading area or the customer filling areas of the forecourt, to capture the fuel spill and prevent discharge of the fuel into the stormwater system,” he says. “Ideally, this means having fuel/water separation systems operating on the site. If ‘blind’ sumps are used, it means making sure that these sumps are regularly inspected and cleaned out.
“In some states, the existing of vapour recovery regulations means there’s a need to ensure that all vents and stacks are operating as they should. Regular inspection of the pressure relief valve is essential for these systems.”