Gas station managers know well the challenge of having to find ways to attract customers to their establishments. With fuel prices providing limited possibilities for differentiations, the gas station store and food service are your best bets to create an offering that makes you stand out from the competition. But how to drive business to your services, without cutting prices or affecting your margins?
We asked this question to forecourt managers and experts. Here are their 9 tips.
Differentiate your product offering
When you carry the same products and brands as your competitors, shoppers have no good reason to shop at your chain instead of somewhere else. Find a product niche that other stores in the area do not carry, and which locals, or drivers passing by, might be interested in. To attract locals, you may consider selling uncommon snacks, premium car item, or a large selection of magazines. To draw tourist and visitors, you could focus on premium items which have a connection with what the area offers. Are there rivers to which fishermen flock? Stock baits or flies. Woods where people go bird-watching? Add binoculars, guidebooks and seeds. Are you located on the road to the stadium? Then stock up on the local team’s jerseys and merchandise for fans stopping by on their way to the game.
Give the right first impression
For many customers, cleanliness matters. The gas pumps on your forecourt are the first thing your customers see – if they are ruined or dirty, customers may wonder about the state of your bathrooms or kitchen. Keep your fuel pumps in tip-top shape: clean the nozzles, buttons and display. And of course, your restrooms should be spotless. Check the status regularly, multiple times a day, and remove spills, used paper towel and graffiti as they appear. Few things are as unpleasant as a seemingly unsanitary public bathroom. You may remember the Trainspotting bathroom scene: that’s a movie reference you definitely don’t want your customers to recall when they enter your establishment.
Think about the products’ placement
Too many gas stations seem to pay way too little attention to how products are displayed in their convenience stores. You may see motor oil sitting next to the candy bar section, cleaning products sharing a shelf with kids’ toys. As a result, customers hardly feel enticed to walk around and browse. Just by moving products around you can increase the effectiveness of your retail store. Foster impulse buys by positioning complementary items next to each other in your minimart: chips and salty snacks should be next to the beer and soda. Charcoal next to the lighter fluid, and not too far from the grilling spices. A functional layout makes it easier for customers to find what they are looking for – and perhaps add an item or two that they hadn’t planned to buy.
Spice up your food service
Just because you run a gas station, it doesn’t mean that your fresh food service must be limited to hot dogs, tired sandwiches and wilted Cesar’s salads. Expand your offering to include tasty, original dishes, and you will attract more returning, local customers to your establishment. This doesn’t mean you need to hire a Michelin-starred chef – but it will pay off to get a decent, local cook who brings good flavors to the table. Make sure to differentiate your menu with dishes other local diners don’t offer, whether it is a signature apple pie, a selection of delicious pretzels, or a home-made sauce that makes your burgers memorable.
Offer special deals
Special offers can be very effective to attract customers or increase basket size. To achieve higher profitability, discount items that are often sold alongside high-profit products. For instance, you could have an offer on small bags of chips – but don’t forget to position cans of soda nearby. How often should you have these offers? Science suggests that pop-up offers are more effective than discounts that happen regularly, for example every Monday.
Do something nice that customers will want to reciprocate
Psychology studies show that getting something for free makes people feel special, and it makes them want to return the favor. The gift can be very small, such as a complimentary chocolate with the coffee.
In my hometown, there is a gas station where they always wipe your windshield for free while you are refilling. Although this establishment is neither cheaper nor more conveniently located than its competitors, I always stop there for gas when I am in the area. In Seattle, USA, a local gas station became popular for amusing passers-by and attracting guests with witty messages and jokes on its road-facing readerboard. By brightening people’s day, the owner got free publicity, and more loyal customers.
Offer a loyalty program
“Convenience store shoppers are familiar with loyalty programs from grocery and drug stores but fewer shoppers participate in c-store loyalty programs. There is definitely an opportunity to expand,” says Chris Quam, consumer insights manager at General Mills. When you plan your loyalty program, make it worthwhile for participants: plan well your rewards, how people can attain them, and include surprises (for example, every now and then you may reward loyalty card owners with a free snack, or 10% off gas) and personalized offers. To make the program more attractive, reward customers for shopping with you at the pumps, in the c-store and at the diner. This is easy to do if you use a unified system to manage your whole forecourt business, rather than separate systems for each activity. A comprehensive loyalty program is more interesting for users, and for you, too: you can collect a wide range of information on your customers’ habits, and use them to guide your purchasing decisions, and to design tailored offers.
Create a safe experience
When gas stations appear in the news, it’s often for one of two reasons: robberies, or rising fuel prices. It’s therefore important to ensure your station is safe for both your customers and your employees. Keep the forecourt well lit, and install well-visible and good quality security cameras. If your forecourt is bright and well surveilled, you will increase the chance of people stopping by during off hours. To increase your staff members’ safety, instal shatter-proof glass, electronic doors, a security system and a drop safe for cash.
Let service set your store apart
Great customer service can set your gas station apart. Select employees who are punctual, reliable and have a knack for customer service, and train them not only on what they have to do, but also on how to greet customers, and on how they should deal with various situations. Don’t take your best employees for granted: reward those who are giving exceptional service. A happy and satisfied employee is less likely to leave, and more likely to deliver high-quality work.
Do you want to turn your gas station around? Contact our experts to get help on how to make your gas station popular and profitable.