Quick proof points I am a major fuels retail geek:

  1. My 7-year old daughter once thought I worked at a gas station/convenience store.
  2. She may or may not be able to tell you the difference between a Gilbarco and a Wayne dispenser.
  3. Rather than reading bedtime stories, we have brainstorming sessions on how to improve the gas station experience.

This past weekend, my daughter and I were coming up with things to do and decided on having a design-thinking session in our kitchen. Our problem statement: “How might we improve the fuel and convenience retail (typical gas station) experience?” We brainstormed and it turns out my daughter has sentiments similar to those of many people.

  1. Sometimes the gas does not work.
    In my daughter’s life, I could probably count on two hands how many times she has experienced a gas-station outage; however, this seems to be the first thing that comes to mind.
    Conclusion: Outages leave lasting impressions, and it may only take one outage to lose a customer forever.
  2. The stores are not OK.
    General feeling here that the stores are not A-OK on her list. In following up on this one, she reiterated she does not like going into the typical gas station or convenience store.
    Conclusion: The overall “feeling” people get is not enjoyable. In most instances, consumers want to get in and out of the store as quickly as possible, and my daughter is no exception.
  3. It is small.
    This one is interesting as convenience stores are meant to be small. Digging deeper, she thinks the stores are too small. Perhaps she’s never been to a Buc-ee’s?1
    Conclusion: Even in small square-footage environments, store layout is critical so as not to be perceived as being cramped.
  4. It’s not clean.
    This one goes without saying. My daughter emphasized that not only are the stores not clean, but also that touching the gas and pumps are major turnoffs.
    Conclusion: Getting back to fundamentals, a clean store drives a better consumer experience. Clean needs to be throughout—from pumps to bathrooms, to countertops, to exterior paint.
  5. The gas stinks.
    Hand in hand with the previous point, gas stinks. Full stop. She even said she doesn’t like the way I smell when I get back in the car!
    Conclusion: The experience of filling up transcends far beyond while you’re standing outside. Ever get gas on your hands, not have a way to wipe them off and then have to get back in your car? It’s memorable in the worst way.
  6. The wood could get soggy.
    Wow—this came out of left field. She explained one of the stations we went to was selling firewood outside while it was raining. Her comment: “No one wants to buy wet firewood.”
    Conclusion: Think about the products you’re selling in your store and on the forecourt, as well as how positioning and presentation can entice consumers to make the purchase.
  7. You are bored while Dad pumps gas.
    The experience is boring not only Dad but apparently others. The act of refueling is neither fun nor engaging.
    Conclusion: Could there be a way to involve others in the refueling process … from the car? Perhaps an augmented reality app that allows kids to see the inner workings of a dispenser while refueling?
  8. It has junk food.
    Our industry faces this issue day in and day out. My daughter didn’t think there was anything in the store for her to eat because it was all unhealthy.
    Conclusion: Retailers have an opportunity to focus on healthy and hearty choices for young people. Teen consumption of soft drinks in the United States is down by one-third over two years.2 Our industry needs to shift to satisfying changing tastes and needs.

In conclusion, it might not take a detailed consumer-research survey to reveal challenges facing our industry. We have opportunities to make a positive impact on our children’s lives, and become a fundamental part of their lives, similar to how convenience stores were a part of ours growing up. Companies that act today to understand shifting tastes and attitudes are likely to have a competitive edge in our fast-changing industry.

1 Buc-ee’s is a chain of convenience stores located in the Southeast and Southwest of the United States famous for its spotless restrooms: https://www.buc-ees.com/index.php
2 2015 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/features/yrbs/index.html

Brian Gray

Managing Director – Strategy & Consulting, Energy

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