Motor Fuels and Forecourt Technology — Q&A with Lisa Dell'Alba, President and CEO of Square One Markets Inc.

By Lisa Dell'Alba   read

Every convenience and fuel retail operation has a different process for managing and bringing their fuel to market. The key is to find what works best for your organization, stay current on regulations and emerging technologies, and ask your customers what they want.

November 01, 2018

1. Can you provide an overview of the current fuel market?  

As a small operator, having a solid and trustworthy presence in the fuel retail landscape is a great challenge and an excellent one to traverse. We have more players in the game than ever before, who are much more competitive. Of course, there will always be the age-old dance of being competitive and making good margins and finding a balance between the two. However, the demand for fuel efficiency from our customers is of paramount importance these days, now more than ever. Car owners have become much more in tune with the miles per gallon performance of their vehicles and even insist that fuel from certain outlets impact fuel efficiency. Additionally, operators selling branded fuel have had many new requirements to maintain the brand image while still having their own store brand identity to consider and keep in the limelight. There are also requirements on the forecourt coming in to play with EMV and EPA requirements. As a result, a lot of dollars are being spent on all things forecourt thereby increasing the trustworthiness of your operation. Our attention to these components is critical as it impacts the appearance and overall function of our forecourt, which is the opening act for your operation. We have been fortunate over the last few months regarding the overall stability of fuel prices, which has enabled us to focus our resources and attention to these matters.

2. Why should a convenience retailer understand how the market is going to influence their business?

Fuel retailing is an entity unto itself. There are so many variables that impact the fuel market daily, sometimes multiple times a day, in addition to the ones discussed above. Every operation has a different way of managing and bringing their fuel to market, and it is key to find what works best for your organization. Although it can seem daunting, immerse yourself in learning more about the things that impact the market. Some of your customers do for sure, just ask them. (Just kidding, they’ll tell you anyway!) Resources such as the Fuels Institute, NACS and many other groups can assist in helping a retailer learn about fuel and what impacts the market. There are so many great online resources to educate ourselves about the current state of the fuel market, and NACS can definitely help point someone looking for those resources in the right direction.

3. How is payment technology at the pump changing?

We are in the midst of some of the most exciting developments in a long time with pay at the pump technology. Aside from important upgrades required to accept chip cards and meet EMV requirements, other options such as mobile payment are becoming available. New developments with contactless payments, such as Exxon Mobil’s Speedpass Plus, are changing the way our customers purchase fuel at the pump and the way they interact with our brands. Companies like Gilbarco Veeder-Root are offering new technology to enable customers to interact with the dispenser. With some of the new offerings, customers not only pay for their fuel, but also for products inside the store. This is an excellent opportunity to engage with your customers while building trust with your brand.

4. What should a new or less experienced operator be focused on when it comes to the motor fuels and forecourt technology?

The forecourt is the proverbial “first dance” that your customer has with your brand. Getting it right on the forecourt is critical to the success of your entire operation. For a new operator, it is important to focus on the basics. Keeping your forecourt a clean and inviting appearance is a must. It may sound elementary, but it is key to building trust with your customers. As for fuel and forecourt retailing, just like we do with all things inside the store, creep on your competitors and discover where your niche is. Stay on top of current events and what might impact fuel supply by connecting with your fuel distributor or wholesaler about the fuel market.

5. If I want to increase my knowledge on motor fuels and forecourt technology, do you have any recommendations? 

Network, network, network. Associations like NACS and the Fuels Institute are a great place to start.  Join your state or local association for fuel retailing and make some new friends. Companies like Gilbarco Veeder-Root always have someone available to answer questions about forecourt technology, and they want to hear from us about what we think.

6. When you’re on the road visiting NACS members, what is the one (or several) item(s) you always go for in a convenience store?

Coffee! I love to see how others go to market with their coffee program.

For an extended version with more information on how to run a successful convenience store, check out our downloadable guide, Key Decisions for Motor Fuels and Forecourt Technology. Enter your contact information to receive the downloadable PDF via email.

Lisa Dell'Alba is the president and CEO of Square One Markets Inc. Square One Markets is a nine-store convenience and fuel retail chain operating in Northeast Pennsylvania. Throughout the last 15 years, Dell'Alba has managed multiple facets of her family business including team development, vendor/supplier relations and bringing new and innovative concepts to the market.