Jenny Bullard is a portrait of the consumate professional company’s needs to grow business, and the industry as whole is benefiting. As a foremost authority on developing c-store technology solutions, Bullard has been actively involved in many technology standards initiatives developed by the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) and serves on the Petroleum Convenience Alliance for Technology Standards (PCATS) board as chair of the implementation committee.
As chief information officer for Flash Foods (Waycross, Ga.), Bullard has developeda long-standing relationship with software supplier Pinnacle Corp. (www.pinncorp.com),beta testing many of the solutions the company has brought to market over thepast 10 years.
Now, as the industry continues evolving into a hightech marketplace, Bullard is helping champion what Avsha Klachuk considers the most critical problem facing the convenience industry: integration standards.
Klachuk, director of marketing technologies for Alon USA (Dallas, Texas), orchestrates back-office and POS systems at 168 company-owned stores and ensures the data produced are compatible with data generated at the oil company’s dealer network of more than 1,300 Fina stores throughout the Southwest.
Alon’s most pressing challenge is integrating all of its stores to the same software and hardware platform, while also incorporating everything on the forecourt from car wash to electronic price signs.
“The idea is to make store operators, managers, the corporate office and marketing teams’ lives easier,” Klachuk says. “If daily work can be minimized through technology that analyzes data and communicates findings to the corporate office, we would run more efficiently. The PCATS initiatives to make everything plug-and-play will take us to the future.”
Bullard views the Wide Area Network (WAN) capabilities enhancedover the past couple years as a vital factor in attaining Klachuk’s goals.
“WAN has helped enhance and speed connections within companies,” says Bullard.”Now it’s a matter of opening the door so retailers can have a greater diversityof devices at store level that can [interact]. We hope to see improvements inthe next few years as PCATS’s Open Site Architecture committee makes more progresswith those standards. It’s a goal to see price sign integration in the nexttwo to three years.”
Pay at the pump has helped push the industry into the future, no matter how reluctantly it might have been.
“Years ago retailers weren’t sure if they wanted pay at the pump because they were afraid it would take away from their inside sales,” Bullard says. “Now it’s an essential, and we see how it’s evolved into POS systems that process credit cards quickly and efficiently while exercising control over the pumps.”
With the help of supplier Gilbarco (www.gilbarco.com), retailers like Calloway Oil (Maryville, Tenn.) use pumps to promote its interior offer, while Altoona, Pa.based Sheetz Inc. implemented technology that allows it to be more predictive than reactive with maintenance.
Calloway Oil started as a Philips 66 distributor and evolvedinto convenience retailing in 1996. As gas margins began to erode, the 20-storechain widened its offering to include branded foodservice and leased space tobank branches. Now its pumps are helping Callowayand its vendorsdrivebusiness.
The oil marketer signed on two years ago to try a new pump feature from Gilbarco called SMART Merchandising, which allows Calloway and its vendors to run promotions at interactive displays that can be localized by store and even daypart. Customers print a UPC-coded coupon at the pump and bring it in the store for redemption. Calloway has also used it to maintain gas volumes by offering discounts on a return fill-up. Redemption rates have been as high as 74%.
“SMART Merchandising is an effective advertising campaign for a smaller chain,” says Tommy Hunt, president of Calloway Oil. This allows us to easily see how customers are responding to our individual promotions.”
There’s also pump technology that takes the guesswork out of maintenance. As Sheetz expands throughout the Northeast, staying on top of stores becomes more important. So for two of its southernmost sites in North Carolina, the high-volume operator agreed to test Gilbarco’s SMART Connect, a pump technology that sets flow-rate parameters and reports an error code if a dispenser drops below.
“The SMART Connect allows us to manage our businesses better from a distance and identify issues more effectively,” says Mark Wilson, director of store support for Sheetz.
After testing for about a year, 321-store Sheetz is ready to take SMART Connectto another 65 locations that have the same generation of Gilbarco pumps. ButWilson sees the investment being quickly returned as sites run more efficiently.”The limited amount of management time with this system is key. The uptime atour sites is much better, which equates to a huge savings,” he says.