BP Testing “Smart Wi-Fi” at U.S. Stores

BP North America has teamed with two wireless networking firms to pilot a souped-up version of Wi-Fi at 50 stores nationwide, all in hopes of adding more value to the customer experience.

“We’re very interested in what the customer reaction will be,” said BP spokesman Scott Dean. “We have high hopes for this.”

BP turned to Dayton, Ohio-based network management company HarborLink Network and Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Wi-Fi services company Ruckus Wireless to offer the service for free at 50 sites. If it’s well received, the service could be rolled out to additional BP and ampm locations.

Dubbed “Smart Wi-Fi,” the wireless service offers a hopped-up hotspot called a Smartspot, which Ruckus Wireless said is a more sophisticated version of Wi-Fi in that it offers enhanced multimedia support, extended signal range, increased reliability and remote management capabilities.

Retailers across the board are adding Wi-Fi as another way to attract customers, but HarborLink President Rick Tangeman said conventional Wi-Fi service isn’t passing muster these days, given the vast array of mobile devices in consumers’ hands.

BP wanted a Wi-Fi system that was not only affordable but easy for dealers to install. HarborLink and Ruckus set up a system that is essentially plug-and-play. Ruckus Wireless has a ZoneFlex Smart Wi-Fi system that allowed HarborLink to create the Wi-Fi package so it could be sent to BP-branded dealers and installed in a matter of minutes. The device automatically connects to Ruckus’ FlexMaster Wi-Fi management system, where it can be configured without any human intervention.

“BP challenged us to create and deliver a smarter Wi-Fi system that could be sent to BP-branded marketers and easily installed by anyone,” Tangeman said. “And it had to be extremely affordable but also carrier-class, offering advanced services, extensive coverage, reliable connectivity and remote management. We were hardpressed to find anything that could fit the bill.”

HarborLink and Ruckus’ advertising-based turnkey system is run off both companies’ platforms. It allows for customized content, full-motion video and user-specific ads to be inserted in pages based on a site’s geographic location, which means BP dealers and franchisees can promote in-store specials in addition to offering the service.

“It’s another way for us to provide customers with added convenience and make BP their store of choice,” Dean said.
BP dealers can voluntarily opt into the program, but they must pay a one-time rental fee for the necessary equipment, which includes a year of service, help desk support and other offerings.

Englefield Acquisition

In other BP News, the oil company reached a deal with Englefield Oil to sell 43 ampm stores. Englefield Oil Co., of Heath, Ohio, will just about double in size with the purchase of the c-stores in the Columbus, Ohio, area. Factoring in the acquisition, which is expected to close in late January, Englefield’s annual sales will be in excess of $1 billion. The company is owned by brothers Bill and Ben Englefield.

Ben Englefield said the chance to buy the stores presented itself because BP is getting out of direct operations of its convenience stores, which are operated under the ampm brand. This purchase marks the fourth time Englefield has bought up some of BP’s stores, though this is the largest deal.

Twenty-five of Englefield’s new stores will continue under the ampm brand, while the remaining stores will carry Englefield Oil Co.’s Duke and Duchess brand.

Englefield owns and operates 95 Duke and Duchess Shoppes throughout Ohio and West Virginia. This acquisition will add 600 employees to the company, bringing the total to 1,800.

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