Independent service station owners are always looking for ways to remain competitive against major petrol station chains. There are limits to what you can do regarding the price of fuel, so it’s time to look at a few factors that are within the control of the independent service station owner.

There are plenty of ways that you can drive business and put your best foot forward that don’t involve cutting prices. Let’s explore the top 10 ways we encourage ServoPro members to stay competitive against their much larger competitors.

1. Strong retail offers

There’s nothing that people love more than a deal, and many are constantly on the lookout for a good one. By offering strong retail offers at your service station, you’re providing a large portion of your customer base a reason to choose you over a competitor.

Choosing specific days of the week for special promotional offers, like deals on coffee on Mondays to get customers revved up, or doughnut deals on Fridays to act as a special treat heading into the weekend. Be creative and flexible with your promotional strategy to gain the attention of potential customers.

2. Great customer service

Good customer service puts a smile on someone’s face, but great customer service sticks with someone all day and keeps them coming back. You can promote great customer service by encouraging your employees to get to know the regulars – not just learning their names, but knowing what they order and small facts about them.

There’s almost no better feeling than being known and recognised within the community, and if your service station is a place where that can happen, people will remember you and make a point to choose your station above others.

3. Loyalty programs

What better way to incentivise loyalty than through loyalty programs? You can start one of these handy campaigns by using an old-fashioned punch card or going digital and asking for customers to plug in their phone number or email address every time they make a purchase at your petrol station.

Loyalty programs offer rewards to your customers and encourage them to return to get those rewards, for example, 10 fill-ups at the pump could earn them a free coffee.

4. Get social

These days, everyone is on social media – and that should include your service station. Utilising social media is the best way to get eyes on your business and to engage with your customer base.

It’s not just great for your existing customers, it can also be a great tool to entice a new audience to come through your doors as well. Looping back to point number one, you can always offer deals that are unique to social media to incentivise people to follow you and stay tuned for updates.

5. Food and coffee

Service stations are no longer places to just fill up your fuel tank, they’re also a place for weary travelers – coming from near and far – to stop and refuel. And refueling for many means food and coffee. These are two things that you absolutely must stock at your service station, as most customers expect them when they walk through your doors.

Some people even choose the coffee at petrol stations over popular chains, they love it that much. Your coffee is a big part of what you’re known for, so putting thought behind what you stock is everything when it comes to getting ahead of your competitors.

6. Cleanliness

When we talk about cleanliness, we are talking about keeping a clean service station in general. But even more so, we’re talking about clean bathrooms. Many people use service stations as a rest stop after a long trip, and the last thing that they want is to be disgusted by what they find in your restrooms. No, making sure the restrooms are spotless isn’t necessarily a glamorous job, but it is necessary.

A clean bathroom in a service station is something that will stick out in a customer’s mind, simply because having a clean public bathroom is so rare. A clean bathroom will most definitely keep customers coming back to seek your cleanliness out.

7. Innovate

Innovation in the service station industry means doing things that your competitors haven’t thought of yet. Finding out what’s popular and getting ahead of the trends is a great way to make sure that your service station has a leg up on those around you. If you’re constantly innovating and not allowing yourself to get too comfortable, there’s no way you’ll fall behind.

8. Act on customer feedback

The hard truth is that not every customer is going to be 100 per cent happy with the service that you provide. Whether it’s your fault or not, when a customer gives feedback in the way of an online review or in person, it’s important to act on it and show that you want your service station to be the best that it can be.

Even more than that, you want to show your customers that you value their opinions and the experiences that they have within your petrol station. So, when a customer has a complaint, act on it and do what you can to amend what went wrong.

9. Hire the best employees

Having an exemplary service station begins by having exemplary employees. Hiring employees that truly care about your business and the service that it provides is the foundation of a successful service station. You can rest easy knowing that the people running your station put in as much effort as you do.

Excellent employees will go out of their way to greet customers, remember regulars, improve the store, and fix anything that goes wrong throughout the day.

10. Be an active part of the community

Your service station is an integral part of the community. Your customers stop in for a variety of different, important reasons. They use your service station to fuel their cars, fill their stomachs, grab a snack for the road, and much more, depending on how many services your petrol station offers. Customers also stop in with the expectation of seeing a friendly face that knows them and who is happy to see them, and having this camaraderie strengthens your bond with the community.

You can also be an active part of your community by allowing people to post signs on your bulletin board and by taking part in community events. This will make you stick out in people’s minds, and they’ll be more likely to choose you over larger competitors that don’t have that aspect of support for the community.

This article was written by Dan Armes, Founder, ServoPro for the April/May issue of Convenience & Impulse Retailing magazine.

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