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01 May, 2009
The credit crunch is affecting retailer behaviour when it comes to buying fuel dispensers, reports Linda Harrison
Page 24 

Gone are the days when petrol pumps were simply about dispensing fuel. The technology fitted to dispensers has moved on considerably in the past decade, with manufacturers continuing to bring new technology to the UK market.

Adrian Beeby, sales director at Tokheim UK, says retailers are looking for the whole package when it comes to pumps. He explains: "Our customers now require more than just a dispenser. Aesthetically-pleasing designs, state-of-the-art metering technology, self-calibrating vapour recovery systems, integrated media screens with stereo sound, and Standard Temperature Compensation - to name but a few. In addition to this, and most importantly, reliability with fantastic warranty offerings and service back-up.

"We have an unrivalled range of dispenser models from the idiosyncratic yet wonderfully pragmatic Quantium 110 to the awesomely attention-grabbing Quantium 510 media-head dispenser. The range offers a dispenser for every market and budget, from a single hose to a 10-hose multi-product dispenser, all with various speeds and options to give the dispenser that 'personal touch' - after all, on average you will keep the equipment for over 15 years so you may as well have something you cherish!"

But while it's attractive to get new pumps with all the bells and whistles, the credit crunch means retailers are turning to more affordable options. Paresh Patel, service director at Epos Engineers, says in the past year the company has seen strong growth in demand from retailers looking to refurbish existing pumps. He explains: "People want to bring their pumps up to date but in the current economic climate they don't want to go the whole hog and order new pumps.If they aren't doing the volume then it's often more appealing to get pumps refurbished - that way the pumps can still have the latest technology inside. There is a strong market for refurbished pumps where retailers are re-developing sites and are sourcing refurbished equipment rather than new. This is a growing area for us - people are controlling what they're spending now, as they can't fork out the cash like they used to. We've experienced strong growth in the past year through our innovation, agility and willingness to help customers through difficult times, including sourcing parts and equipment considered obsolete or beyond repair."

Another area that the company is involved with is Stage II Vapour Recovery (VR). By the end of this year all UK sites selling more than 3.5m litres of petrol a year will need to comply with the new legislation which aims to cut air pollution by reducing emissions of the harmful volatile organic compounds that escape during refuelling. Patel says his company has been busy installing the pipework to make pumps compliant at sites around the country. In addition, he adds that stiff competition in the sector seems to be driving retailers to maximise the fuelling opportunities at their sites. The company is therefore seeing more retailers wanting grade changes on pumps to offer more fuel types, often upgrading to premium fuels like Super Unleaded.

Dresser Wayne product manager Annika Birkler agrees, saying these pump additions also extend to biofuels, with the UK seeing growth in this area because of the need to be seen to be more green.

Meanwhile, there has also been an increase in Outdoor Payment Terminals. Beeby explains: "Many sites now want the ability to provide 'Gas and Go' during busy periods as well as unmanned operation during periods when the shop is closed. Our Crypto VGA terminal is the only terminal to have a touch-screen PIN pad and user screen all in one - this makes operation very easy with unbeatable security."

Huw Carey, Torex product manager - petroleum and convenience, adds: "The popularity of outdoor payment terminals fell a few years ago because of security - there was concern over the use of stolen credit cards. But with the introduction of Chip & PIN they are a much more attractive prospect."

Esso has pay-at-the-pump dispensers at just under 100 of its company-owned UK sites - virtually all On the Runs have them. An Esso spokesman says: "In the two years since we started installing them, we have found they are popular with customers who are pressed for time and just wish to purchase fuel to enable them to continue on their journeys. Also, customers who have small children, and do not wish to leave them in the car while they go to pay, say that they appreciate them. At some of the sites more than 20% of fuel transactions are pay-at-pump and we continue to see growth in the number of such transactions. Our experience is that the offering leads to sites growing their fuel volumes. Shop sales are not impacted."

Dresser Wayne's Birkler says retailers are looking for increased automation to speed up fuelling on site, with a clearer separation between full service and unmanned stations. She adds that the company's iXPay solution can be easily integrated into pumps to offer this service, with sites either being completely unmanned, or full-service stations offering complete automation. She adds: "In the UK the hypermarkets often choose to have automation on pumps, but in parts of Europe like Scandinavia, where sites are away from the big cities or in an area of low population, unmanned sites are also common." Retailers are also looking for increased security for their equipment. Dresser Wayne offers security features such as modular panels which protect access to components, and anti-burglary devices which have sensors to detect if anyone tampers with the cabinet.

In addition, there is the issue of sustainability and low cost of ownership. Birkler says: "We offer high quality components and use premium materials externally and internally and aim to make maintenance as quick as possible." She adds that the company has promoted the idea of sustainability in its new Global Star V dispenser, the latest version of its hi-tech Global Star petrol pump. The displays on the Global Star V have LED backlights that are only 50% lit when not in use. Birkler says: "If you look at it from a green perspective it has a big impact by extending the life of the LED, so retailers don't need to replace components as often. But there are also lower energy costs."

Meanwhile, the company offers its own monitoring system for Stage II VR - Vapourgate. Birkler says it ensures the right amount of gas is sent back, alerting the retailer to any errors and eventually shutting the pump down.

Over at Tokheim, the company has been busy installing new Stage II VR dispensers and retrofitting existing pumps. Beeby says: "Most of the dispensers Tokheim supplies now are either six or eight hose, mostly all fitted with our patented self-calibrating VR2 system - ECVR-SCS. The move over to VR2 with our customers has gone very smoothly, with absolute seamless delivery. The latest features are the TQM Zero drift meter, and our revolutionary Standard Temperature Accounting (Temperature Compensation). Both have caused quite a stir with our customers." The company has spent the p ast five years developing TQM, with Beeby saying retailers wanted a meter that would work with any grade and type of fuel including bio-grades without needing special or fine filters which get clogged up causing slow and eventually no delivery. He adds: "We installed the first Temperature Compensated dispenser at a UK site last year, and thereafter several more sites have been commissioned with this new technology. We have had very good feedback from customers who have said their stock losses have reduced significantly. One customer even boasted savings of around £6,000 per quarter on stock losses."

While we are on the subject of firsts, Park Garage Group recently become the first retailer in the country to install Scheidt & Bachmann pumps. The high-tech equipment was part of a total revamp at the re-opened Watford Road forecourt in Harrow. The company's managing director Sunil Tandon worked on the project with the Premier Group - the main distributor for the German manufacturer in the UK and Ireland. There are four pumps at the site from the Multi-Product Dispensing System Series 6100 range - including full Stage ll VR. Sunil says: "Harrow now takes over as the group's flagship site and we have high expectations for it, including forecast sales of £1m in year one."

Regarding new dispenser designs, Gilbarco Veeder-Root says it has developed a prototype aimed at redefining customer experiences. The Encore 500G pump, currently being tested in market conditions at a Moto site in Wetherby, is used to demonstrate innovative features and prompt customer feedback. Features include interactive merchandising, touch screens and couponing, sound and voice guides, and Google maps.

When it comes to alternative fuels, Matt Clayton, the company's regional sales director, says: "The demand for the ability to dispense alternative fuels such as LPG and AdBlue is increasing year on year. The LPG market alone is growing by a third each year." According to Clayton, Gilbarco Veeder-Root now provides "the most comprehensive and complete range of alternative fuel dispensers. Part of the flagship SK700-II product family, the alternative fuels range includes E-85, Bio-Diesel, LPG, AdBlue and coming soon, CNG (Compressed Natural Gas)."

And as more retailers are stocking LPG, Gilbarco Veeder Root is introducing its new full line of SK700-II LPG dispensers. Clayton adds: "Available with full approvals in the UK, the new range of SK700-II LPG dispensers allows retailers to mix and match models, configurations and options while keeping a uniform image across the forecourt."

Meanwhile, it has also built a dispenser for AdBlue which caters for what it describes as "a process called selective catalytic reduction (SCR) used to reduce emissions of oxides of nitrogen from the exhaust of diesel vehicles".According to the company, there is a rise in SCR-equipped trucks across Europe.

On a final note about pumps, Birkler has a few words of caution. "On the surface it may seem that all pumps are the same. But they are not all equal in terms of technology and reliability. These are vital elements - retailers should consider the total cost of ownership for a pump, especially as the average pump has a 10-year lifespan. It's important to think in the long term."

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=== The credit crunch effect ===

Gilbarco's Matt Clayton has seen the credit crunch have a definite effect on retailer behaviour. He says: "With market conditions driving operators to look at minimising losses, we have noticed an increase in enquiries about our ATC solution. This allows retailers to identify lost litres due to temperature differences in fuel.

The company describes ATC technology in the following way: "Whereby the measured volume is automatically corrected in function of the measured temperature, in conformity with European Metrological Directives, the volume is transmitted in litres to the standard reference temperature of 15°C. Today your product is delivered at 15°C compensated, but the temperature of the product itself will adapt quickly to the conditions in the tank... whereby the volume will decrease. ATC is the technology whereby the dispensed volume is automatically corrected as a function of the measured temperature. With ATC the 'lost litres' belong to the past and you can have an indisputable control of your stock."

There has also been rising demand for the Ecometer metering system which is installed on the pump and "provides practically zero drift". The company says this screw meter has already saved over 20 million litres at sites in Europe.