The Rise of Beloved Gas Stations

The Rise of Beloved Gas StationsThose of us of a certain age remember that gas didn’t always cost more than a dollar, and the only things you’d find if you went inside a gas station to pay were auto maintenance products and some of the worst coffee in the land.

These days, gas prices are always on the rise (as are electricity charging prices for the EV lovers who are about to remind us that they don’t have to pay for gas anymore), but the coffee inside many gas stations is far from the worst in the land. You can sometimes even customize that espresso-driven coffee order and add some fresh-made food that rivals or easily beats what you’ll find at fast food joints. We’ve entered an era in which people brag about their regional gas stations.

On the East Coast, the battle is between Wawa and Sheetz. While many rightfully associate Quiktrip with the Midwest, it has locations as far west as Arizona and as far east as North Carolina. Then there is the cult-like following of Texas-born-and-bred Buc-ee’s, which has been slowly growing out of the Lone Star state as rumors of its “experience” have grown.

Unexpected Disruption

There are some key lessons that all of these brands, whatever their differences in positioning, marketing, and geographic reach, can offer any business:

  • Don’t be a prisoner of your legacy business. Gas stations might just be one of the most boring businesses out there. People who use a vehicle regularly have to visit them whether they want to or not. Instead of serving up the same old same old, these companies decided to level up to add more dollars to their top and bottom lines.
  • Win the little things. Buc-ee’s very famously advertises its clean restrooms on billboards more than 100 miles away from their locations. No one is ever going to complain about restrooms that are too clean! In fact, the intended result often occurs: people who had no need to go to the bathroom amble in any way to make their own inspections, and after concurring that yes, these might be the cleanest bathrooms they’ve seen on the road in their lifetime, stop by for some food or grab an ICEE to go. That cleanliness extends outside as well, as employees often strive to make sure pumps are clean, working, and stocked with receipt paper.
  • Ride a trend. Americans love food, but they prefer (and will pay more for) freshly-made food. Here, we see unexpected disruption again. We used to think of gas-station food as solely comprised of those rolling metal tubes for hot dogs or taquitos, presaging the rolling of your stomach some hours later after consuming said food. Now you can find freshly-baked pizzas or made-to-order subs or even breakfast sandwiches. Turns out that people would rather just buy their food where they are fueling up rather than get in another drive-thru line to get food.

These gas stations have all taken what was traditionally a cut-throat, geographically-limited, low-margin high volume business and transformed it, with a little bit of effort, into a high-margin business, sometimes leading people to drive miles to go to their preferred gas station. Turns out that people like clean, well-lit, delicious-smelling places if given a choice.

If gas stations can reinvent themselves, why can’t your business? Things to ponder:

  • How can I level up services my clients already “have to” use?
  • What adjacent products/services would engender loyalty/surprise/delight in my clients?
  • Could my technology (website/app/social media) be better?
  • Are my customer-facing team members friendly, smiling, and always well-dressed?

We’ve got other ideas to help you as you try to add value to your successful business in light of a sale in a few years. Give us a call today.

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