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FUELSTREAM #82: The “new normal” in the fuel industry ⛽

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FUELSTREAM #82: The “new normal” in the fuel industry




The long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic has been a topic of conversation in many circles. There are very different outcomes envisioned by experts all over South Africa and the rest of the world.

What is certain, is that the future will be different. We’ve taken all the feedback shared by Fuel Retailers over the last 6 months and tried to simplify it into 3 key changes:

  • Fewer employees are returning to site. Many Fuel Retailers have indicated they’ve discovered they can run the site with fewer employees. Partly because the pandemic has forced them to do so and partly because they’ve realized which employees are the best employees to keep. It’s also been mentioned that some employees are simply working harder because they realize that unemployment will only get worse and if they lose a job today, they may wait a very very long time to find another. This provides some benefits for the Fuel Retailer, but also some concerns.
  • Fuel Retailers are spending less time on site. This is due to a variety of reasons. Some do so because they want to avoid getting infected with COVID-19. Some do so because they’ve setup an office at home and spend time between working at site, and working from home. Some do so because they want to spend more time with their family. Some do so for logistical reasons i.e. they don’t want to travel, or can’t leave kids alone at home. And, there are other reasons, all of which have advantages and disadvantages.
  • Recovery from this pandemic must include a renewed focus on margins, customer service, and productivity. Margins have been under pressure for many years, but to recover, sites can’t leave any margin “on the table”. Customer service has also been top of mind for decades, but the competition for each individual customer, who is travelling less and shopping more online, is fiercer than ever. And productivity, which never features as a metric in wage negotiations, is now a crucial element of every Fuel Retailer’s recovery plan. Partly because the Fuel Retailer may spend less time on site and partly because there may be fewer employees to do the work.

By no means are we saying that all Fuel Retailers and all sites fall into the categories above. We’ve just heard it said by so many Fuel Retailers that we believe these are worth discussing in more detail.

As a company serving the fuel industry, this has been top of mind for us as well. We’re in the business of finding enabling technologies that Fuel Retailers can use on site and your success determines our success.

One of the questions that can be formulated from the information above is:
“What can Fuel Retailers do, to run a more productive business, possibly with fewer employees, and by spending less time on certain tasks, at a feasible cost?”

Let’s take 7 examples and what some of the challenges and concerns are for each (note: let us know if you agree or disagree). In the next edition of the newsletter, we’ll address some of the solutions:

  1. Fuel Retailer not on site for as many hours/days as before the pandemic and must create a solid management system from home
    • This requires the Fuel Retailer to implement a clear communication channel. Emails and the occasional phone call won’t be sufficient. And Zoom meetings, Skype calls and similar solutions don’t provide enough connectivity during a typical day.
    • Fuel Retailers need information as it happens, and management teams need to know that it won’t require a meeting request and a special meeting setup each time they want to have a site meeting with the Fuel Retailer. Every delayed decision has a knock-on effect.
  2. The Site Manager is under more pressure to maintain standards and must do more with less time, capacity, budget and employees
    • Apart from the physical impact of the pandemic, which has affected so many of your Manager’s family members, or perhaps themselves, there is also the mental impact. Many individuals are not just overworked, overstretched and concerned about their own or a spouse’s job, they are also fearful of change and what the future holds. With the SA economy contracting significantly, the impact will still be felt for a very long time
    • Add to this the additional pressure of fewer employees, new regulations (e.g. COVID-19), new customer requirements (e.g. evidence of compliance) and more, and Site Manager (and Management Teams) will need a slightly different set of skills going forward.
    • The Fuel Retailer will need to implement management systems to support the Management Team to do their job better than ever, and more productively.
  3. Daily Controls may have slipped during lockdown and non-compliance has created serious legal liabilities for the Fuel Retailer
    • It’s very worrying to see the extent of regulations already gazetted, and new regulations being planned. Compliance to the law is not an income-generating activity, but we’ve seen in the last 2 weeks how a site can be closed down due to lack of evidence of compliance. There are concerning reports of inspectors visiting sites and giving no time for the Fuel Retailer to fix non-compliance.
    • “Health & Safety first” has always been on the agenda, but it seems to be changing to “Health & Safety, or else.” And the fines and penalties that Fuel Retailers are personally liable for can cause serious challenges for each site.
    • It’s only normal for certain checks and balances to be changed or even suspended and replaced with emergency plans just to stay open and trading. But as the economy opens up, those same emergency plans, required by law, may also become less important and open up the site to fraud, risk and losses.
  4. Fewer employees return to work, or are “invited” back but the same service, speed, efficiency must be maintained over the long-term
    • For whatever reason, employees who have returned to work, can NOT continue to “work as usual”. The same work ethic and employee management policies and procedures do not meet the new requirements. This impacts everything from recruitment to training to disciplinary / reward procedures.
    • One Fuel Retailer recently indicated that “doing more with fewer staff is great, but I fear that human nature will eventually bring back the bad apples unless I implement new controls & systems”
    • Another Fuel Retailer indicated that “now is as good a time as any to make changes. Any saving I make, whether it’s a few minutes or a few cents each day, is part of my recovery plan”
  5. Most sites have to devise and implement a “Recovery Plan” and the plan can NOT be a return to “business as usual”
    • Another Fuel Retailer indicated that “Now is a good time to make changes and implement systems. Any saving I make, whether it’s a few minutes or a few cents each day, is part of my recovery plan”
    • It would be great if we could publish a full Recovery Plan document for you and make it available for download. But we know there are still so many uncertainties. That’s why we’ve been working on a few solutions, which we’ll share in the next newsletter.
  6. Technology has been pushed forward all over the world and is seen as the enabler that will allow businesses to thrive in a post-COVID-19 world
    • We’ve been tracking various technologies and their impact on the fuel industry. And we have seen a very clear increase in the speed of change over the last few months. An example of this is the implementation of touch-free payments, which may be nothing new to many Fuel Retailers, but a complete change for others.
    • Another example is the ability to order online directly from service stations. As customers embrace new technology, they are also changing their expectations and their shopping behavior. This will become a small but steadily growing income stream for certain sites.
  7. Renewed focus by Department of Health & Department of Labour on inspecting small/medium businesses to avoid the impact of a “new” pandemic in years to come
    • Unfortunately we’ve already seen this happening at some sites. And not just limited to COVID-19 regulations. We don’t know yet what’s planned by Government to reduce the impact of COVID-19 going forward, to reduce the possibility of another pandemic and to guard against future crisis. But we know that there will definitely be new regulations and legislative requirements that affect every site, in every province, and every network.

These are serious challenges and concerns that we know many Fuel Retailers are struggling with each day. In the next edition of the FUELSTREAM Newsletter we’ll share some details with you on how these problems can be fixed, and how Fuel Retailers have started to fix them, using a combination of their own ingenuity, entrepreneurial skills and some of our services.




Increase volumes & turnover with continuous inspections of health, safety, standards and operations – get ‘tasksafe’

Then contact David van Rooyen today for more information on ‘tasksafe’:



Increase volumes & turnover with frequent & ongoing training – get ‘tasklearn’

Contact Ruan Schoeman for more information on ‘tasklearn’:



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