Great Ideas from Abroad

Great ideas being the theme of this edition of Stop Watch provides an excellent opportunity for those that attended this year’s international study tour to share the GREAT IDEAS they took away from that visit.

Great ideas being the theme of this edition of Stop Watch provides an excellent opportunity for those that attended this year’s international study tour to share the GREAT IDEAS they took away from that visit.

In the fall, several of my fellow operators and I took part in NATSO’s International Study Tour, visiting Chile, touring facilities and meeting with executives from Copec, one of Chile’s most successful companies. Copec has maintained a 50 percent fuel market share in Chile over the past two decades, despite formidable competitors including Shell, PetroBras and others. Copec attributes a huge part of that success to putting employees first. As their executives often said through-out our visit, “Copec’s first customers are our employees,” which was evident when observing employees’ facial expressions, body language and genuine enthusiasm when greeted by these same executives during store visits.

All of us were struck by Copec’s operations. Jeff Murphy, founder of tmg, which presented the tour along with NATSO, summed it up best when he said, “Copec has innovation in their DNA. 

Copec’s executive team is committed to creating differentiation and value through their customer-focused initiatives. From their high-tech fuel dispensers that can accept pesos to their ‘pago click’ mobile wallet, the company has sought out solutions that can benefit their customers and their operations. During the tour, Bobby Berkstresser, owner of White’s Travel Center and Lee Hi Travel Plaza, noted that just over 40 percent of Copec’s customers use the app and only 7 percent of Copec’s sales come from credit cards.

Moreover, the company works to make itself a destination location. The landscaping, flowers and greenery at locations stand out. They’ve also implemented nice play areas for children. “It is not just an old steel swing set out there. It has rubber matting with seating. It sets the right tone that we want for our stores,” said Chris Heinz, director of finance & operations, Coffee Cup Travel Plazas.

Copec stresses the importance of noticing every detail, especially the cleanliness of their restrooms. The stores are already innovative and well groomed, but the company is always looking for ways to improve. Copec seeks out feedback from consumers in real time via their mobile app loyalty programs and bathroom feedback kiosks.

The company prides itself on knowing its customer and, based on its knowledge, it has cut down the number of SKUs it carries. The average Copec store has 1,800 SKUs, which is interesting when you consider our average store has between 6,000 and 8,000 SKUs. They are confident that they’ve done enough research to realize that is a sweet spot for them.

Copec moves people, literally and figuratively, said Darren Schulte, NATSO’s vice president of membership. “The experience they want their customers to feel is in every touch point, from their web site and interstate and site location messaging to their architecture, which they use as an emotion enhancer.”

One of the best lessons we can take from Copec is their willingness to try new things. As fellow tour participant Pamela Hayes, NATSO’s vice president of strategic partnerships, said, “Copec is not afraid of failure and realizes failure is sometimes an important part of the process. They do not allow a fear of failure to keep them from trying new trends and always want to be seen as a trends leader.”

As operators, we know that we need to continue to generate new and better ideas to stay relevant in the marketplace, and sometimes the best ideas hit when you take time to step back from what you’re doing and look at someone else. 

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