Friday, July 03, 2015

Whatever Happened To ...

... "Full service" gas stations?

Yes, I know, "self service" became all the rage in the 1980s. Circa 1984-85, as a high school student, I worked at a station that offered both options. Full service cost a penny or two more than self service.

Full service: Bell rings when a car pulls in (running over an air hose that pings the bell). Attendant runs out, takes the gas order ("fill'er up, regular;" "five bucks, unleaded"), washes the windshield, offers to check the oil, checks tire pressure if the customer asks for it.

Self service: Car pulls up, customer pumps gas (and washes his own windshield/checks his own oil if he wants).

Now here's the thing:

In the 1980s, when most gas stations were still JUST gas stations (and maybe a car repair shop attached), "self service" made a lot of sense for the owner. He didn't have to pay as many people to handle customers buying gas.

But these days, most gas stations are also convenience stores. When you have a customer pull up, pay at the pump by swiping a debit card, pump his own gas and then drive away without ever entering the store, you're losing those addition "impulse sales."

I'm also betting that you could do a pretty good full service business charging 5-10 cents more per gallon for that extra service. Supposing the average is 10 gallons per customer, that's an extra 50 cents to a dollar per car. At 10-20 cars per hour, the pump jockey would pretty much pay for himself even before the customer decides to wander in and buy a soda, candy bar, pack of smokes, etc. while his gas is being pumped.

I'm not rich, but I think I might pay 50 cents to a buck extra per fill-up for full service, at least occasionally (for example, when I'm dressed up for church or some fancy occasion and would rather not risk getting splashed with gasoline).

I see drivers pumping their own gas into $60,000 cars over on the nice side of town. Those are people I'd expect to happily pop an extra buck for a windshield wash and the convenience of having someone else do some minor dirty work for them.

I hear a couple of states (New Jersey and maybe Oregon?) prohibit self service by law, which of course I don't support.

What am I missing that makes full service a market niche nobody's interested in filling?

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