Elchin Mamyedov, CEO of SOCAR Ukraine Company Group, shared his ideas with LDaily readers on how to effectively organize the operation of gas stations in large-scale quarantine. First of all, it’s necessary to strengthen sanitary conditions, as well as digitalize all processes, change the assortment of goods, expand the range of services and facilities. For example, this could be working in the “to go” mode, pre-ordering the market products or paying for fuel is available with the mobile application, arranging customers’ rest areas.
LDaily: Severe quarantine was announced throughout Ukraine in March. Therefore, a lot of companies were forced to suspend their activities. However, these restrictions did not apply to gas stations. Despite the fact that gas stations were allowed to continue working, they had to make various adjustments to the customer service process, which led not only to a number of extra costs but also radically changed the approach to refueling cars. Please tell us what has changed at SOCAR.
E. Mamyedov: Quarantine conditions really forced gas stations throughout the country to continue working in their usual routine mode round the clock. In some ways, we were more fortunate than restaurants or shopping malls. However, the reason for this is that gas stations are strategic objects – you need fuel to get to work or visit elderly relatives, in order to deliver food, medicine, and a lot more.
Of course, we had to urgently introduce a regime of increased security measures. We had to provide our staff with personal protective equipment, purchase hundreds of liters of alcohol-containing detergents for cleaning gas station surfaces, tens of liters of antiseptics for free of charge hand disinfection for our customers. We also developed increased hygiene schedules for employees, as well as procedures for the staff’s initial check-ups before starting a work shift. We installed protective glass in the checkout areas, made markings on the floor so that our customers could keep a safe distance. We changed the assortment in our cafes and stores, introduced more items in sterile individual packaging, and began working in the “to go” mode – you can order takeaway coffee and food.
It’s important to mention that every gas station’s operational costs have increased. Income decreased because car drivers began using their vehicles less during the quarantine. Meanwhile, the expenditure on social projects increased as well. In this difficult time for the country, we helped doctors and local authorities in the regions where the SOCAR filling stations network operates. We provided them with fuel, bought medical and personal protective equipment.
However, there is a silver lining in all that’s happening. The current situation made it possible to look at usual operational processes from a different perspective. Luckily, SOCAR is always ready to adjust priorities in the face of uncertainty and changes in the fuel retail market. These days, we are facilitating growth in the areas of digitalization, the extension of our services and facilities.
For instance, a gas station that started operating last year in August on Stolychne Highway offers such an unusual for gas station service as interactive Multi-touch table for children, currency exchange, a heated table on the summer platform, and ultramodern grill. The sanitary zone operates only with sensory equipment, so you don’t need to touch surfaces to turn on the tap water, toilet flush, or to pour some liquid soap. Moreover, last year we began to develop the possibility of grocery products pre-ordering through a mobile application.
In such circumstances that require maintaining social distance, most of these innovations came in handy.
So, we quickly completed the development of the pre-order function. Guest reviews are positive. Everything is safe, convenient, and saves time on the road.
With the help of our Level mobile app, you can pay for the fuel at the pump without leaving the car. In the same way, you can pay for goods at the checkout without using cash, which is prone to spreading infections by contact transmission.
An expanded grocery assortment at our stations allows you to purchase ingredients for a family dinner, such as olive oil, French pate, frozen fruit and vegetables, breaded shrimps and fish, and much more.
In fact, a gas station concept is changing once again. Fuel retailers compete not only among themselves but also with financial market players, food retail, and partly with retail and entertainment businesses. Needless to say, this is just the beginning. There are ideas and concepts that allow making a gas station even a more interesting and attractive place to visit.
LDaily: How does the office staff work in quarantine?
E. Mamyedov: Following current trends, we started modernizing and smoothly transferring our network infrastructure to the “cloud space” last year. We even developed a remote access policy. Therefore, at the beginning of the quarantine, it was possible to quickly establish the office staff work in a remote mode. In this case, business processes were not affected but even benefited from this situation. In the new conditions, we began to work more efficiently, more in sync. All the employees understand that the preservation of the business in general and every team in particular, depends on their work right now.
LDaily: How much have fuel sales dropped?
E. Mamyedov: Fuel sales have dropped more than 30%. The reasons are clear to everyone – people have begun to use cars less and try to save money. At the same time, the number of visits decreased, but the average receipt size increased slightly. Most began to refuel a full tank.
LDaily: Besides the quarantine, the price of oil has also fallen. How has this affected retail prices at the SOCAR gas station network?
E. Mamyedov: Oil prices have been declining since the beginning of the year. The Ukrainian retail petroleum market reacted accordingly. Only in recent times, retail prices have fallen by 2-3 UAH per liter depending on the type of fuel.
Nevertheless, there are certain factors holding back the process of the fuel prices decrease – a dollar strengthening, lower sales, higher costs for station maintenance. At present, there are still opportunities for a further reduction in retail prices, but everything will depend on the duration and depth of the crisis.
We try to be optimistic about the future. As the famous adage says: what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!