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    Balancing Act

    United Refining finds a happy medium between full- and self-service.

    Warren, Pa.-based United Refining Co. originally began as a full-serve-only operation, and gradually expanded several of its locations into convenience stores with self-service when the trend started growing a few decades ago. Now with some 375 stores operating under the Kwik Fill, Red Apple Food Marts and Country Fair banners in Pennsylvania, New York and Ohio, the company finds a nice balance between self- and full-service is their key to success.

    According to Peter Conley, vice president of the company's Kwik Fill/Red Apple Food Mart division, United Refining still operates quite a few full-serve stations, several of which have been remodeled and still continued a full-service offer. “Some of our highest-volume locations are full-serve,” Conley said. “We're over 200,000, close to 300,000 gallons per month in some of our locations. There are a lot of people out there who don't want to pump their own gas.”

    With their full-serve operations, United Refining is basically operating with fewer employees than what a full c-store location with a food operation would require. Each island also offers pay-at-the-pump services, so that the attendant doesn't have to go inside the store to complete a transaction.

    What's more, the company offers its full-service gasoline at the same price a self-serve shopper would pay. “We could try to get a couple cents more, but we feel we need to stay competitive,” Conley explained. “You'll notice a decrease in volume if the price gets higher vs. what the self-serve price is.”

    United Refining's customers know which locations have full-serve and which are self-serve only, Conley said, which leads to a good deal of repeat customers at the full-serve stations.

    “That's sort of been a little niche for us as some of our competitors have gotten bigger into the convenience store business,” Conley explained. “When everyone else in the community is a self-service convenience store and we're still the old traditional full-serve station, then we've become something that attracts customers to our locations.”

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