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Meet Bennie Evans. By using a wireless tank-monitoring technology, which was initially created to meet EPA compliance requirements, as part of a complete fuel management system, Evans has been able to quickly expand his motor-fuel business in an extremely cost-effective way.
With a bit of ingenuity, Evans, owner of Monroe, La.-based Evans Oil Co., created a compliance/accounting/dispatching program that slashed paperwork, sped the flow of information and payment processing, fine-tuned his fuel delivery service and virtually eliminated human error from the process.
"We are a rural marketer," Evans said. "We supply mom and pops, not high-volume sites. To grow, we needed a low-cost system that would give us sales and inventory information daily for every site."
The new system integrates Simmons Corp.'s WILCO wireless tank monitoring equipment and reporting services with AIMS Inc.'s AUTOSEND technology and COMPAS accounting software. It allowed Evans Oil to nearly triple the size of its business, through the acquisition of another jobber, Wurster Oil Co., while adding only six employees to the payroll.
Evans Oil, which prior to the acquisition last year supplied motor fuels to approximately 60 c-store/gas locations, owns the tanks, pumps, canopies and gasoline signage at each location it supplies, and is responsible for installing and maintaining the facility and the environmental integrity of each site. Prior to purchasing Wurster Oil, which supplied 90 sites, Evans had developed a system to order and deliver motor fuels on a just-in-time basis, billing on consignment when the fuel was pumped at the dispenser.
An early developer of the AIMS' AUTOSEND technology, Evans equipped each location with the reporting software, which allows store employees to report the site's meter readings or manual stick readings via touch-tone telephone. That information is downloaded electronically into Evan's accounting system.
"Using AUTOSEND, we have been delivering fuel based on days of inventory left in each tank since June 1990," Evans noted.
The AUTOSEND system worked well, but when Evans was offered the opportunity to acquire Wurster Oil, he knew he'd need to bring the new units on line cost-effectively and quickly. Too quickly, in fact, to properly train Wurster Oil's employees and customers on the use of AUTOSEND.
Once a week, Wurster Oil's independent-operator customers would write their meter readings and what fuel was sold in a record book, then mail the figures to the Wurster Oil office. The information was then manually entered into Wurster Oil's computer system. Then, Wurster Oil would bill its operators once a week, receiving its money within 10 days.
"That's a very antiquated way of doing business, but many people are still doing business that way," Evans noted. "Credit card batches also were sent to Wurster's offices, where they had to be reconciled. The operators would send in all the motor fuel sales money, less credit card slips, and Wurster would create a commission check and mail it back -- that was a lot of work."
To automate the entire operation, the petroleum marketer installed at each location a sales-interface module "box," which is connected to either the tank-monitor port on the point-of-sale (POS) device or the dispenser's interface module. This box eavesdrops on the electronic pulses flowing between the gasoline dispenser and the POS terminal or controller in the store.
"The system listens to what is being sold and can tell which dispenser meter is transmitting what pulses," Evans said. "It counts the pulses just like the pump controller or POS device in the store does. We get to see the exact meter-reading numbers the operator does."
A receiver, placed inside (or outside) the building, reads the radio-frequency signals from transmitters on wireless probes placed on the underground storage tanks (USTs). A control panel inside the store collects the UST inventory and fuel sales data. A keypad and display, which mirrors the tank gauge data, can be placed anywhere in the store.
All of the site's tank inventory and fuel sales data is sent via non-dedicated phone line to Simmons' headquarters. Reading the data continuously, the system is programmed to take a daily snapshot of what has been sold by each dispenser's meter, by product. It also takes a snapshot of the inventory levels -- how many inches left in each tank -- as measured by the wireless probe. That information is routed at 2 a.m. each morning through a hub operated by Simmons in Dallas, and then sent a couple hours later to Evans Oil's office in an e-file.
There, each morning an Evans Oil employees opens the e-file. The jobber's system reads the file electronically and sorts the data by station account number. "We quickly look at the file to make sure there is something in it, it is credible, we didn't get information twice, that kind of thing," Evans said. "That takes about 10 minutes."
If something is wrong -- say, a thunderstorm interrupted transmission -- Simmons re-sends the file. "There is redundancy at Simmons, at our office and at the station," Evans noted.
The electronic data is downloaded into Evans Oil's AUTOSEND inventory data collection system and the COMPAS accounting system, which generates invoices three times a week.
"We use the XML standard format to bring in all credit-card transactions and bank card transactions and we merge that with the invoice information," Evans said. "This way, each invoice includes all meter readings, all credit card batches through the previous days, and the amount due us. We send these out and sweep the operator's account the next day. Since we see the same numbers the operator sees at his controller, reconciliation is a snap. You can see how much it speeds up collections -- that in itself paid for the equipment and installation."
In the area of EPA compliance, Evans said, collecting the actual dispenser's meter readings, rather than using the store-generated sales reports by product, makes for fewer false alarms -- and lower costs associated with compliance.
"We use Simmons SIR [statistical inventory reconciliation] for compliance," he noted. "Ordinarily, if a meter goes out or becomes miscalibrated and a dispenser pumps more product than it should, it may simulate a tank leak. Simmons needs meter readings to back into the math and certify compliance. If a meter is miscalibrated so many cubic inches per 5 gallons pumped, for instance, Simmons can go back and mathematically prove the 'shortage' in the tank inventory was due to a miscalibrated meter, not a leaking tank. We don't have to test the lines and tanks physically."
To save time and money, Evans had his own mechanics and technicians, trained by Simmons at two locations, install the technology at each location. "Because the tank probes are wireless, no surgery was needed. We just dropped them down a tube," Evans noted. Hardware costs now average $4,000 per site.
With Simmon's electronic reports on tank inventory and dispenser meter readings being read at 7 a.m. each day, Evans Oil is ready to dispatch trucks by 8 a.m. "This is every day, seven days a week," Evans noted.
Among the many reports Simmons supplies, those most used by Evans Oil include site exception reports, daily location summary reports, daily exception summary reports and daily alarm reports. "We also get summary reports that tell us if a delivery is made, so that if our records don't show the delivery, the WILCO equipment will," said Mary Evans, accounts payable manager for Evans Oil.
"This systems has made my job -- and inventory reconciliation -- considerably easier. You can rest assured, with no more manual stick readings, the numbers are right. We recently had two locations audited, for instance, and we had a year's worth of data on the fuel right here."