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Small-format retail facilities face different operational challenges than supermarkets or other large-format retailers. Most convenience stores do not have system controls. In a typical convenience store, the HVAC systems, refrigerated cases/walk-ins and lighting are managed separately and are not connected.
The refrigeration system is often standalone and while HVAC thermostats are used, they may not be programmed to the correct settings. Manual processes may be in place to manage lighting controls.
For convenience store facility managers, the key problems they often face are:
- Limited visibility into store operations: If you are responsible for multiple stores, you may not have the oversight to know what is happening in all of your locations at any given time.
- Difficulty enforcing store policies: You may have established business policies around lighting and thermostat settings, but how do you know they are being enforced by the store manager and followed by personnel in a single store?
- Poor maintenance: Many facilities use a “run to fail” maintenance strategy, meaning the equipment generally will fail without warning, leading to emergency repairs or replacements on short notice.
- Energy leakage: If a mechanical problem or personnel issue causes a store to stray from the policies put in place –- for example, settings on a thermostat are changed or canopy lights are left on throughout the day -– this can lead to energy usage that is higher than necessary.
Applying a control system can help turn these challenges for facility managers into opportunities to reduce costs and enhance operations.
If an average 5,000-square-foot convenience store spends $62,000 annually on operational costs, they may spend 44.5 percent of the budget on energy and 17.5 percent on maintenance. If this was your store, how much could you save by addressing the problems above?
A control system can provide a convenience store typically between 5-percent and 20-percent savings, depending on the current facility management in place.
Such a system consists of three layers, and understanding the system architecture is beneficial to realizing the ways it can improve efficiency, reduce costs and enhance operations.
The three layers include:
1. Control: The control layer includes the electronic elements within your case that have control algorithms to affect the HVAC systems, refrigeration systems and lighting. The controls include the inputs and outputs, the sensors and transducers, and the equipment interface.
2. Supervisory: The supervisory layer provides visibility. This layer offers user management, user interface, access to monitor the system remotely, alarm management and data logging.
3. Enterprise: The enterprise layer is the connection from the sites to the cloud, where the data collected from the systems in your stores can be stored, compared and analyzed.
Many people think having controls installed in the stores and stopping at the first layer is enough, but that’s not the case. It’s important to apply the entire system to manage, monitor and optimize your small-format facility.
Refrigeration, lighting and HVAC are the three key areas included in a store-level control strategy. While each area of controls can be set up separately, a control system works best and is most cost effective when all three levels are combined under one platform.
Below are benefits and strategies of using system controls at each level.
Installation of electronic controls in a refrigeration system can help to not only reduce compressor run time, but also assist with monitoring the opening and closing of walk-in doors. Leveraging alarm management in refrigeration cases can alert you to potential issues and prevent food loss. Using the monitoring data from your refrigeration system controls can allow you to be more proactive with your strategy and reduce overall maintenance expenses.
With lighting controls, a store can ensure various lights are turned on and off at the times they should be. Controls can be put in place for ambient light, dimming and modulation. Lighting schedules can be automated and maintained through a control system, ensuring store lighting procedures are followed.
A key benefit to having HVAC system controls is the ability to program thermostat setpoints appropriately. Controls also help to ensure policies are implemented correctly at each store –- for example, restrictions on override capabilities can be set during specific times through the supervisory control system.
Why is it important to use controls to ensure store policies are being enforced?
Based on a study Emerson Climate Technologies conducted with a customer around walk-in doors, it was found that store personnel or vendors have a tendency to prop open these doors for various reasons. The industry average shows that walk-in doors are open about 25 percent of the time. While the amount of refrigeration varies by store, this could equal about 19.8 KWh or $2 per day, which amounts to about $730 per year in energy usage costs.
Using a supervisory system for monitoring, an alarm can sound when a walk-in door is left open for too long, giving a store manager the insight to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Adding the enterprise management level onto the controls allows you to collect data across all stores within an enterprise to identify problem sites and make corrections to result in cost savings.
Do your research. Implementing the latest system controls will help convenience store facility managers deliver simpler, more flexible control of their system architecture. Better control of HVAC systems, refrigerated cases and lighting will be beneficial to improving efficiency, reducing costs and enhancing convenience store operations.
Editor's note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News.