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NEW JERSEY -- Standing at a fuel lane pumping gas is one of those activities probably on par with the excitement level of watching paint dry. That’s one of the reasons video messaging installed on top of gas pumps is a hit with forward-thinking convenience/gas stores today. It’s giving gas pumps more appeal.
The concept is simple and catching on in markets around the country through three primary players: Gas Station TV, PumpTop TV and Outcast. Essentially, television screens are installed atop gas pumps with designated minute loops of inside-network information, including product ads; local weather and traffic reports; community service ads; trivia and entertainment tidbits; and promotions and messages from the retailer. Often, the equipment is provided to the retailer at little or no cost, and the retailer will receives a percentage of the ad revenue generated, as well as a percentage of loop time for its own use.
Philadelphia-based Sunoco Inc. is one company sold on the concept. After a two-year pilot test of Gas Station TV’s (GSTV’s) network, the gas retailing giant recently announced it would be rolling it out to all stores -- naming GSTV its official vendor to display television screens at pumps across its 4,700 locations.
United Oil, based in Los Angeles with 130 convenience/gas locations, also uses GSTV, and has for more than three years, now in 95 of its locations, according to part-owner Jeff Appel, who referred to taking on the service as a "no-brainer."
In addition to obvious benefits like the customer entertainment value and the income generated, Appel was particularly impressed with the fact that "we can sell more products, whatever specials we have, as well as get our messages across to customers about who we are as a company. That’s significant for us," he said. This includes putting forth philanthropic and charitable efforts through the service. "This is very positive for our corporate image in the community," Appel noted.
In a four-minute loop, United Oil is given 45 seconds to utilize for its own purpose, which it changes every four to six weeks, he explained.
"We make live ads of our own. We try not to do a picture of something like Coke with just a voiceover," he said. Instead, United Oil filmed dramatic, attention-getting skits, such as a person walking into a store with his head down, in slow motion, while he grabs an energy beverage, drinks it, and walks out faster and driving off quickly.
Appel knows the pump video ads United has run are increasing sales and he is currently recording the effect/sales lift of one item -- an energy drink.
Nielsen Co. research conducted from 2006 to 2008 for GSTV showing how products supported by spots running on the pump screen increased at varying amounts. For example, windshield washer fluid had a lift of 42 percent, candy increased 69 percent and the station car wash saw a 78 percent sales increase in the convenience stores that had the pump video service versus those that did not.
The same Nieslen/GSTV data revealed that candy bar sales increased 15 percent, energy drinks lifted 53 percent, and bottled water sales bumped up 60 percent during the times spots ran versus the times they did not.
PumpTop TV also conducted research showing the average sales lift for products featured on videos at the pump is 13 to 42 percent per month, according to Francois Huynh, vice president of retail development.
Being able to create store-specific promotions and messages is part of the retail appeal for the service. Utilizing PumpTop TV, Automated Petroleum and Energy Co. based in Brandon, Fla. with 347 stores, gets two ad spots per month for participating stores to use how they want, according to Roby Tucker, territory manager of the 15 PumpTop serviced stores in the group that have Mobil fuel.
"This is on top of the Mobil messages we put out," he added, explaining that while the chain highly encourages its participating stores to use the two monthly ads for store-specific promotions, if the store chooses not to use them, "we’ll put more Mobil messages in their place."
Keeping it fresh overall is the key to customer satisfaction, according to Jay Ricker, chairman at Anderson, Ind.-based Ricker Oil, currently with 50 company-operated stores, four of which have utilized GSTV’s service for about four years. Plans are to have 10-15 locations up and running with the service by next year.
"One thing we’ve heard back from customers is that it’s important to have a mixture of items on there -- people seem to especially love seeing the weather, as well as a mix of specials, driving tips, etc.," Ricker said. "We know we have to keep it fresh. Ours has changed on a monthly basis since we’ve had it."
One thing Ricker found best not to mix up is the programming across pumps at a given station. "At one time we ran different segments at a station and depending on the pump or sound volume, it could be confusing for customers," he said. "That came back from customer feedback, so now we keep the pumps all the same so there’s no bleed-over with the volume."
Volume is typically only a problem initially, according to Appel. "When you put them up at first, a percentage of customers will typically complain about the noise," he noted. "Truthfully, we may have lost some customers in the process, but it’s not overwhelming, and now that we’ve had it awhile, there are almost no complaints. It’s very rare."
Tucker agreed that after the initial installs, "there were a few complaints that the volume was too loud, but it was an easy fix. We had it lowered, and now it’s almost all positive feedback."
Most agree that even initially, the benefits far outweigh any customer complaints. "As a retailer, we look much more modern than other stations," said Tucker. "We give the appearance of being more technologically advanced and the equipment looks expensive -- customers like that. It’s a win-win. There are no drawbacks."
Ricker also said there really was not a down side to the technology. "We’re on the cutting-edge with customers and it drives some inside sales up," he said. "We only see it as a positive way to run our business."
United Oil views its video at the pump as a "special way to connect with our customers," according to Appel. During the interview with CSNews Online, Appel said a light bulb went off on how to even better utilize the service.
"I’m going to suggest station owners make a video introducing themselves to customers, wishing them happy holidays and just connecting with them at the pump -- that creates the loyalty we want," he said. "It’s not just about the income we can make or the sales lift we get. It’s about having a positive experience at our stores. We’re doing a good thing with this."