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The Association for Convenience & Fuel Retailing

Pump Tech

A Kansas retailer gives customers a convenient way to order food—at the fuel pumps.

​By Pat Pape

Build it and they will order something.” That’s the unofficial motto of Scott Zaremba, owner of Zarco convenience stores, a four-unit chain in Lawrence, Kansas.

Zaremba has developed technology that allows customers to place a customized food order at the same time they pump gas. Hungry drivers simply create and pay for the order on a tablet—much like an iPad—that is attached to the fuel pump. As soon as they finish fueling, they can pick up the order inside the store and go on their way. (See more about Zarco in the 2012 edition of Ideas 2 Go.)

The tablet is a proprietary piece of hardware that Zaremba created and dubbed the Siris. He has been testing it for more than two years and is in the process of having it patented. “I always try new stuff,” he said. “When I put something out, I want to be sure that it is bulletproof.”

He believes c-store retailers have one of the only places left where they can capture customers’ undivided attention. “For that four to seven minutes that [customers are] standing at the pump, nothing else interferes with them,” Zaremba said. “They aren’t even supposed to have their phone out. Where else can you get the total attention of a customer?”

Make It Work
When he first came up with the idea for at-the-pump ordering, Zaremba worked with a major company to create in-the-pump technology. What they came up with didn’t meet his specifications. “The biggest issue was tying all the equipment together in the POS,” he said. “That’s where we ran into problems. In the middle of a fuel transaction, if a consumer swiped your card and started buying stuff inside the store, it would impact the fuel transaction.”

Frustrated with those early results, Zaremba teamed with California-based technology developer Peter Tawil to build a proprietary ordering system that operates independently of both the fuel dispenser and the store POS. “Between my retail experience and his technology background, we were able to morph it all together to create something viable that we can attach to the dispenser,” he said.

Today’s updated version uses the Siris tablet, which is installed to the front of the gas pump. The tablet’s technology allows customers to place their food order at any time—before, during or after the fuel transaction. “All we want to do with the tool is sell stuff,” Zaremba said of the tablet, “but without interfering with fueling. If my pumps go down, my ordering equipment still works. It has nothing to do with the dispenser.”

Feedback from customers has been favorable. In the two-plus years the tablets have been in place, not a single customer has driven off without coming into the store to pick up their order. In fact, overall, more fuel customers are coming inside now than before the ordering system was installed.

“In the past few years, table-top ordering has come into play, and people who didn’t know what to do with [the tablet] now have instant recognition,” he said. “Once they figure out what it is and how simple it is, they start to use it immediately.”

Bonus Benefits
Zaremba sees two major benefits to the ordering system. He didn’t have to buy new gas dispensers—a purchase he estimates could cost as much as $25,000 per pump—and he has expanded his “store staff.”

“Before, I had two cashiers, and now I have 14 cashiers,” he said. “I have 12 units outside and two people inside. And those 12 units aren’t paid a salary. It had to be something I could afford to do. We’re a small company.”

Every retailer wants to sell just one more item to each customer, and most convenience operators want to do something creative and profitable with their gas islands. Currently, Zaremba is talking to several store operators who are interested in the system. “My intent is to create something that can go out to the entire industry,” said Zaremba, who compares the launch of the tablet to the introduction of convenience store drive-thrus. “My No. 1 purpose is to sell items to the consumer in a space where we’re not selling anything. But you could even tie customer loyalty into it.”

For years, gas islands at the Zarco stores featured static advertising, menu promotions or audio messaging. “I’ve had a radio network and a television network,” said Zaremba. “I did all of those things, but there was no real meat and potatoes to sell the consumer.

“If customers can buy at the pump and get what they want the way they want it in the middle of fueling when there is nothing else to do, that’s an impulse purchase of a planned purchase that ends up made-to-order,” he said. “It doesn’t get any better than that.”

Pat Pape worked in the convenience store industry for more than 20 years before becoming a full-time writer.