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Perseverance in a Pandemic: Crisis at the Pump

Rutter's fights to bring back fuel volumes
Chris Hartman quote

CSP collects stories of the men and women of convenience retail who put their lives and livelihoods on the line when their communities needed them.

YORK, Pa. — Rutter’s may be one of the most efficient gasoline brands in the convenience retail industry, but Chris Hartman, director of fuels, forecourt and advertising for the York, Pa.-based chain of about 75 stores, was forced to watch a rapid drop in fuel sales as people stayed home in the early days of the coronavirus virus’ spread.

Hartman says fuel sales were down 40% at its lowest point. Sales have evened out since then, he says, and premium and truck diesel sales proved resilient. But fuel volumes are still not where he would like them.

“I’m not sure that anyone will ever get back to the same amount of gallons we used to sell. I think a lot of businesses are going to continue to have people work from home,” says Hartman.

“There are fewer trips from customers because they’re not going to work every day. They’re not driving all over the place to different cities and towns and visiting people. They’re getting out less,” he says. On the bright side and similar to other retailers, Hartman is seeing customers spend more to offset their fewer trips. Keeping stores clean and safe is key to securing those dollars, he says.

It’s a change in consumer behavior that retailers need to navigate.

“I’m not sure that anyone will ever get back to the same amount of gallons we used to sell.”

“In general, we saw customers going back to things that they know and trust,” Hartman says. “They know hot dogs, they know hamburgers, and they’re more likely to choose those now than maybe in the past, because when you’re faced with a lot of unknowns, I think you go back to things you’re comfortable with when you have the opportunity.”

Hartman credits the Rutter’s team in the stores every day with keeping the business going this past year. “As an industry, I’m proud of our employees. I’m proud of our industry for how we responded to the adversity that 2020 threw at us.”

Looking forward, Hartman believes c-stores can work with government to spur revenue, both private and public.

“Things like gaming, alcohol, tobacco and fuel are going to be in line to see either tax increases or becoming legalized,” says Hartman. He views these products and services as “voluntary taxes” that government might lean on to avoid raising income or property taxes. “How can we shape the way they raise that revenue to move our industry forward and continue to diversify revenue areas?”

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