CHICAGO — Full-service fueling is experiencing a small revival as retailers aim to ease customers’ concerns about contracting the coronavirus on the forecourt.
Over the past month, several small operators in states such as California, Alabama, Kentucky and Florida began touting full-service fueling as fears over touching fuel dispenser handles contaminated with the coronavirus began to spread.
One of the first big chains to offer the service is Kum & Go, which launched a full-service fueling program, along with curbside pickup for store purchases, to 13 stores April 6 in the Des Moines area. To use the service, customers call the store’s main number when they arrive at the fuel pump. An employee accepts their payment—credit card or cash—and runs the transaction before fueling. Employees change into a new pair of gloves with each transaction. The service will typically be offered from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day.
“We are always looking for ways to better safeguard our customers and associates,” said Tanner Krause, president of Kum & Go, West Des Moines, Iowa. “Going back to our roots to provide a full-service fueling option can help people maintain social distancing and avoid common touch points. Our stores provide essential services and goods, and we are proud to be able support our communities during these challenging times.”
The week of April 12, full-service fueling and curbside pickup are being rolled out to the nearly 400 Kum & Go stores in Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Montana, Colorado and Wyoming.
- Kum & Go is No. 18 on the Top 40 update to CSP’s 2019 Top 202 ranking of U.S. c-store chains by number of retail outlets. CSP will release the complete 2020 list in June.
Offering full-service fueling can be a complex decision, especially for retailers with large fuel islands. Two large chains told CSP Daily News that they have considered offering the service, but the logistics of the offer—how many employees to assign to fueling and which dispensers to dedicate to full service—have proven difficult to resolve. And, the retailers expressed concern about increasing employees’ exposure to the coronavirus.
While there have been no confirmed cases of transmitting the coronavirus by touching a fuel pump, it is said to be possible. Fuel retailers have stepped up their cleaning routines at the fuel island, and some have offered complimentary hand sanitizer and disposable gloves. (For more on proper pump cleaning procedures, click here.)
Mobile, app-based services have also offered “no-touch” fueling to consumers eager to avoid touching fuel dispensers. Booster Fuels held its first pop-up “contactless gas station” event March 26 in a Target parking lot in its headquarters city of San Mateo, Calif. A second event took place April 3 in Burlingame, Calif.
Meanwhile, in Oregon, where full-service fueling has been required by law for decades, fuel retailers won for the ability to offer self-service fueling if they meet certain conditions. The state temporarily lifted its ban on self-service fueling in response to fuel retailers who complained about staffing issues during the pandemic. New Jersey, the only other state to restrict self-service fueling, has so far continued to enforce its ban, despite an entreaty by a group that represents independently owned fuel retailers.