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Apr 29, 1998

Business is booming in the gas station industry

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In the corporate world of the nineties, downsizing has become as much a part of day-to-day operations as computers, telephones and email. But someone must have forgotten to pass the word along to the people in the local gas station business as more and more service stations are popping up all over Belize City.

Over the past two years, service stations from across the country have been noticing a sharp increase in sales… as well as a rise in competition. As a result, since last year, gas companies have been tearing down their older, smaller stations and constructing bigger and fancier ones.

Jaime Ortiz, Co-Manager, Esso Coral Grove Service Station

“What is actually happening is the service station industry has taken on a new focus. What we are doing is to make the service station similar to a convenient store.”

Jaime Ortiz, along with his brother Omar, manage the Esso Coral Grove Service Station, which they have leased from the company Esso Standard Oil Limited. According to Ortiz, the idea of making gas stations a one-stop service is a new concept to Belize that has quickly caught on by the general public.

Jaime Ortiz

“There is a different concept that is actually being tested and I’ll tell you that there has been a definite positive response from the Belizean public. Definitely the service stations are brighter, fancier, bigger – promoting safety and security at the same time. Yes the general public is very receptive to it.”

Customer #1

“Well, I find it is more convenient; it’s easier access in and out and their good service. It’s one of the most outstanding gas stations in Belize. The most advanced. It has a bank system, you got groceries, a little bit of snack – everything involve.”

Customer #2

“Well because you know, the truth, it is the number one right now, and anything you want, you can get it here. It’s efficient.”

But good service does not come cheap. It cost the gas companies over a million Belize dollars to construct the state of the art facility.

Albert Avila, Manager, Texaco Belize Limited

“You’ll notice that they are prettier to watch. There are much more lights. The edges of the canopy is rounded.”

Albert Avila, the Manager of Texaco Belize Limited is proud of the company’s new service station at the corner of Vernon Street and the foot of the Belchina Bridge. According to Avila, the construction is the result of a campaign called the Global Brand Initiative, which Texaco launched in 1992 to find out what their customers wanted.

Albert Avila

“All of these qualities that you see is what came out of the research. Women, some of our new customers, the new working women -we found out that they like to have a brighter station. They feel more secure. You’ll notice there are a lot of services there. The ATM machine, the telephone and so forth. People want to come and do their various business and move on.”

While it appears that operating such service stations is an attractive business, the dealers were quick to point out that it has its challenges as well. According to Johnny Briceno, Co-Manager of One Stop shell Service Station, the key for gas stations is good location and you have to be prepared to work on volumes.

Johnny Briceno, Co-Manager, One Stop Shell Service Station

“The margins are so small. When you see 5.85 or whatever on the pump, we only stay with 30 to 35 cents of that. So we have to sell a lot of fuel to be a profitable station.”

The service stations as well also stress on good service. This they provide by holding regular training sessions for their pump attendants and staff.

Octario Marin, Manager, F and O Texaco Service Station

“I believe the public, everyday, is asking for more complete service. For example here you have the complete twenty four service, service from the bank, the ATM. It attracts the different people coming in. I also believe that the public is not only looking for fuel now, but the convenience of getting everything they need. If they are going on a holiday, they can stop at one site or one place and buy everything.”

Jaime Ortiz

“So we had a two week training seminar where we were emphasizing to our staff that first of all to educate them of what we wanted to do here, what we are all about. It’s safe, it’s secure and now it’s going to be about service, very high on service.”

Customers do not only receive good service, but as part of the stations’ marketing strategy, drivers are also invited to take part in a number of raffles, giveaways and promotions. The stations and companies have been receiving such great reviews on the new services that already Esso has moved on to its other project. Their smaller facility on Freetown Road has been torn down and will be replaced by yet another bigger station. But as the city becomes saturated with the state of the art service stations, both dealers and companies say there probably won’t be any more new construction. The same cannot be said for the districts, however, so people there should get ready for the new wave to hit them soon.

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