Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Business Model: Extreme Self-Serve

Let me preface this by saying I have absolutely no idea how gas stations are run. In fact, I know basically nothing about running a business period. That being said, here's my idea.

I really like to pay at the pump.

Years ago I tried using my debit card at the pump and it was an awful experience; too many questions, too much beeping, and the bastards try to trick you into authorizing "up to $70 fill" which means you pay $70 and if you don't pump that much gas, too bad. A little more recently I tried again using my credit card. This is a whole different experience. You swipe your card, gas up, and go. It's really quick, really easy, and you get the air miles or cash back or whatever card bonuses you subscribe to.

I want to see a gas station that is nothing but pay at the pump. Just a few pumps and... NOTHING ELSE! That's it. No little convenience store, no sleazy garage, no greasy teenager. It would be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week unstaffed. Maybe install one security camera to discourage vandalism and muggings, but I don't see crime being a problem because the gas won't pump until your card is approved, there is no register to rob, and credit card fraud wouldn't be any more of a problem than it already is at gas stations.

I imagine those little convenience stores turn a small profit when you consider that there's gotta be a guy sitting behind the counter selling gas anyways. If you remove that assumption, does the store really do that well in and of itself? Maybe, but you could always buy an existing gas station and rent out the store as a completely separate entity to reduce your risk and allow you to narrow your focus on self-serve gas. I wonder how much cheaper you could sell gasoline without the costs of maintaining a store/register and hiring pump jockeys (not to mention losses from people who drive off without paying)?

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