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A former Egyptian engineer found the secret to building a big gas-station chain (seattletimes.com)
260 points by wallflower on Jan 5, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 189 comments



> Even the handles on the gas pumps get buffed down regularly so that “the customer does not put his hand on something dirty,” he says

This is what most UX designers do for a living. They think about the small details which get overlooked while everyone is in a rush to build out x feature/functionality.

It's what creates emotional connections to products and services which builds strong customer loyalty and helps word of mouth.

Just like how they used to know your name at your local small grocery store, those intimate details go a long way. And in commoditized situations people are willing to spend more time/money or go out of their way to use your product.

Dan Norman talks a lot about this in his "Emotional Design" book. It's the design stuff that goes beyond merely functionality and most efficient problem solving (ie, obsessing about fewest clicks to do x, instead of the wider experience where adding a communication step might improve the emotional experience).

But often it is a luxury for many smaller firms struggling to just get the functionality part right, which is why this person buying up gas stations, providing time and capital, and giving them the attention they needed is working so well.


This guy is putting customers first, which is the exact opposite of most UX design philosophies I've been on the receiving end of. The entire discipline prioritizes minimalism, copying Apple, and making random changes to the interface just so they have "accomplished" something, which is how you get randomly broken messes like Youtube.

If UX designers made a gas pump, it would be a featureless white pillar with a single button and a hose and it wouldn't work.


For better or worse, UX is as much about curating a company “image” as it is about creating user-friendly interfaces. When users see that your website looks like Apple’s, they immediately think, “Wow, this company is the real deal.” This part of the user’s experience is, unfortunately, the focus of many marketing/design teams.


Design is a broad field. I believe you're mistaking UX design for visual design or industrial design.


UX is one of the most abused terms. So I'm not surprised he's mistaking what it really means.

So many big firms hire mediocre "designers" out of college and they wireframe whatever the project managers tell them to and they do what they are told.

I better term is just "product designer" but I like UX designer as the name encompasses it perfectly... your job is to know and understand the users experience inside and out, and make it as ideal as possible.

When done right, just like programmers who push back on stupid features because they often have a better grasp of what "good software" compared to the average "business person". Another bad group is the non-startup people who come from older, bigger IT megacorps and run product development, which is a disaster waiting to happen but I've heard of many examples of this.

I should also note I'm only talking from my experience working with startups and SMBs. I personally don't know much about operating design within a giant company.


File under "Can't Prove It, But I Know It's True":

Those crappy UIs were the result of PHBs sabotaging the work.

I stopped doing UI. It was pointless. We'd mock things up. Validate with usability testing. Rinse, lather, repeat. Until it was spotless.

And then it'd all get trashed by someone(s) with a corner office.


UX is completely about the end user. A UX should be studying how people are using a product, see where they trip up and get confused and design a better experience as a result.


A hose is not very elegant and should be removed. It would look much cleaner to have the gasoline just squirt into the car's open gas tank. Possibly with some LEDs around the gas pump's flush-mounted nozzle to create sparkles in the gasoline stream as it arcs through the air into the gas tank fill hole. Finally, clean hands!


YouTube is terrible. I have ample space on my dual screens to display controls while watching a YouTube video. Everything from scrubbing, speed control and volume changes should be a single click away at all times.


For optimization, I would just make it easy to remove the payment process and selecting the fuel grade.

Everytime a car drives up, use a camera to determine their license plate number. If they are a new customer, ask them if they want to save their payment information and fuel grade preferences. If so, everytime they come back, the pump can display "Welcome back John Doe, you can begin pumping".


I agree this kind of thinking is good, but disagree that it should be concentrated in a role with a title like UX Designer.

Ultimately, we make things that serve other people. All of us need to pay attention to how our work impacts the users we serve. Experts can help with that, but the Lone Design Ranger isn't nearly as powerful as a cross-functional, user-focused team.

I would also suggest that at least in tech, smaller firms aren't the problem here. As you say yourself, the small, neighborhood grocery store can get this stuff right just by paying attention. I think the big problems come at scale, where managerialism and over-focused metrics can easily disempower people and get them focused on the wrong thing.


I agree this kind of thinking is good, but disagree that it should be concentrated in a role with a title like UX Designer.

In the company I work for, we call it "customer experience." We have an entire team of people who work face-to-face with actual customers, observing how they interact with our products and services to improve things.

It's why we have a 96% satisfaction rating in an industry where 40% is considered off the charts good.

But this will never fly in the tech sphere because it requires actual feet on the ground and talking to wetware. Some middle manager along the way would say, "it doesn't scale" and the project would get shelved.


It definitely happens in parts of the tech world! I've been part of teams that are really good at iterating based on actual customer experience.

However, you're right that it's too rare. The number one problem I've seen is that executives are convinced that they already know what users need. And when they get real data disproving their hunches, they really don't like it.


Completely agree with everything you said.

Remember when Google was still small and functional enough to produce excellent software with a good focus on design consistently? I do and I miss them. But all good things fade over time.

Clearly Google haven't architected a system that can put (or attract) the right talent in control of the right places. Small fast growing firms naturally attract talent and "game recognizes game" usually so it was easier for them back in the day.

It's just interesting to think of all the firms with a legitimate pool of great talent simply not executing properly (Magic Leap is the perfect example of this). It's a sad waste of resources which is heavily responsible for the people running things (IMO).


>Just like how they used to know your name at your local small grocery store, those intimate details go a long way. And in commoditized situations people are willing to spend more time/money or go out of their way to use your product.

Additionally - it also shows how there are things that you never expect that have a positive impact. Suggests to me that there are so many factors that affect people's product choices, and that many of the factors that drive a certain choice are not fully understood by either the buyer or the seller.


Startups can waste so many cycles optimizing for bullshit that's for sure. Or at least the tiny details that may or may not improve the product experience, or more important the revenue part.

Doing to the right optimizations at the right scale is a difficult balance. A lot of startups are investing thousands (or more important critical hours of runway time) in making super pretty websites and mobile apps when a simple non-JS HTML page where they figure out who their customer is or what product they really should be selling.

But then there are products where the mobile/web app's UX is the product because the industry is old/stagnant and haven't figured out tech. For example there are quite a few startups whose sole purpose is making buying insurance on your phone easy from a UX standpoint. Taxi companies could have made cellphone GPS/app driven services long before Uber but didn't, etc.


I really don't buy any of the UX spiel that you laid out. I guess it depends on what kind of product you're buying, but I have never personally had a personal connection to any (technology) product. The only UX I care about is the application being responsive and doing what it says it's going to do. Additionally, I have never once recommended a product because it has evoked an emotional response for me.

To be clear, I am not saying that UX as whole is not needed, but I do not need someone who has made a career of it to elucidate me on the finer points of emotionally connecting with a user via tooltips and the like.


Most engineers I talk to insist that they don't have an emotional connection to products or software. Then we start talking about their favorite text editor...


> The only UX I care about is the application being responsive and doing what it says it's going to do

UX as a field goes well beyond pretty UIs.

UX designer could drive your example because they looked at the users of the product and realized that like you, they care about a very responsive system.

Detecting that someone finds the product too slow could eventually materialize a backlog item to make page load times twice as fast etc.


Absolutely correct. A UX designer will have the stake at the table with all sorts of decisions that impact the user experience.

For example:

Two competing microservices? One has a spin up time of 0.3 secs, the other 1 sec. The first is two times the price. It is the job of the UX designer to understand the impact of the longer spin up time to understand if it would impact the user experience.

The UX designer then works with the Product Manager to build a business case for the correct service and thus you've made a decision that impacts the UX but is not a UI or interaction based conversation.


You fell into the "doesn't work on me, so it doesn't work on anyone" trap.


Should I speak for everyone else? I cannot presume to share anything but my own personal experience. To that end, I am simply relating my experience with UX designers and the evangelists of it.


I think I'm similar. Although it's hard to rule out that little details don't have a subconscious impact on my preferences.


It very well could have an impact; who knows? I guess my point is that I feel that UI design should include UX as part of its guiding principles. You don't build a UI just to build a UI -- you build it to be used (hence, UX). How can you have UI without UX? Why does it therefore need to be a separate role? Shouldn't UI designers, by definition, include UX as part of their design? If your response to this question is that a UX designer would guide the UX of an entire platform, I could buy that. But that is not typically how a UX designer's role is described to me.


It's a good question - and the simple answer is -

Usability and interaction design is most certainly part of UX. However, the skills needed to be a competent visual designer match (in terms of difficulty, time to execute, etc) that of being a UX designer. Simply put, in order to go deep enough on either craft, you need to dedicate to one side or another.

There are many dual 'UX/UI' roles out there, but they tend to be weighted toward the UI side, maybe with some user testing tacked on the end or some journey work.

Sole UX roles are much deeper in their reach within an organisation and consist of much, much more than just wireframing and making visual deliverables.


That’s why, as far as I’ve seen - it’s typically called UI/UX?

They certainly go hand in hand but IMHO good UX is much more important than the way the UI is displayed, which I think can honesty be more influenced by aesthetic and personal preference.


Bad UX can certainly create an emotional response.


Almost every consumer product is sold and marketed on the basis of emotional connection.

More likely than not, you're just not aware of it, which is normal.

FYI the emotional connection is not just made 'via tooltips', it's usually a package affair.

The article is a good example: the product (gas) and price didn't change, one could argue cleanliness was changed but that's a little doubtful unless the old station was disgusting. What changed was probably brand, colours, lighting, atmosphere, modern appearance - all pretty superficial stuff that has nothing to do with the actual product - gasoline. And yet it makes a big difference to most people, probably including you and I. We probably don't notice we were more likely to pull into the big, lit, white, modern looking gas station with the brand we recognised - over the off-brand gas next door, which is identical.


I don't know why this is down voted. I think you are correct.

That is exactly why brands use bright colours. It appeals to the part of the brain that evolved to recognize ripe fruit, for example.

As uncomfortable as it is to admit that these things may influence our behaviour, it is the reality. No person is completely immune.

Free will is largely an illusion. We act on impulses, then the conscious mind comes up with a plausible explanation for that action.


I'm not sure free will is a total illusion but we definitely make decisions on cruise control all day long.

The gas station is actually evidence of this: literally the utility of the product does not change, but more revenue ...

I think maybe it's an offence to Engineers to posit that they are not 'in control'. It takes some right-brain thinking to get this it's all a little counterintuitive.

But it's definitely reality. For the quickest possible introduction to really odd marketing concepts that are true, I'd recommend the '22 Immutable Laws of Marketing'. For an Engineer, it's like getting hit in the head with a frisbee.


Quick Trip is a national gas chain that does all of these little things right. Always clean. Good bathrooms. Pumps always work and are clean. Checkout is always fast even when the store is really busy. Excellent product selection for a convenience store. Bright and welcoming. That is how I characterize them. This engineer is helping other stations have that same polished feeling.


If you are ever in central Texas, check out Buckee's. There's one near Waco that blows my mind. Something like 120 gas pumps. The bathrooms are spotless and in the men's there are probably 50 or 60 urinals and a similar number of stalls. The store attached to the gas station is pretty big too and has just about every kind of junk food and some decent bbq as well.


Bu-cees is a Texas phenomenon - gas stations the size of a Costco, reasonable prices inside and out.


I was going to mention QT. Though most their locations are in the Midwest. The only chains that even come close to the same quality and consistency are Racetrac or _some_ circle K's.

I pretty much always choose to stop at a QT if I can just because of all the little things you mentioned that they do better than every other gas station.


Discovering a favorite gas station chain in each region of the US is one of those hobbies it always feels weird to talk about, but there's no doubt that Racetrac is the king of Texas


Pilot was also a cross country institution for my family. We went from GA to Milwaukee many times over the years. Those Pilot stations were all very familiar after 10+ years. You just know they will be well lit, safe, clean gas, snacks, quick checkout etc. very customer focused.


agree 100% with this, especially the checkout always being fast.

They place counters on _both_ sides of each checkout (and there's 3). They'll check a person out on the left of the register, then while that person is gathering their stuff up off the counter, they start checking the person out on the right. Almost like a zipper merge.

and it's very very effective.


> Just like how they used to know your name at your local small grocery store,

When I was in college, there was a small restaurant nearby, Burger Continental. The owner knew us students, and when ordering he'd always upgrade our orders for free, usually with a big flourish. We knew why he was doing it, but we still enjoyed him doing it and patronized his establishment a lot.


There are definitely lessons for software makers. Slack had this. Great custom emoji support. Just enough Markdown support. Many other little things that just work. Their recent “rich editor” changes are universally reviled at my company. Even our non technical staff hate it. It took them like 5 minutes to learn old way and they used it fine. This would be analogous to something like adding a feature to gas pumps that slows everyone down or leaves you feeling vaguely annoyed because you made me go through too many screens at the pump.


>And in commoditized situations people are willing to spend more time/money or go out of their way to use your product.

It depends if your customer has money to spare and/or if they value the improvements. Walmart succeeded precisely because people don't care about anything other than price for commodities.


I think in this particular case it's largely unconscious - people (speaking for myself at least) don't look at whether a fuel pump handle has been buffed, instead they'll have a general feeling of "this station feels nicer than most".


Yeah, and the hordes of price sensitive customers will have no problem passing up your "nice" gas station for the one that's consistently 5 cents cheaper.


> hordes of price sensitive customers will have no problem passing up your "nice" gas station for the one that's consistently 5 cents cheaper

It's not obvious that these measures would boost the price. An owner might accept lower margins for scale. Or they may cut costs that don't matter, but which everyone dogmatically incurs, to incur the ones that do.

An in any case, segmentation is a thing. Targeting premium customers is a profitable strategy. It's also a virtuous cycle, since each premium customer gives you resources to expand your lead while depriving your competitors of their business (e.g. for upsold services).


> An in any case, segmentation is a thing.

Which is apparently why the engineer owns both discount (Arco) and premium (Shell) stations.


Yeah, and the hordes of price sensitive customers will have no problem passing up your "nice" gas station for the one that's consistently 5 cents cheaper.

Clearly untrue, at least where I live.

There are two thriving chains of gas stations that do well because they offer superior customer experience. There are often lines inside and outside.

Then there are half a dozen other chains that are bare-bones and sell the gas for up to 30¢ a gallon cheaper. They don't have nearly the traffic as the nice chains.


That is not the full story of why Walmart Succeed, the Old School walmart (back in Sam Walton's day) was not competing on price, but on Value (Service + Price) and they successed

Walmart of today still competes on more than Price, but it is Convenience + Price. For me this is the ability to get my Oil Change Supplies, my Furnace Filters, a new pair of shoes, a belt and my Groceries all in 1 store, with 1 checkout, and I can get into that store and out of it getting everything I need for 1-2 weeks in under 30-45mins

Often times if I price shopped for every item there are places that are lower in price than Walmart, and some that are higher, but on the whole those minor fluctuations are not worth going to 5 different stores to get the "lowest price"


My sister dragged me, kicking and screaming, to one of those new Walmart Neighborhood Markets. I was shocked to learn that it didn't suck. They definitely invested in their self checkout things (unlike Kroger). I even found some foods which didn't contain HFCS. I've been back a few times.


Funny though, it may not be the pumps. That just might be an expression of their strict cleanliness. It maybe some other aspect that actually brings in customers. Or possibly the sum totality of 'clean' and not any one thing.

Assuming it's not product or price, it's interesting to note how a professional appearance makes the difference.


> Funny though, it may not be the pumps. That just might be an expression of their strict cleanliness. It maybe some other aspect that actually brings in customers. Or possibly the sum totality of 'clean' and not any one thing.

In the early days, Ray Kroc focused on McDonald's always having spotless bathrooms. Moms knew this and would stop at McD's on road trips because the bathrooms were reliably clean. Nobody else was doing that at the time.


Kroc and Fred Turner would also walk around the entire block at a McDonalds location, picking up trash.


It's probably location. The busier gas stations are on well-traveled roads or close to highway exits and on ramps; the ones that aren't do less business. Location gets ignored a lot, but it matters so much.


This only applies if you are not the only company providing the particular service your customers need and you don't provide any key extra features that no other service provides. I've worked on some apps (through an agency) with really poor UX but 50k monthly active users because they provide a niche thing people need so the people are willing to put time into working out the interface.


Scaling a location based workforce that the owner is visiting once a month and maintaining quality standards is hugely impressive.

As the article explains the owner is drawing his HR from the Egyptian immigrant community.

As such I think the “secret” of success in this tale is the unique funnel he has developed to find motivated, highly responsible, and respectful labor.

Which is almost impossible to find in the US at this point with employment reaching all time highs.

Good lesson for anybody that thinks the “buy and improve” strategy is going to come from giving a near minimum wage worker a playbook and checking in once a month.


> As the article explains the owner is drawing his HR from the Egyptian immigrant community.

> As such I think the “secret” of success in this tale is the unique funnel he has developed to find motivated, highly responsible, and respectful labor.

To be fair, importing cheap labor on visas with restrictive terms is a play from big tech's playbook.


Yep, a family friend did this at a smaller scale in a similar business (not in the US).

First-gen migrant, only employed other migrants from his community (usually from extended family), they worked just as hard as he did (no exaggeration: he worked 16-hour days, and worked close to 365 a year), and he provided an absolute first-rate service (and sold out to someone else at pretty much the top tick in the industry).

I actually think the tragedy of this is that we don't have people like this working at a higher level. Lots of migrants end up in these businesses because no-one else will hire them (gas stations, convenience stores, car washes, etc.)...that is a real tragedy because they would fucking trounce any politician/CEO/you name it.


I'm trying to think of how working 16 hours a day, near 365 days a year isn't a "tragedy".


Because he enjoyed it, and he provided for his family. He came to this country with literally nothing (his family fled Idi Amin...so the real "nothing", not like most economic migrants today), and he sent all his kids (three) to private school and university.

I understand this isn't appealing to the lazy, indigent middle-class person who has everything and expects daddy to hook them up with a soft job...but he is the kind of person that provides for your life and the real tragedy is that we allow so many talented people to grow up without ambition, responsibility, or even the desire to produce things for anyone besides themselves.


I honestly think a big problem most US companies have is a lack of training in HR. Almost none of them know what they’re looking at when they’re evaluating new employees.


To be frank HR seems like pre-Germ theory medicine having the reputation of being uncertain if it will needless maim or kill you vs help. Im this case the stakes are a bit lower in that they needlessly reject/fire good canidates and accept/push bad canidates for the same reason - they aren't that accurate or understanding of many hidden variables and may have bad incentives.


I totally agree with this. Interestingly Koch Industries is the one company that seems to actually know and pick out people. It seems there may be a bias for picking out based on values which Said seems to be also doing based on Egyptian immigrant that goes to a Coptic church.


What criteria are Koch using?


Hey this is an unrelated comment but I wanted to get in touch about this comment: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20834105

Is there any way to reach you? You can drop me a line at: m [at] eveo [dot] org

I want to understand your pain points more concretely and what would be valuable to you.


>As the article explains the owner is drawing his HR from the Egyptian immigrant community.

And good for him, too! He deserves to be incredibly proud of the work he's done. I can imagine that the two-hundred-odd employees he has hired represent just a fraction of the people he's positively effected - especially if they are Egyptian immigrants. Many of them likely brought their families to the US as well.

I'm incredibly proud to be an American, hearing stories like this. (Unfortunately, that's in spite of our current administration's attitude towards immigrants. Let's hope that next election manages to turn that sentiment around with a new candidate.)


Please don't take HN threads on generic flamewar tangents or into partisan battles. These are off topic on HN because they are predictable and tedious.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


Right he gets a great work pool from his local church of people willing to go the extra mile for $15 where as typically you cant get anyone to even show up for that kind of money. Maybe access to a bit of local muscle as well if he needs it.

That being said, I don't think anyone really cares how clean a gas station is you pump gas at is, but the convenience store (where all the money is made) is another matter. If its the cleanest/safest redbox/amazon box around people are going to be showing up there just for that and that's going to drive traffic, if you can add some other decent extras you might even convert them into repeat costumers. Just keeping the store clean and free of drug addicts is already a big competitive advantage in keeping customers.


I kinda have to admit that I look for a cleaner gas station, especially on longer trips. For one thing, the gas station stop is also often a bathroom stop. For another, gas stations give me the creeps, and even if a dirty station isn't objectively any more creepy, the creeps are still the creeps.


I bought a tank of water and sand once from a sketchy looking gas station. You bet ever since I definitely buy gas from stations that look clean and in good repair.


I'm a long distance trucker and all things being equal I try to choose stations I know or guess to be clean.


I basically only go to Chevrons because their windshield wiper stations are cleaner and kept in better repair than other stations.


1) If you want to see an example of that in the Bay Area, the Mile 8 convenience store/gas station at 19th Ave. and Irving is pretty amazing - great selection, two clean, inside restrooms. Closes at 8 pm though. Cheapest sandwiches, snacks and coffee in the area.

2) The article has a good explanation of how an immigrant community works together to dominate a niche using a favorable banking tie and a labor stream. A similar story is that most Bay Area motels are operated by Gujaratis (fixed), and in Canada minimarts by Koreans. Both have strong banking ties for pre-approved loans based on sufficient family labor and the community track record.

3) The Albanian resistance movement in the last Serbian war was funded by a small construction firm in New York. The owner fed back enough weapons and snipers to ground the UN helicopters (!) persecuting them, as well as lobby in DC. There's a very impressive video online.


> 3) The Albanian resistance movement in the last Serbian war was funded by a small construction firm in New York. The owner fed back enough weapons and snipers to ground the UN helicopters (!) persecuting them, as well as lobby in DC. There's a very impressive video online.

Would you happen to have a link or know what to search? This sounds interesting but my searches have yielded nothing so far.


This was the closest I could find for a starting point: "Shefki Mati, 44, an Albanian American businessman, is training volunteers for the Kosovo Liberation Army at camps in Albania."

https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1999/05/10/a...


I believe the plurality of motels in the US are owned by Gujarati's [1][2][3]. Hence the moniker: "Patel Motels". I'd venture to guess a lot of the Tamilians in the bay are in the IT sector

[1] https://www.nationalgeographic.com/culture/2018/09/south-asi...

[2] https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Family-Fortunes-Gujar...

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gujarati_Americans


> There's a very impressive video online.

I tried but failed to find a similar sounding video. Can you send a link or title?


It is very hard for them to get loans. Paying in cash or getting vendor financing from the seller (particularly if they are extended family/kin) is common. Most migrant communities in the US (and outside) have parallel banking systems (for example, there is a completely separate Chinese banking system in the US...this is a function of domestic Chinese banks not having huge operations outside China, it is more common for migrants to deal with branches from their home country though).

I would also be somewhat cautious talking about Serbia. Everyone can accept that neither side covered themselves in glory. Let's just leave it there.


Here's a thought: if the percentage of cars on the road which are electric rises significantly over the next decade or so, will the corner gas-station have a problem? I have heard that the gas is not really the source of profits, but it is the source of the traffic. If fewer drivers need to fill up (or they have to do it less often, in the case of a hybrid), will the convenience store business model be threatened? Or, perhaps, it will just more or less seamlessly morph into the corner grocery store.


If things remain the same, business will likely flourish: such station can install charging equipment as well, and since recharging takes more time than refilling gas tank, customers will spend more time (and money) on site.


>> If things remain the same

By definition, if EVs become dominant over ICE, things haven't remained the same. Gasoline is voluminous, and both expensive and difficult to transport and store. Electricity requires no volume or storage, and thus the need for a specialized "gas station" is mostly negated, as virtually anyone can offer it.

I imagine most workplaces will offer low-cost charging as an employee benefit, thus, most people will have the option to charge either at home or at work. How many drivers will still need to stop off at a gas station then?


We'll replace petrol stations with using the areas for roadside stops with cafe, shop and charging station. The picture will be more like the 1950s than today with perhaps fewer overall. Humans will still want a break, lunch, opportunity to take a leak, stretch their legs etc... add top up charging to it and you've reinvented the gas station and roadside diner.


On long roadtrips, sure. But 90+% of gas stations are just on a random corner catering to commuters and locals who will no longer have much need for their services. The C-stores may remain, but without the necessary gas stops, there will be far fewer of them, perhaps as many as CVS/Walgreens.

>> The picture will be more like the 1950s lol, is there any aspect of life today that feels like the 1950's?


re 1950s: For how they're spaced, not how life is. Most will disappear from towns and cities, but remain, thrive and perhaps increase along routes. :p


Something like a big fastfood chain with drive-thrus can probably soak up all that custom -- drop in for a burger and boost charge your car in the car-park for 20mins. You need to pair it with something that people will already spend the charging time doing, so they feel they're not wasting their stay. People don't tend to spend 15-20mins in a petrol station (ie "gas station") in the UK, but they will spend that sitting in their car at the drive-thru (I don't understand why they don't go in).

Maybe we'll get like "short-stay malls" where there's a parking area with all chargers (and solar panels above the car-height) and around the edge are small stores with food, hairdressers, valeting services, and such like places?


I think that people's cars are often more comfortable than a fast food restaurant. A car stereo is the best sound system that many people own. The seats are well padded, and many have entertainment systems. Why go out into the weather to sit on a plastic bench when you could stay in and watch a movie while you wait?

Me, I find it a little odd that they'd rather wait in a ten-deep line than go into a nearly-empty store. But my car isn't particularly nice, and if I'm eating fast food, it's because I'm in a hurry.


Yeah but you can’t gas up at your house or at your parking spot at work.


Exactly. If I swapped to an electric vehicle, I estimate I'd need to "fill up" at a gas station maybe 5% as much as I do now.


In 6 months driving a Renault Zoe, I have been in gas stations twice. Once for killing time during a rare not at-work charge, and once for getting a snack for my son.

Gas stations are dinosaurs that haven't heard the shockwave of the meteor yet.


But at what rate do gasoline customers enter the store now? I suspect that rate is far lower than 5%.

In that case, cars going electric would very positive effect. IIRC, Circle K (a large gas station chain) derives around half of it's profits from concession sales, with the other half from gas.

Additionally, given the higher cost of electric cars, their owners are likely to be wealthier than their ICE driving counterparts. This is an assumption on my part, but I suspect that wealthier people are much less likely to shop at gas stations since items sold their often target poorer demographics. A shift to electric cars would mean that demographics which were already unlikely to enter the store are more likely to make a purchase, while not impacting the lower end clientele.


The rate of customers who make additional purchases is closer to 50%. Source: I know a guy who runs a gas station. Profits from additional sales are bigger than from selling gas: they have 3-4% margin selling gas and 30-70% margin selling additional products. Coffee, wiping cloths, chocolate bars, etc.


I used to work in a gas station during high school and did the paper work for the owner each morning.

He was a franchise, so his gas margin was even lower, closer to 1-2%. And yes, most of the profit came from inside sales where the margins were 50%+ or higher.


This has to vary greatly based on location. I almost always go inside gas stations along a freeway trip. I don't know that I've been inside a "local" station in 15 years unless the real purpose of the trip was to grab a Powerball ticket and the gas fill-up was incidental. So maybe five times total.


Much higher than 5%. Just stand outside a Wawa or Racetrac or Sheetz and do a quick observation.


"But at what rate do gasoline customers enter the store now? I suspect that rate is far lower than 5%."

Everywhere I've been from LA to halfway to Vegas usually has a fairly-crowded gas station. WAY more than 50% of people arriving go inside.


Those factors can change. Currently charging at night at home is cheaper today, only because power company makes it so. Ideally cars should charge when the sun is up, in day time. If they were self driving, it could charge while we work. Don’t assume everyone work place will become a gas station


>charging at night at home is cheaper today, only because power company makes it so.

They make it so because there's excess capacity at night, when most everyone is asleep. This is not an arbitrary decision.

>Ideally cars should charge when the sun is up, in day time

That's not even remotely true. Someday MAYBE, if massive solar deployment shifts our excess capacity from night to daytime, but that's certainly not the case right now.


> Ideally cars should charge when the sun is up, in day time. If they were self driving, it could charge while we work.

Ideally cars should charge during times when energy is cheaper. This could be at times of lower consumer demand, like at night or at times when prices are cheaper because variable and barely off at all controllable renewables are dumping power into the grid, like when it’s especially sunny or windy.


Wind apparently produces more at night. I guess it makes sense given thermal cycling. Sun goes down and locally cools producing a temperature differential which makes wind more night-biased and a good solar complement.

Which suggests favoring the time based on whatever the "grid-time-bias" has cheaper.


>Currently charging at night at home is cheaper today, only because power company makes it so. Ideally cars should charge when the sun is up, in day time.

Power's cheaper at night because demand's lower. The sun being out during daytime does make more solar power available, but there's also higher demand because everyone's awake. Unless there's evidence to the contrary, I'm inclined to believe that night power is cheaper because of pure market forces, rather than being dictated by the power company.


We are a long long way from that.

And even if so driverless cars won't give them any other business, as well as drastically alter the desired locations of the stations.


i always wondered why the battery cannot simply be swapped for a charged one. like going through a carwash. would be even faster than filling a tank of gas.

once there's enough EV, it seems justified to democratize the consumable batteries.


The technology exists, but in practice I think people just don't want it. It is psychologically unappealing.

When people are going about their business, trying to get from point A to B but interrupted by insufficient fuel, they don't want anything that feels like major surgery being done to their car. There's a possibility for something to go wrong, and no matter how statistically unlikely, they're still going to think about it. People want this to be a casual interaction that stays in the background of their mind so they can focus on whatever they were already thinking about.

Also many people prefer to hold onto the thing they already own even if it is a convenient moment to think about changing. For example, if you have a cheap beater car that's worth $1000 and it needs an $1100 repair, you could buy a used $1000 beater car instead of fixing the one you have, but many people will pay to have theirs fixed. This is partly to avoid the hassle of buying but also partly because their beater is a known quantity to them. Back to the electric car battery swap, maybe your battery pack is a few years old and only retains 90% range, which isn't great, but how do you know the one you swap to won't have 80%? Maybe it will have 97%, but you just don't really know.

As a thought experiment, imagine a gas station near you offered two options for inflating your tires. You can pay $2 to use a self-serve air compressor, which will probably take you 5 or 10 minutes. Or, for free and in only 1 minute, a pit crew will come out and swap out your tires and rims for a different set, that they promise are the same make and model and are in equal or better condition. Do you take the pit crew option? I wouldn't.


This has been tried, in fact the original Tesla Model s had a swappable batteries[1], but it has never worked for a variety of reasons.

[1]:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HlaQuKk9bFg


From what I gather, it worked fine technically, but very few customers actually decided to use it. Lots of Tesla owners tried it once, but most realized that it wasn't worth paying the cost associated with additional complexity (it wasn't free) especially since it's actually really nice to have a 20 minute break after driving for five hours.


In theory yes, but only if battery is being leased from a nationwide entity.

However, practically it takes more than 10 minutes to securely remove and attach the heaviest thing in a car no matter how easy we make it. Super charging will already make it < 10 minutes


What's interesting is that aircraft piston engines are remanufactured that way (using swapping.)

After flying 2,000 hours, you drop your engine on a palette, ship it back, the mfg. sends somebody else's overhauled engine back to you, and you install that one.

But instead of 10 minutes, it takes over a month. Oh, and that $10k to $100k bill per engine ...


Unless the batteries are standardized every manufacturer needs their own distribution network for their batteries. I don’t think that’s viable. Making the battery swappable would probably also require some serious design compromises.


Better Place was an early attempt at this strategy that ended in disaster, though I don't think you can attribute it to the underlying strategy. Here's a post-mortem on the company https://www.fastcompany.com/3028159/a-broken-place-better-pl...


You can, batteries are just super expensive right now. So a trade-in program (like it exists for BBQ gas tank, or the SodaStream pressured gas) doesn't make a lot of economic sense for the partner taking on the risk of getting a bad battery in.

Maybe it could become a possibility in the future as the price drops though!


There's an Indian (IIRC) company that does this with scooters, eg https://asia.nikkei.com/Business/Electric-scooters-blazing-a....



This was actually proposed as a solution with a full demonstration video. I don't know of it was Elon himself who did it or someone else though.


EV drivers will need to spend much longer filling up, particularly at high-demand times when there's a queue. Gas stations will probably transition from grab-and-go to a more café style atmosphere where people don't mind spending an hour.


service stations will be redeveloped into higher value real estate such apartments or commercial buildings.

there is no reason with EV to have a separate facility as you don't need a massive fuel storage tank underneath. you'd just add charging capabilities to existing parking lots at shopping centres, malls, restaurants, etc.

so you're right people will be eating / drinking / shopping while charging but it won't be at what's currently a fuel station today.


This. In many areas, as per the article, housing developers will gobble up the land. This is certainly already the case where I live in North London, to the point where finding somewhere to fill up is becoming increasingly painful. By contrast we have charging points for electric cars springing up in all sorts of random places, including on the high street next to existing cafes and coffee shops.


Service stations are typically zoned PDR, explicitly and intentionally ruling out housing or office use.


The end of the article talks about this specifically. Basically if half the gas stations close down, you just have to be in the top 50% to stay in business, and because of less of competition they can even increase margins.


I think it would stay about the same.

You would have slightly fewer drivers as people would charge at home. However, that's probably a low percentage of the total.

For those that stick around, the duration of a visit will generally increase (filling up 200 miles worth of petrol takes less time than 200 miles charge, even at 100kW or more).

I'm more likely to buy something at somewhere I perceive to be 'overpriced' if I'm there for longer, want somewhere nice to sit and eat, etc.


Interesting point. I'm also more likely to be able to leave my car while it's "filling up" if I'm just plugging it in, as opposed to if I'm refilling the gas. It could actually work out for them, even if the total number of customers goes down by half, if they're twice as likely to go inside and buy something.


I mean, as a data point, since getting an EV I spend way more in restaurants etc on breaks.

Having said that this is probably because I don't pay for the electricity... heh


Their second highest source of revenue is tobacco products, also in decline, and headed for more.


Countries with fewer cars driving fewer miles still manage to have gas stations, so I think basic market economics will kick in. Gas will get more expensive, or stations will get a little more sparse, or both. After all there will still be a demand.


i submit to you, Exhibit A:

https://imgur.com/UxlaMi7

i snapped it as proof else no one would believe me, like grainy, destabilized bigfoot footage.


Sorry, what point are you making with that foto?


I think he's saying that even Tesla owners visit gas station convenience stores.


Immigrant-owned convenience stores are a big business without the gas.


Most gas stations seem offensive and predatory in the items they offer customers. I understand freedom of choice and business models but the entire system is plagued by unhealthy and potentially dangerous products (eg random herbal supplements, synthetic cannabinoids etc). And more than half of gas stations in major cities don’t have bathrooms (people abuse them obviously). And the workers are often underpaid.

Verse a system that offers fair pricing, healthy options, positive re-enforcement, incentivizes public facing employees to learn CPR and first aid, paying higher wages to help upward mobility and savings, creating a place for community interaction.

Nope, it’s just sugar, cigarettes, “rhino” pills, alcohol, mistreated underpaid employees living a fraction of their potential, dirtiness and no bathrooms.


Your assumption that they should try to promote things paternalistically is the really weird assumption from my perspective. Positive reinforcement sounds like the sort of thing which would creep out customers and employees like a company policy that all transactions are closed by hugs.

In whole those requests aren't a cohesive strategy, or even a collection of separate ones "competing" for balance but a wish list. Paying higher wages to ensure quality of workers for lessened expenses or better effective throughput is a strategy. Just paying higher wages isn't a strategy, it is an out of context goal for a business model. At best it would be an alternate profit distribution which would make it and be peripheral to what makes an enterprise work.

Starting with the end in mind is a good concept but a viable path to get there is needed or else it will end in failure and tears.

On another note fair prices aren't a real thing economically. Despite efforts from medieval times to failed Communist attempts at solving a valuation problem. Fair is a judgement which may be anywhere from well informed to utterly insane.


> Most gas stations seem offensive and predatory in the items they offer customers.

Convenience stores sell what customers want. If those items didn't sell or customers had a preference for something else then they'd change.

> And the workers are often underpaid.

No such thing. So long as someone is willing to work for a certain wage they're getting paid exactly what they should be.


Found our Robber Baron mentality right here.

Nobody is "willing" to work at an un-livable wage. Forced is probably a better term. Not forced by their employer, but by circumstance.


Gee if the wage is un-livable how are they surviving?


Working two or more jobs and/or being subsidized by government assistance (food stamps, or in Germany Hartz IV).


The actual secret is low cost of capital and low labor costs, probably both in violation of various labor / tax / finance laws and regulations. This supposedly gave him free cash flow to invest in capital improvements.

"in 1998, he scraped together the $75,000 down payment, much of it from family and others in the local Egyptian community"

"One key factor: Said staffed his new location with fellow immigrants from his church, Saint Mary Coptic Orthodox Church in Lynnwood"

"with the help of a broker — another member of the local Egyptian community — Said got a loan and closed the deal"

"Mainly, Said checks in with his managers and staff, many of whom are Egyptian immigrants looking for their own start in America. Many are referred to Said through his church or the local Egyptian American community; some hear of Said even before they leave Egypt."


Having talked to some immigrant workers in America about similar situations, I think the issue is a bit more nuanced than that. Yes, from what I hear, illegally low pay and benefits are not uncommon. However, there is also a lot higher sense of obligation by the employer towards the employed, since they are fellow members of a tight community. The boss is expected to put up with more of a requirement for job training, time off for family issues, etc. because if they are a jerk boss the word gets around about it in their own peer group. So, while they may not be subject to all of the same government restrictions that stranger boss-employee relations are, because of a tacit agreement not to report your own to the feds, they are also subject to a lot of extra restrictions that a stranger boss-employee relationship is not.


> The boss is expected to put up with more of a requirement for job training, time off for family issues, etc.

In my experience, this is not true. The boss benefits from having immigrated earlier and possibly having start up capital due to land or family assistance from the origin country. The newcomers, if related to the boss or owner, may have an advantage and be offered a piece of equity. But everyone else is just cheap labor, who have no better choice and need to grind out 5 years so they can apply for citizenship so they can then sponsor their child to immigrate.


Unless you like being sued for libel you'd better have evidence when you accuse someone of breaking the law.


None of those examples are illegal, and the presumption of criminality based on circumstantial evidence, especially in the case of a minority immigrant, looks far worse for you than it does for him.


We have copious experience with this exact business model going back decades over several economic sectors and it's not hard to see where the structural cost advantages come from. If you are, eg, properly accounting for below-market loans as income (on either side), or rigorously following overtime requirements, or equal opportunity laws, your cost advantages rapidly go away. "Maybe we make the stores nice" is not some groundbreaking innovation.


There isn't proof of any of those things happening here.


I have done business with many immigrant groups, and I have no qualms assuming small businesses employing recent immigrants who aren’t fluent in local English are not following labor laws. Easiest ones to break are salaried “managers” that work 7 days a week manning gas stations.


The magic here is he leaned on his community to everyone's benefit. This is a thing immigrants easily do in America and it's a massive competitive advantage.

It works even for non-business. Immigrants will lend each other money for mortgage down payments, cars, exercising options, investments, cover expenses until long term cap gains, etc. in amounts most Americans would balk at. Easy six figure sums with no real collateral. If the investment pays off or whatever, the person loaning doesn't get a percentage or anything like that. All they get is what they already have: continued access to the accelerator net.

I honestly think there is a cultural silliness in America about soloing it. Everyone who really makes it in America does so in a team, or because their parents boosted them, or whatever. Very few solo. But the dream in America is you do things yourself. The cultural bias towards "paid my way through college", "moved out at 18", "built it on my own with no help from anyone" is a powerful meme but does not confer benefit on the organism holding it.


> I honestly think there is a cultural silliness in America about soloing it.

All tribes that have high trust between them eventually lose it as they economically advance. The high trust between tribe members is required while the tribe members need each other, but once a sufficient number of tribe members become self sufficient, the tribe starts changing into different groups, usually along socioeconomic lines.

Rich people lend and invest with each other all the time. See all the companies where a kid gets funding from his parents friends. But they no longer identify with the immigrant tribe.

I have watched this play out in my lifetime. When everyone in my parents’ immigrant group was poor, everyone was there for everyone. As the decades went on, some families became very successful. Their children no longer associate with the less economically successful families, but they do with those like them. They go on vacations together, golf, invest in businesses together. But the new members of the tribe still immigrating will not get any support from them.


Yeah, the crucial loss is that poor and middle class Americans just generally have no tribe. They also worship this as a source of strength when it's clearly a source of weakness.


If you know anything about Seattle it can be pretty easily implied what his business actually is doing. He buys gas stations in "up and coming" parts of town with high traffic and makes them safe by driving out the undesirables thereby increasing traffic from the wealthier residents who don't want to be hassled. Seattle has become big and increasingly unsafe so businesses that can provide a sense of security for their customers provide an increasingly better value proposition.


As a fellow Coptic Egyptian, I can tell you that his ability to directly source talent from Coptic Churches in the area is a huge advantage for him.

Just like how warm intros in the VC world signal that the person making the intro can vouch for them as trustworthy, a similar benefit is had when sourcing employees from a tight knit ethno-religious community.

If he hires them to manage a gas station and they steal, cause problems, or anything like that, the community will know about it and their reputation will suffer.


> If he hires them to manage a gas station and they steal, cause problems, or anything like that, the community will know about it and their reputation will suffer.

Further, the family's image becomes tarnished to an extent in the eyes of the community, and family is often a powerfully reinforced social structure in immigrant households (my own included) with the ability to compel action.


I don't think it's a secret if you're publishing it in the news. Just sayin'.

Also I think this whole article can be summed up as "providing a better experience for customers can increase sales".


This over-simplifies the nuance. Each business is a little different and it is useful to see exactly how and what is being done. It’s like hiring a business consultant and they tell you a bunch of “obvious” things you are not doing. But you start doing them and your business improves. Maybe you learned something along the way.


I suspect his hiring strategy plays into it. He hires immigrants from his own church. That probably plays into workers that will do all the little stuff that makes the difference, even at gas station wages.


I attended a service at St Mary's, and the people were both friendly and compassionate.


But you're missing the nuance that exemplifies the risk. Will sales (on a low-margin product) improve enough to cover the renovation's cost (hundreds of thousands, to million+)? And the additional ongoing costs of running a "spotless" store? Gas station pumps don't wipe themselves down. And can a guy who owns a few dozen stores compete with chains that own hundreds?


> can a guy who owns a few dozen stores compete with chains that own hundreds?

With the exception of places like Costco and large truck stops, the vast overwhelming majority of gas stations are franchises where the owner is just some local guy selling under the Chevron or Shell or whatever name. This has some promotional value, of course, but the owner sets the prices just like any other station operator. Ultimately, they all buy fuel from the same local refineries or wholesalers, regardless of the name on the fuel truck that delivers it.

Standard Oil encountered some legal issues back in 1911 by using its size and vertical integration to undercut competitors at the retail level. As a result the petroleum production industry is now intentionally very much NOT involved in retail fuel sales.


I admit to not having many actual statistics. I agree that most are franchises as you mention. But I strongly suspect that the percentage owned by major chains -- Wawa, Sheetz, Speedway, etc, is growing rapidly. 10 years from now, I believe the independent franchiser (under 10 stores) will be very rare.

Growth example: Wawa entered Florida in 2012, according to Wikipedia. In 2019 it already had 167 and they expect Florida to surpass both PA and NJ, their traditional base, in 2021. Pretty sure the vast majority of the FL stores have gas, while many PA/NJ do not. Further, the number of pumps is generally much higher at the big chains, so 1 of their stores may equal 2-3 independent franchise stores in terms of customer count or gas sold.

https://www.mcall.com/news/local/mc-nws-pa-wawa-expansion-20...


There are plenty of exceptions. WaWa has already been mentioned.

Sheetz has 600+ locations and does $8b a year. All corporate owned and operated.


>Sheetz has 600+ locations and does $8b a year. All corporate owned and operated

600+ seems like a big number until you consider that there are 168,000 gas stations in the US. Large chains have a LONG way to go until they are more than a statistical blip, and this doesn't even take into account the fact that the federal government has, for over a century, cast a very jaundiced eye at any single entity using its market presence to drive competitors out of the retail gasoline business via undercutting on prices. Looking at the FTC ruling on the acquisition of Sunoco's fuel retail locations by 7-11, they monitor competition in fuel retailing VERY closely, to the point of mandating a certain degree of competition in specific markets.

https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/press-releases/2018/03/ftc-a...


Undercutting on gas prices is hardly the point. Most well-known chains charge more for gas -- and get away with it because their stores are cleaner, more convenient, have more pumps (so less waiting), and a far better C-store experience.

The store side is primarily where chains threaten independent operators because they can have a lower cost structure overall -- much more purchasing power on food/snacks/soda, more ability to offer fresh food (Wawa sandwiches, Racetrac frozen yogurt, etc), better stocking, and far more labor efficiency.

Your own number of 168k gas stations proves the point -- that number is from 2004, and is 40,000 less than a decade earlier. While there are many reasons why gas stations are closing, surely increased competition from brand-name mega-stores with 16, 24+ pumps each -- is one of those reasons.

https://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/quizzes/answerQuiz16.shtml


> And can a guy who owns a few dozen stores compete with chains that own hundreds?

Of course. Not in absolute terms (that's impossible), but on quality terms it is certainly possible.

Compare fast-food franchises where the chain actually evaluates their franchisees with rigorous detail like McDonald's to gas station franchises where the only thing the franchise provider is caring about is that the oil is sourced from them... it's relatively easy to provide a difference in quality as a franchisee simply by providing a decent experience for the consumers.

It's the little things that matter - is the toilet back in a shed full of graffiti, cold, or one of these ugly vandalism-resistent all metal things, or is it in the proper store, clean, brightly-lit and with proper toilet paper instead of 1-ply crap? Is the ground spotty all over the place from gas/oil residue and dirt, or is it cleaned regularly? Windows and other surfaces shining or full of dirt layers that haven't seen a scrub in decades?

All of this can be done by a single small store owner who cares about details compared to a corporate-run effort where everyone just cares that their paycheck arrives and the stores make a specific profit margin target.


>> a corporate-run effort where everyone just cares that their paycheck arrives

That sounds all nice and good and very Zuccotti Park, but experience suggests the opposite. Wawa and Racetrac bathrooms (and McDonald's, and Buc-ee's, etc) are generally far cleaner, well-stocked and much more pleasant, than most independent or one-off gas stations. Many stations still lock their bathroom door.

Maybe it's because keeping the bathroom clean is one of the requirements that the corporation insists upon, in order to continue receiving those paychecks.


> this whole article can be summed up as "providing a better experience for customers can increase sales"

That, plus "be part of a community you can rely on for capital and labor." Despite the many struggles that immigrants face, they do seem to often benefit from being part of a close-knit community.

As an ordinary, middle-class, non-religious white American from a small family, I'm not sure where I'd turn to find such a network. Open to suggestions, though!


A key point is that he gets a reliable stream of motivated immigrant labor to take good care of his stations. Normal owners who hire american teenagers will get worse results. This is why Shell is giving him the red carpet treatment to acquire underperforming gas stations.


> "providing a better experience for customers can increase sales".

Right, but what does that actually mean. What is he actually doing to make the businesses more attractive to customers.


"With oil prices then near historic lows, oil refiners were desperate for dealers who could move more volume."

Isn't this zero sum? If one station doesn't sell the gasoline, another will, right? Why does the refiner care who sells it?


Somewhat. Shell is probably trying to position themselves against their competition. Yes, it's probably near zero-sum game, but there's still competition between the various oil companies, etc.

So by having Said take on more stores (due to the quality and volume he proved) means that Shell could take a bigger piece of the pie.


His is certainly an impressive story, but you also have to account for the fact that a lot of the neighborhoods in which he owns gas stations have seen massive inflows of money from Seattle's insane growth in the last 25 years.


It is so random the Egyptian-related posts that come up here!

The irony here is that most of these principles Sami Said uses are not applied in Egypt and I doubt they would work quite the same. Most gas stations for normal, working class people are dirty and IIRC many do not have convenience stores at all. Kiosks are on almost every street corner, so the gas stations would be wasting their employee time as everyone else, car or not, can find those way more easily.

The one exception in upper class neighborhoods and the ring roads that lead between Cairo and major cities, and the gas station rest stops, which have been cleaned up/modernized a lot since my first entry into Egypt in the middle of the last decade. The new cleaner gas stations started showing up then, but now I see many more of them when traveling between cities or the rich/expat-accommodating neighborhoods of Cairo proper (Zamalek, the fancy parts of Ma'adi, et cetera) all of them with On the Run convenience stores. After reading this I Googled, only to discover that is the import of an international chain, Exxon!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_the_Run_(convenience_store)

So beyond hiring other Egyptians (this is not surprising for Americans who see this with many different immigrant communities, a lot have pointed this out already), not sure why his being Egyptian is an important detail. It sounds like a common American immigrant story to me. This is usually where I make a joke about Neo-Orientalism (perhaps double funny since it is an Egyptian person with gas stations), but the article is pretty germane so what can we really say? lol


This seems like a recipe for success that can be applied in some east european countries still lagging behind the rest of the eu: take old and run down shop in areas with a good potential, provide kick ass services and improve the look and feel of things.


> in areas with a good potential

You won't have much of these in (South) Eastern Europe. There is a massive brain drain towards Western Europe... every shop needs customers with spare money to go shopping and that's hard for anything that's not absolute necessities when all working-age people from the area went off to greener grasses.

Originally that was the reason why the EU introduced various funds to improve life/economy in the poorer regions... while for some regions it worked out decently, many others had all the money sucked off to corruption. Between 2013 and 2017, for example, at least 1.5 billion € in development funds were wasted (https://kurier.at/politik/ausland/betrug-mit-eu-foerdergelde...).


Yeah having been back to Romania for a while now I think the article is a gross understatement of the amount of fraud and poor investment choices surrounding EU funding. However, the country is undergoing a massive bubble at the moment, and most areas appear to be undeserved or served by low quality services. By following the example of this Egyptian guy, one could really make a difference and turn a nice, clean, profit in here.


I drive an EV so I haven't been to a gas station in years, maybe a decade. However, I think gas stations, maybe this guy, could better serve EVs.

First, we're going to be at a charging station for about a half an hour. In fact, limit us to half an hour. Provide an L3 QC so we can charge. Air so we can top off our tires. Wiper fluid. WIFI. Got a Tesla, CHAdeMO or SAE? Great, we have an adaptor for that. Brownie points for a vac, garbage and recycling.

Charge a flat rate, $20 (?). Got a Tesla? It goes on your account.


The secret to a great gas station business, is being not primarily in the gas station business, but in the higher margin food business.

The Sheetz gas station chain along the US east coast for example has a wildly thriving business and is demolishing every other gas station in its path. ~25 years ago they started doing things quite different than all the other competition and it has led to them building out hundreds of locations. They're up to $7.5 billion in annual sales now. It's all built around great locations (of course) and the margins in their food making business. They did touch screen ordering kiosks as early as any other major food-related chain in the US, and 20+ years before McDonald's deployed them widely. The gas merely draws traffic, there's no serious money in that part of the business.


It's remarkable how unfriendly large gas stations have come to be. Locally all our Speedways have added TV's at the pumps that play Speedway commercials non-stop.

They're all out of sync and it gives you a headache to listen to all of them. It annoyed me so much that I did some googling and I figured out how to turn down the volume ;<). But they had a software update and my little trick no longer worked.

But the TV's didn't increase store sales so you know what they did? They cranked up the volume to an ear splitting level;<(. It's almost as if they're trying to drive customers away.


The faster you get your gas and go, the quicker the next person in line can get their gas. Imagine all the people who see a full gas station and keep driving knowing they could get gas later when the station is less full. Gas stations almost need to appear empty at the pumps.


Most interesting. I wouldn't have thought any of those little details matter, so I guess I am not representative of the market.

I never shop at the gas station convenience store (unless traveling and in need of water). I pick a gas station solely on convenience factor, ie closest to me on the correct side of the road. The only criteria I have is that I do not use gas stations (Arco) that have central payment islands vs pay at the pump.

I'm pretty amazed anyone cares what gas station they go to, and actually pick one over another.


clickbait-styled headlines are repulsive


Yea like wtf is a "former Egyptian engineer"? Like is he not Egyptian anymore?


I don't drive so I rarely step into a petrol station but whenever I do it's almost always: wtf?? It's like most operators try to make them as inconvenient as possible.Poor selection of products on shelves, toilets often not clean/locked,etc. No wonder this man is so successful.


Focus on customers and employees and have pride in your product. Now there’s a lesson modern business could learn. It’s not about returning all profit to the wealthy investors.


Reminds me of an improvement on the advice by good old Felix Dennis:

Nice (fake) flowers can do as much or more for decor than antique lawyer or designer furniture.


At the risk of sounding pedantic, “former Egyptian engineer” sounds like he stopped being Egyptian at some point. Shouldn’t it be Egyptian former engineer?


This page is blank (though very tall) without JS.


Paywall


Bogus Norton Security nonsense. I'm outta there.


> In urban areas like Seattle, the best locations for gas stations — along busy arterials — are also the best places for apartments, which are far more profitable.

There's a gas station at the corner of Fort Meyer and Nash St in downtown Arlington, VA which sits beneath a church. It looks like it was built purposefully that way. I don't see why you couldn't build one under an apartment building[1], especially a modern one that can handle fumes, etc. I mean, we build residences above much worse stuff today (e.g. the chemical fields created during Silicon Valley's heyday and which now sit beneath many new residential projects), and both gasoline and cars are far cleaner now than when that building was originally constructed. I wouldn't be surprised if there are already many locations like that, in the U.S. and elsewhere.

[1] That's how I remembered that gas station--as sitting below an apartment building--but looking on Google Maps it must've been a church all along.




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