Control your paperwork and stay in compliance to avoid finding out.
I promise that this is not a trick question about alternative fuels, online retailing or robots. It is a meditation on a situation we came across recently and, sadly, happens quite often in the fuel industry.
Our company, StrasGlobal, provides contract site operations for retail stores around the country. Basically, our job is to operate a site at or above industry standards for a fee. The situation I’m referring to started when we were contacted by someone who had just bought a small group of convenience stores. The previous owner had been struggling, and the new owner, our client, wanted to get into the retail business. He felt that by putting some capital into the stores, and with a good operator in place, he could turn the business around.
We found what we normally find—decent stores suffering from neglect: dirty floors and windows, outdated food-service offerings and sparsely stocked shelves. There were trash and weeds around the building and on the grounds. Most of the outside lights, and quite a few inside ones, were burned out.
We also found that the fuel tanks were empty. This is not unusual for us.
Operators will often sell down their fuel and store inventories to get the most cash out of the business before they leave. However, in this case, we could not get the local jobber to fill the tanks.
After a little digging, we found the problem. The previous owner recently had a death in the family and ended up spending time away from the business. During that period, the fuel delivery permits for the site expired, and the USTs had not been inspected. The fuel supplier could not deliver product because it is against the law to deliver fuel into tanks that have not been certified.
The previous owner said the certification had slipped his mind and that he wasn’t aware that it had expired. This incident started a chain of events that impacted the sales and profitability of the store. I’m not going to say it was the cause of the stores originally being sold, but it did affect the new owner because it took us time to get the tanks inspected and certified before we could start selling fuel again. The cash flow for the new owner was lower than he had planned due to the delay in opening the pumps.
I’ve often heard about retailers who have lost sales because they have either forgotten about renewing a permit or have misplaced a license and had to apply for a new one. These situations also can lead to fines, suspensions and even criminal prosecutions.
Frankly, staying in compliance is one of the things that keeps me awake at night (another is the dog next door, but that is a story for another time).
The fuel and convenience industry is one of the most regulated retail businesses in the country. I firmly believe that as we come out of the COVID-19 pandemic we will see more regulations to protect the public’s health and to control the spread of future viruses. You will need to keep up with the paperwork for these new requirements in addition to what you are doing at the moment. The best way to stay on top of your permits and licenses is to follow these three steps:
Gather. Collect all of the permits, licenses, certificates and registrations that affect your business. Every piece of paper that is issued by a govern-ment office, or needs to be available for inspection, should go in the folder.
Organize. Once you have all your information in one place you need to organize it. Find out which documents need to be renewed and their expira-tion date. Once you’ve established the expiration date, count back 60 days to determine when you need to start the renewal process. Go through the steps you will need to complete to renew. What kind of information will you have to provide? Do you have to do any maintenance work or an inspection prior to renewal? How much is the fee? Do you have to do the renewal application in person, or can you renew by mail or online? All of these things are going to help you decide what your timing should be.
Store. After you’ve gathered all of the information and organized it into an actionable plan, you need to store your documents and permits in a place where they are safe and you have easy access. In some jurisdictions, you have to display the original document on the premises. In others you can display a copy. In still others you don’t have to display the document, it just needs to be available when requested. Regardless of the requirements, take either the originals or copies of the originals and put them in a safe place.
Although these three steps sound relatively easy and straightforward, they are a hassle and, frankly, tedious. It is difficult enough to manage this for one store. Imagine trying to stay on top of every document for a small chain of stores. We know. After years of trying to keep up with our business-critical documents we created a software program, Compliance Safe, to handle the paperwork.
You have enough to worry about with things out of your control: competition, weather, costs, staffing and COVID-19. However, you can control your paperwork and make it a non-issue. You can take worrying about the local government off your list.
By Roy Strasburger
Published in Fuels Market News |How Can You Operate a Gas Station Without Any Gas?
Roy Strasburger is the CEO of StrasGlobal. Have a question or a comment? You can contact him at email@example.com.