The advent of pricebook automation is here, and this will be as historically transformational as the transition from pump attendants to self-serve gas was for our industry.
The first helped foster the universal emergence of convenience to the retail petroleum landscape, while the other will effectively automate many of the labor-intensive functions currently required to effectively operate a modern c-store chain.
No longer just an aspirational concept, proactive store operators can easily deploy this technology in their organizations right now, and the costs are surprisingly modest.
Even the most unsophisticated store operations can readily avail themselves of this modern operational tool and immediately start enjoying its many benefits. Once set up, the pricebook is managed by a virtual employee who, to the outside world, is a person residing at a desk in the office.
For the benefit of this article, I’ll name her “Pam,” but you can name your virtual pricebook automation manager anything you wish. As a virtual employee, Pam is on the job 24/7. She works without the need for a salary, benefits or paid vacation. She doesn’t need an office, will never call in sick or ask for time off for personal reasons and won’t be seen hanging around the water cooler discussing company politics.
Once programmed, Pam will flawlessly execute all pricebook functions previously handled by one or more employees, and in a fraction of the time. After a few short weeks on the job, the benefits will be so apparent that Pam will rapidly become an indispensable member of the organization. Pricing mistakes are dramatically reduced, available vendor promotions are highlighted, and key employees can be redirected to other important operational tasks, resulting in valuable labor savings in a tight labor market.
Pricebook automation is not an off-the-shelf software product. The technology is customized based upon the unique pricebook management processes currently deployed by a specific organization.
Deployment begins with a comprehensive assessment of the operation to best understand what automation tools and processes should be employed to effectively do the job. Once the assessment is complete, recommendations are made to help streamline the current process with an eye to long-term efficiency, followed by a comprehensive plan that outlines the specific pricebook job functions to be handled by the company’s new virtual employee.
When understanding and consensus is reached by store owners and management, the plan is fully developed, including assigning the virtual employee with a unique email address.
After the various automated processes are in place, deployment is made in stages, assigning the new employee blocks of tasks for a few weeks, as the system is debugged and fine-tuned. When a 96% accuracy level is reached, the virtual employee will officially take over, efficiently and effectively managing the pricebook function in a fraction of the time versus what was previously achieved. Management can then begin assigning other important tasks for their “former” pricebook staff to handle.
I’ve been kicking around this oil game for over 42 years now, and I seldom get excited about very much lately. My career began at the time when pump attendants were incentivized to wash the windshield and ask to check the oil, in the hope that we could move a few incremental quarts of synthetic motor oil.
This was followed by these same pump attendants being given new uniforms for a transition to store cashiers, or at least that was the plan. We quickly discovered that most would rather be draining engine oil. Needless to say, the retail conversion to c-stores was fraught with many unique challenges, but c-stores ultimately rendered the service bay a thing of the past.
Now in the 21st century, the unique transformational potential of pricebook automation has again gotten me excited, and I’m thrilled to be one of the first industry professionals to be able to share this phenomena. Feel free to contact me if you have an interest in learning more, and I’ll connect you with the developers. You can thank me later.
Mark Radosevich is a strong industry advocate, recognized petroleum veteran and president of PetroActive Services (www.petroactive.net). He can be reached by email at [email protected] and by phone at (423) 442-1327.