As fuel retail businesses in NSW and Victoria emerge from the COVID lockdowns, one of the central challenges being faced is the difficulty of securing staff to support 24/7 operation. Staffing the late night early morning periods in particular, has become a real issue in the wake of an absence of visa workers created by the 18 month closure of Australia’s international borders (i.e. visa workers account for around 40% of the workers employed in some of the larger national fuel networks that operate in Australia).

Even with the lower demand patterns created by the extended lockdowns in NSW and Victoria, fuel retailers are currently reporting extreme difficulty in acquiring and retaining staff. This situation is only likely to get worse as other industries that have been closed (e.g. hospitality) reopen and seek to attract staff.

“We are hearing some reports of fuel retail businesses in NSW losing staff to hospitality businesses that are allegedly offering cash payments to staff – at a level significantly above their Industry Award – just to attract the staff they need”, said ACAPMA CEO Mark McKenzie.

“ACAPMA will obviously investigate these issues and work with government to ensure that any such instances of illegal behaviour are addressed. We are also liaising with the Federal Government on possible relaxation on working hour restrictions for some classes of Visa Workers”, said Mark

“But the real message here is that securing staff for late night early morning operation is already tough – and is likely to get even tougher as closed industries such as hospitality reopen and seek to attract the staff they need to support their operations”, added Mark.

“The other issue relates to the safety of staff in the face of sustained reports of increased customer aggression and likely increased COVID exposure as Australians learn to ‘live with COVID’, said Mark

One solution to the severe workforce challenges is to take advantage of innovative technology solutions, allowing fuel retailers to better manage the demands of labour. Fortunately, one such solution has just come into the market.

The new app, produced by Ruckus Energy Co, allows customers able to use the app to purchase fuel – regardless of time of day or restricted access – without requiring the fuel retailer to purchase new hardware and without the need for a console operator. Effectively, the app provides the fuel retailer with a practical mechanism for reducing staffing requirements and still making fuel available to customers.

“More importantly, this app potentially provides a mechanism for reducing staff exposure to customer aggression during late night and early morning trading periods”, said Mark

Launched in March 2021 by Ruckus Energy Co (which was founded by industry operatives Mick Jarvie, Ben Everitt and Nic Moulis), the app has been trialled over the past 6 months and is now operational at 11 sites across NSW and Qld, with almost 500 customers signing up since its low key release.

“Foremost, our technology was launched to significantly increase sales at our partner sites”, says Mick Jarvie, founder and a former Caltex executive.

“But the timing could not be more important for operators navigating the complexities of the COVID environment.  The app authorises the pump and payments are finalised through the app as well, without human intervention. This means our partner sites can schedule their available staff to meet their needs at peak times”, Mick added

Ruckus Energy utilises spare throughput on service station forecourts, buying fuel on a wholesale basis and paying a hosting fee.

“Ruckus sees its role as marketing the location and delivering additional customers,” explained co -founder Ben Everitt.

“Our business model is to charge customers a monthly fee to access the app, and we don’t charge a markup on the fuel. This builds loyalty within the membership base. We have created a sense of fun in our branding that shines through in our marketing. We are also investing in the customer experience, like our 99 cent/litre fuel promotions’, said Ben

Customers have found that the Ruckus app allows them to choose how they interact with the service station. Paying in-car then parking to spend more time instore without congesting the forecourt is one way.

Or like Ruckus customer Ian Mills, who fills up at his local Ruckus accepting location in Northwood, a suburb of Sydney, the ability to stay safe and on the move is important.

“I don’t have time to check in or wait in the queue. I also have the kids in the car most days. Now I can buy fuel, pay in the Ruckus app and get on with my day”, said Ian

Nic Moulis, owner of Rennic Group and the new Chair of Ruckus, helped develop the Ruckus concept.

“I could see many of the majors building loyalty via their brand-specific mobile apps but for many smaller operators, the cost of building their own application is significant and doesnt make sense” said Nic.

“Yet many customers are now looking for a digital option and we believed that the smaller, non-aligned fuel retail businesses should not miss out on having a practical mobile app for digital payments at their sites”, said Nic.

“Since Ruckus launched at my sites, I’ve seen an increase in sales. Importantly, I can see that the new Ruckus customer is different to my regulars”, added Nic.

“What has been a saviour during lockdown has been the ability to quickly modify my trading using the Ruckus app. The app’s ability to run a site 24/7 through its revolutionary software has meant I was able to reduce labour hours and sell fuel when the site would otherwise be closed”, continued Nic.

It is this last point that should resonate with many in the industry.

“On the face of it, Ruckus looks to solve some of the immediate challenges of the COVID situation for the smaller retailers in our industry that are currently struggling with staffing challenges and don’t have ready access to the digital apps that have been developed by our larger market players”, said Mark

“It also provides an opportunity for these retailer to tap into a digital payment solution when an increasing portion of our customer base is looking to make payments via digital means”, concluded Mark.

More information can be found on the Ruckus Energy Co website.