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Why are Gas Station Restrooms so Bad?

And other not so obvious everyday marketing opportunities.

I do a decent amount of traveling. Some of it by plane. Some of it by car. When you drive to the same place over and over again you get to know the stops along the way. Stop here for coffee, stop here for gas and a restroom, stop here for lunch.

For anyone travelling long distances by car, the importance of a nice, clean, predictable restroom cannot be overstated. If it’s a routine road trip, travellers will actually plan their route according to the restroom breaks. “If you can wait another 15 minutes, there’s a better spot up ahead.”

Which poses the question:

Why are gas station restrooms so bad?

The answer to that question is actually very obvious: Because they don’t sell restrooms. They sell gas.

Gas stations sell gas — pretty simple. You’re stopping because you need gas.

Initially, gas stations were smart. They realized that people were stopping for gas and they could have other issues with their vehicle. They provided anti-freeze, engine oil, tire repair and sometimes, automotive service right there at that stop. That increased sales.

Then they realized that people might be hungry as well. So they started to provide snacks and food. Low and behold that worked. Sales increased again.

Along the way, someone thought people might also have other domestic needs: a loaf of bread on the way home, a gallon of milk for the kids, a six pack of beer, lottery tickets — you know, the necessities of life. Again, sales increased.

Now, gas stations are the mini-Wal-marts of the road. Strategically placed end caps, displays and POS (point of sale) items remind us of all the things we need and want and should be buying… since we needed gas anyway.

Interesting that restrooms have almost felt like an after-thought of gas stations. More like an annoyance actually. Remember when they used to be outside? Like, “Oh… you have to use the restroom? There’s one across the parking lot.” And why were they were locked? Doesn’t everyone have to use the restroom? Cause I feel like I’m the only one that has ever had to do this.

Then they moved them inside, but most were still locked. You had to go to the counter and get the key attached to a big broom stick handle. “Vandals,” the clerk tells you. “We can’t just let anyone in there.” Really? I guess I didn’t know gas station restroom vandalization was such a big thing. Who knew?

The not so obvious question is this: What’s the biggest marketing opportunity gas stations have? Another well-stocked end cap? Maybe outside purchase items right at the pump? What if they employeed a guy to walk around and sell items as people are pumping gas? Kind of like at a baseball game, “Get your e-cigs here!”

I think there’s a huge marketing opportunity that most gas stations are overlooking… and it has nothing to do with selling more product. It’s their restrooms. Nice, clean, predictible restrooms.

First: Yes people are stopping for gas, but I would guess the second item on their gas station to-do list is “use the restroom.” Those two go hand in hand. It’s a long drive. You’re drinking coffee. Time to refuel and relieve. You have an opportunity to make both of those experiences pleasant.

Second: Gas stations obviously have a reputation for not having great restrooms. In fact, the reputation is hideous. I’ve been in rural areas in third world countries that have better restrooms than most travel gas stations. Making the commitment to provide your “guests” with sanitary conditions would be so unusual it would instantly get attention. Happy people buy more.

Third: Regular travelers would begin to make that a routine stop. I would guess that a high percentage of people would actually avoid other locations or even travel a little farther simply because the restrooms are clean. More people stopping means more sales.

Finally: Use a great restroom experience as an opportunity to talk to that guest. Put some nice art on the wall. Put up a framed “values” piece that communicates the commitment of your company. Hang signs that mention some of the specials or deals you have going 0n. Now that you’ve won their attention and trust, you have the right to talk about your product.

If a gas station had nice, clean, predictable restrooms, how much do you think that would increase sales? 3%? 5%? 10%? I bet we would be surprised.

Most of us reading this don’t own gas stations. I get that. So I realize this article could come off as irrelevant. However, there’s an important concept here that we can miss.

What are the marketing opportunities we are not seeing?

People may be at our practice for dentistry. Maybe it’s a routine cleaning. Maybe it’s a filling or a more involved procedure. I’d be willing to bet however, that they are there to relax as well.

Relax?

Yes.

I would guess that for most of our patients this could be the one time during their week they aren’t taking care of children, rushing around to the grocery store or experiencing the ongoing stress of their work environment. What if we treated that visit as an opportunity to allow them to relax? Take the pressure off, breathe deep and decrease the stress of the week.

Of course we need to get dentistry done, that’s why they showed up. But what about designing an environment and experience where relaxation is the secondary goal? What would that do to sales? Would relaxed, happy patients accept more treatment? Could more trust be won with a calming environment than with clinical competence?

I think this could be one of the most overlooked marketing opportunities in dentistry.

What do you think?

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