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Profit Points and Pitfalls of Fuel Retail

20 June 2022  |  By Lesaka

Madimetja Tloubatla knows the fuel retail business inside out. From a corporate position with Engen Fuel, to a member of a group that owned three filling stations, and currently the independent owner of two filling stations in Diepkloof, Soweto, Tloubatla can speak from experience about the complex and exciting fuel retail sector.

“I joined Engen in 2008 under the corporate brand, but over the years, as I learned about how filling stations operated and how profitable they can be, I got interested in running a site myself,” Tloubatla recalls.

He left Engen in April 2017, having acquired shares in a group that went on to own and operate three filling stations. But that was not enough. Tloubatla’s entrepreneurial spirit drove him to sell his shares in the group and strike out on his own.

“Running a site is like putting an MBA into practice,” he says. “You need to be a master in finance, a master in operations, and a master in marketing and human resources.” In addition, you have to be a master at your own business, in the sense of knowing it better than anyone else by being hands-on. “If one of my cashiers is not well for example, I can operate the till. If a petrol attendant is not at work, I can help out at the pump filling customers’ vehicles,” explains Tloubatla. “I can answer any question about my business in my sleep.”

He also regards discipline as a vital quality for a business owner and entrepreneur, especially as far as cash flow is concerned. Tloubatla’s sites are in areas where a large portion of customers prefer to pay in cash, yet his suppliers require payment via bank transfer. Meticulous cash management is therefore essential. “If you are not focused in such a high cash-driven business, you can easily derail,” he cautions.

Discipline goes hand in hand with understanding exactly what your customers want. Tloubatla affectionately describes his customers as always in a hurry: “They want convenience; give them what they want and they will come back,” he says. His innate understanding of this building block of customer loyalty, has led him to develop a customer service offering that combines speed, convenience and customer preferences. “Whether a customer wants fuel, a pie and Coke, or pap and steak, we provide good quality, quickly. My sites are for people in a hurry.”

Tloubatla’s one-stop shop offering also includes value added services at till-point like prepaid data, airtime and electricity, and a money market kiosk where customers can pay more various service provider bills, making sure he can sell more to existing customers to maximise his earning potential yet at the same time offer convenience.

The better you understand your customers’ needs, the more important it is for a business owner to be able to get off the mark quickly. “You have to be alert,” says Tloubatla. “When there’s an opportunity, you identify the gap and take it before anyone else can. In fact, you don’t even wait for opportunity to come your way – you go and make it happen.”

This was indeed Tloubatla’s approach when he realised that customers need not only fuel for their vehicles, and decided to invest in an on-site bakery and food deli to produce fresh, quality traditional ready-made meals that people in his area love to eat.

He cites funding to expand the bakery as one of the instances where fintech solutions, such as hassle-free opportunity capital from Capital Connect, showed him the value of quick access to business funding.

“I can confidently explore new deals, knowing that when I request opportunity capital, I can get it within 24 hours,” he says. “One time I applied on the Connected App at about 16:00 and by the next morning the funds were in my account. You click, you get the funding, and it’s as simple as that.”

Tloubatla concedes that rapid-turnaround unsecured funding could be perceived as more expensive, but explains that the cost-benefit calculation makes sense and is a no-brainer. “A personal loan, which is really the only other quick option, can cost you around 24%, so paying a fintech funder far less interest over a short-term like three to nine months for access to capital within 24 hours is a good deal. And the option of an early settlement discount is also an advantage. I certainly cannot wait weeks for a traditional bank loan to be processed! My business moves too fast for that.”

This need for speed is likely to only increase in the current business environment where fuel prices continue to rise. Fuel retailers like Tloubatla can turn this reality to their benefit by stocking up at current price levels and selling at the increased prices. For example, with the price hike in June 2022, a funding loan for R700 000 to pay for a 95-petrol consignment over a 90-day repayment period but settled in the first 30 days, would deliver a profit of around R47 000 (after finance charges). Quick access to hassle-free funding is a sure-fire way to let your cash maximise your bottom line.

Tloubatla’s story illustrates the role of entrepreneurs and SMEs in growing the economy, and how they use fintech innovation to propel them to success. “The funding that Capital Connect provides is like having a superpower,” Tloubatla says. “One of the most important things you as a business owner must do, is find a funding partner that moves as quickly as you do.”

The sky truly is the limit when the ambition and imagination of entrepreneurs like Tloubatla is supported by the power of alternative and agile funding models.