TIRE INFLATORS: A NECESSARY OFFERING BUT NOT VERY SEXY
By Frank Merrill
I am often asked…what’s new in tire inflators? My answer is pretty much the same…not much!
The most important factor in providing compressed air for inflating tires is to make sure the equipment works, and works properly 24/7/365, so that in that time of need, it is there and works. Ninety nine percent of the driving public simply go to the closest gas station when they need to inflate a tire. They don’t say…”oh, I have a low tire, I’m going to my regular gas station”….because 99 per cent of the time, when you need to inflate a tire, you’re not in the vicinity of one of your regular spots for fuel and convenience. So, you simply drive on to the location of the closest petroleum outlet and look for the tire inflator. Next up is: “Does it work, will it inflate my tire(s) so I can be on my way?” If it doesn’t work, you are disgruntled and you immediately climb back into your vehicle and look for the next closest petroleum outlet. Again you’re not looking for a specific brand, you simply want to put compressed air in your tire and get back to your daily routine. This is the same routine that occurs thousands and thousands of times every day in Canada and around the world. As a petroleum retailer the best thing you can do is make sure your tire inflator is clean, attractive, and well maintained. The mundane but essential task of inflating a tire is like a commodity. It isn’t fun, it does nothing but take up time that you could be doing something that is fun or productive.
AIR-serv is the world leader in providing tire inflators to the retail petroleum industry and in maintaining those tire inflators to the highest standards with a very high frequency of regular and routine maintenance. Purchasing a tire inflator and leaving it to maintain itself is not a good idea. All self-serve public use equipment is subject to abuse. Sometimes it’s accidental abuse, and other times it’s vandalism. Think of all the tasks, jobs, checks, and duties involved in running a large, high-volume fueling/convenience location and add a tire inflator to that mix. Where do you think it will fall on the priority list? You got it… at, or close to the bottom. There is a carwash to maintain, walk-in coolers, and restrooms to maintain, floors to clean, lights to be replaced, cognizance of theft, not to mention stocking shelves, fast food operations, ordering product for the store, the list goes on. So when asked what is the most important thing about a tire inflator, the answer is… “that it works.”
Adding to the misery list of a retail operator in Canada is our severe winter weather. Sub-freezing temperatures are not nice to compressed air, as compressing air molecules creates moisture and moisture freezes. So, having a workable drying system in the unit is essential in Canada. If you do not remove the moisture, the tire inflator will repeatedly freeze, day after day, all winter long.
Retractors: Let’s talk about retractors. No company on the planet makes a retractor that will stand up to heavy public use. We tested retractors years ago. On average, an air hose would be retracted in and out 50-100 times a day, all by different users, none of which particularly care about the equipment. To maintain a public use retractor, one would require daily maintenance. In service bays, tire inflators all work. Why? Because the same two or three service technicians, who know how to use them and who maintain them, use the tire inflators. It’s their shop and their livelihood. Put that same retractor out in a parking lot and have 30 different users pull the hose out 75 times every day in the winter with ice and snow on it. It cannot stand up to wear, tear, and abuse.
So folks, sorry if you thought this article would be exciting and full of new technology. The fact of the matter is, inflating tires in not very much fun, but it is essential to maintaining a safe vehicle. Just like filling up power steering and brake fluid, windshield washer fluid in the winter, you have to do it to maintain your vehicle.
The latest technology for self-serv public use equipment is payment technology and primarily the introduction of contactless NFC Tap N Go payment methods. Many people don’t carry cash any more. So, being able to accept other forms of payment activation is critical. The carwash and retail petroleum industries have done a good job and continue to be proactive in introducing new payment technology. Having said that as 20-25 per cent of the population are non-banked or their cards are maxed, accepting cash will likely never go away, certainly not for the next 25 years. We are seeing legislation now (mostly in the US) that is equating a cashless store as discrimination mostly against those in the lower tier of the economic scale. One new payment form will be in your vehicles on board computer. In the future, you will pull up to a tire inflator and be able to tap your on-board touch-screen, and, boom, the tire inflator or vacuum will come on. That will be coming along in the next three to five years, in my estimation.
In closing, I’m sorry I do not have much in the way of exciting bells and whistles for you. As those involved in retail operations, the best thing we can do is make sure the tire inflator works. Physically maintaining this equipment will never go away as long as there are pneumatic tires.
Frank Merrill is the executive vice president of CSC ServiceWorks Canadian Operations, a company that owns, operates and maintains over one million pieces of self-serve public use equipment throughout North America. He founded AIR-serv Canada in 1983 and has been a supplier to the retail petroleum industry his entire professional life. He resides in Caledon, Ontario with his wife Christine and two daughters.