The “Service” in a Service Station

That “Service” is embedded in the name of Service Station Computer Systems is no accident.

A clue to just how long SSCS has been around is indicated in our complete name: Service Station Computer Systems. It hearkens back to a time when filling stations were, indeed, full service stations, offering fill ups, tire pressure checks, engine fluid inspections, and, at no extra cost, a bit of friendly banter.

Most of us recognize this as an era far removed from today’s retail petroleum industry. Almost anywhere you go in the 50 United States—with the exception of New Jersey—you’re getting out of your car, rain or shine, to pump your own gas. (Oregon had a long-standing law that required service stations to, well, “serve” customers, but that law was repealed not long ago).

The move from full service stations (which more often than not had their own automotive repair operations) to convenience store palaces with self-serve pumps that appear almost an afterthought, can be viewed through a number of perspectives, but the transformation, at its core, was driven by something profoundly American: the search for efficiency in a competitive, evolving marketplace.

America’s early cars were often less-than-reliable parts of a rapidly changing transportation system. Early cars had to be started by manually turning a crankshaft. Before the evolution of the modern engine and chassis, early vehicles needed more frequent mechanical attention than today’s cars and trucks, which can often go 10,000 miles between oil changes. It didn’t help that America’s roadway system was a work in progress even long after Eisenhower began spurring on the Interstate Highway System in 1956—a hodgepodge of dirt, gravel, and pavement rattled the frames and engines of U.S. cars, such that they needed regular inspections from professionals at full service stations.

However, as much of the United States prospered in the postwar economic boom and suburbs proliferated, the Interstates grew throughout the 50s and 60s, fueling a demand for reliable vehicles that was matched by energetic innovations in the automotive industry leading to a reduction in the need for vehicle mechanical service.

This meant that increasingly all attendants did was pump gas—in essence receiving an hourly wage to do something that customers could do themselves, often with more efficiency. With what felt increasingly like nonessential personnel on staff, gas stations went through tough times in the 1970s. Turbulence in the Middle East in 1973 and 1979 spiked fuel prices, and the general energy crisis of the 1970s saw oil companies lobbying at state and federal levels to make it legal for motorists to pump their own gas. Ever since drivers have more and more been responsible for fueling their own vehicles throughout the vast majority of the U.S.

An attendant at an all-female run station in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Throughout much of the world, full service is still customary. Photo by Peretz Partensky (CC BY_SA 2.0).

The transition has taken a long time, and the slow extinction of the filling station attendant is a trend that has its fair share of dissidents. With some 168,000 gas stations in the U.S., the elimination of multiple positions at each has undoubted economic impact and consequences.

In populous countries like Brazil, Indonesia, and South Africa, filling station attendants are required by law to fuel vehicles, partially because eliminating such positions would cost hundreds of thousands of jobs. And while those of us used to pumping our own gas might wince at the thought of having to wait for an attendant to assist us every time we stop for fuel, some certainly miss the human connection: the chance of sharing a laugh with a stranger, getting informed about local color, or breaking up a long drive with a few minutes of conversation.

An attendant fills up a customer’s SUV in Ghana. Internationally, countries with younger transportation and roadway systems tend to be more likely to require gas station attendants on staff. Photo by Gkbediako (CC BY_SA 4.0).

Our company name may date back to a time when full service was part of one’s experience at a gas station, but like the most successful operators in the retail petroleum market, we’ve evolved beyond the models of yesteryear in our quest to best serve our customers.

There is one exception, though: we haven’t de-emphasized service or dropped it from our name. In fact, we focus on it more than ever, which sets us apart in a market where technological bells and whistles can fuse together as an indistinguishable mass in the mind of the general public.

It’s all good, though. While we embrace current and emerging technology platforms on behalf of our customers, our roots in the industry go back three-and-a-half decades, a depth of real world experience that gives SSCS a dimension of stability and expertise that is unmatched in the retail petroleum industry. The “Service” in Service Station Computer Systems has never been more relevant, and we intend to keep it that way.