You know, it was a big day in Washington yesterday, one with a lot of firsts – and hopefully some lasts as well. There are a lot of directions we could go reflecting on what a day like that means, so…let’s talk about the evolution of the gas station.
I have no explanation for that level of randomness. I am like the guy who lives next to the airport and painted ‘Welcome to Cleveland’ on the roof of his house to greet landing passengers. Thing is, he lives in Milwaukee.
You’ve probably heard and read enough regarding DC for one week, but meanwhile back at the day job ranch, the way we deliver care is changing rapidly and doesn’t pause every four years just because there is a new guy called POTUS. So, let’s look at the history of the ‘filling station’ to get our thinking rolling.
Fittingly, Mrs. Bertha Benz (yes, that Benz) got the first car from her husband and business partner Karl, which she filled up the first time at the pharmacy in Wiesloch, Germany in 1888. The early filling stations were run by the pharmacies, an interesting foreshadowing of something, I am sure.
(Mr. Biden, if your speech writing team needs some historical research, you know where to find me.)
The first one in the US was a Gulf station in Pittsburgh. Growth was explosive over the next three decades as the automobile took over the country. There were over 230,000 US gas stations by 1940, with attendants who would pump the gas, wash the windshield, check the air and oil, and give you a little local gossip as you waited.
Pumps improved over time, but the first big innovation was just a business model change. In 1947, Los Angeles station owner Frank Ulrich hung a sign that said, ‘Serve yourself, save five cents. Why pay more?’ With that, the self-service movement began.
We pause here because our readers in New Jersey and parts of Oregon have no idea what we are talking about. ‘Self-serve gas? What? That is a thing?’
Two other key technology advances then took us to where we are today – the system that allowed the pump to be controlled from inside the store, and then the pay-at-the-pump credit card – no human contact required. Filling stations were leading the way on social distancing for years. Who says fossil fuels are archaic?
In a short 35 years, the job of gas station attendant was invented, exploded, then was virtually eliminated.
Now, those squatty little charging stations are starting to spring up at places like the airport and the mall.
The process is predictable, relentless, repetitive…
- Big, underlying demographic and societal trends drive demand.
- Technology of all sorts gradually improves, then accumulates to make a big jump to enable something completely new.
- Then someone has a new idea and asks, ‘Do we have to do it that way? Why not this way?’
- Customers get new value and the game forever changes.
This is us now.