Guest: Razvan Achim, Rompetrol Otopeni and Mogosoaia stations manager
Rompetrol stations have always been open since the start of the pandemic. What is the impact of this period on the stations you manage?
Razvan Achim: We feel it a lot in the station and the pandemic changes people somehow. We don’t live the same times as before. But I am optimistic and believe that it’s a moment in our lives that we can overcome, together. If we talk about Otopeni gas station, there are no more departures from the airport as there were in previous years, those festivals organized around Otopeni.
There is a spa in Balotesti, the largest spa in Romania. We had many clients before that would stop at our stations as soon as they left that spa. The shop side was affected. I really liked that there was a common response from the shop-marketing operational department. During and after the pandemic, we were attentive to the customers. The most important thing was that the customers noticed that, besides their fuel needs, they can buy products they need back home: milk, products, such as salami, cheese, for breakfast and so on, which, if they had to buy from other retailers, they would have to stop again at another location, be exposed again to the risk of coming into contact with this virus, and this helped a lot. Step two, the one that both we and the other stations implemented, is to sell outside the station, the Food Panda project that started on November 1 to be available in almost all stations, where Food Panda operates. That means selling products from the shop-bar to clients outside the stations. Other retailers would close at 9 p.m., whereas we deliver in the evening and at night, at 2, at 3 o’clock without restriction and we should capitalize on this, during the night shifts, we are open 24/7 and the client could benefit at any time.
What is the customer behavior during this period?
Razvan Achim: Stress is quite high among people. We feel it both on the part of the clients and on our part, because they want to enter, they stand in a queue that is quite long, meaning that if there are two people inside, the third, fourth person must stay outside and somehow this upsets them. They want to buy the products quickly, put them on the counter and scan them very carefully, wearing gloves, be very careful how you handle the bottles, not to put your hand on the cap, there are many particularities of customers that matter now more than before. Every time we notice people are a little more stressed, we change roles. "Okay, one of us goes outside, the other one goes behind the cash counter, someone takes a break", I think this is the best way to take a break and talk a bit with the operator and come to the conclusion that neither people, nor customers, nor we as employees are to blame during this period; it is simply a difficult time for everyone. Just like children, when they have emotions, they don't know how to express them. We don't know how to deal with it, we see it on TV, radio, somehow get angry with each other. It's a difficult time for everyone, it's upsetting, but I'm sure we can get over it by talking to each other, constantly balancing ourselves.
How did the colleagues get used to all the procedures in the stations?
Razvan Achim: The beginning mattered a lot, seeing that we are strong, on our positions, we have to keep the pace but in a controlled way, be very attentive to what safety measures mean, meaning mask, gloves, disinfectant, daily activity, hour to hour activities, disinfecting all the environments external clients come into contact with, the POS, the same with the outside, the pumps, absolutely everything we have. We need to keep them safe so that no one suffers anything, both us as employees of the station, but also the customers who come and go from our locations. We really want this to be well set up, and they notice it, that we didn't back down or shrug… “what can we do? It's a hard time, whoever escapes, escapes ". No, not in this format. They simply saw confidence, they saw that the operational force provided masks, gloves, disinfectant, and that mattered a lot in the beginning. It mattered because the environment is very close to a normal one. I really like the moment when a client comes to the station and asks for a coffee, it seems like 5 minutes of normalcy, we prepare it, they go out on the terrace and have their coffee outdoors. This matters a lot for clients and for the employees. When someone asks for a coffee, things become normal: do you want a cappuccino? So, you want some pastry? This is the normal rhythm, not the „Pump 3, quick” or “step back so I can pay” or „is this disinfected?”.
There are moments when we have to be tough and refrain from reacting in unprofessional ways.
Razvan Achim: This matters a lot. We keep having monthly meetings. We used to have them on Teams, after which, immediately after the restrictions were lifted, we tried to make them face-to-face. I may be blamed that it is not ok to see each other and that it's only ok to have meetings on Teams, but I want to see the state of the operators in the interaction with all of us, with me, vis-à-vis new ideas, perspectives, to see them actively participate. When we held the meetings online, it was more of a monologue. I talked but received no feedback. And when it comes to the people from the stations, I wanted to see each other and show support and not only talk about how bad the situation is. Let's talk about things we can do, what we can do new. I always organize contests, to steal their attention from bad things and we have an internal contest in which the one who comes up with an idea, which we can implement at the network level, receives an additional 25% of the net salary they have.
Do you manage stations from different regions? Is there a difference in the activity of these stations?
Razvan Achim: Yes, there are some big differences. Mogosoaia station is positioned on the ring-road, and the customers we have there are in transit. They don't need a lot of things and are in transit to their jobs. Very often the trucks that enter our stations are customers who do not enter the shop, but only refuel and that's it. Small vans, freight transfer, we are somehow positioned between the A1-A3 and A2 motorways. Automatically, the customers here do not compare to those in Otopeni. Customers in Otopeni also go to Prahova area, where they go on vacation. I remember, when I was a child, my father would stop at a gas station, refuel and I could certainly buy a toy or something sweet from the shop. This is happening even now, there are families that stop at gas stations and, somehow, customers are very different from the ones in Mogosoaia station. Did this context change the activity goals?
My teams and I set the goal to find solutions to get over this period, to find them together. I think we can only set monthly goals. We can’t have long term goals until this vision becomes possible, I mean the vaccines, political component, stability. It’s a complex matter. We do set goals, but they need to be achievable, so people can believe in them. We work as a team and if we fail to reach 2-3 objectives, this won’t lead to a professional behavior. I just want to have achievable goals so that they can work with us in the long term.
Do you think this contex will significantly change the behavior at the stations?
Razvan Achim: Yes, I am sure we learn a lot during these difficult times. We learn to appreciate more what we have and what we have already achieved. The essence of our life is growth, and not all the time growth allows us to enjoy the present. We always look into the future and nothing makes us happy. Instead, now we enjoy the present more than before. I believe that after this pandemic passes, surely our behavior will be different. With a little fear of any virus, so to speak, I am sure there are things we will keep, as disinfecting all areas used by customers or the products they touch, will exist for quite a long time in the future. Of course, wearing a mask may not be necessary next year, but we will still be reluctant to interact with customers.
You work for the company for over 14 years. Have you faced such difficult moments before?
Razvan Achim: There was a very difficult moment when I was head of station, the 2009-2011 financial crisis, which was a bad one for the county. Many companies operating on the Romanian market closed their business because they did not know how to manage this situation.
Rompetrol knew how to handle this because it has people very involved in this business and they do things from the heart, and that made them unlock new ideas and take part in overcoming this challenge. Since 2008, some decisions have been made, that at that time not everyone liked (cuts in bonuses, wages), so to speak, not the most popular decisions. Nevertheless, in 2009-2011 things did go without setbacks. Bonuses and wages were back to the previous level and, somehow, everyone was happy with this approach. Maybe not all decisions were good. Those people who made decisions then still work at Rompetrol, they will surely cope well with this period, because they remember what decisions were made then and they know what decisions they will be able to make now, in this situation. They may not all be perfect, but the longer you work for the Company, the more you encounter crises, which you approach in a certain way, therefore, you will know how to solve them in the future.
What do you learn from these difficult times?
Razvan Achim:There was a very difficult moment when I was head of station, the 2009-2011 financial crisis, which was a bad one for the county. Many companies operating on the Romanian market closed their business because they did not know how to manage this situation. Rompetrol knew how to handle this because it has people very involved in this business and they do things from the heart, and that made them unlock new ideas and take part in overcoming this challenge. Since 2008, some decisions have been made, that at that time not everyone liked (cuts in bonuses, wages), so to speak, not the most popular decisions. Nevertheless, in 2009-2011 things did go without setbacks. Bonuses and wages were back to the previous level and, somehow, everyone was happy with this approach. Maybe not all decisions were good.
Those people who made decisions then still work at Rompetrol, they will surely cope well with this period, because they remember what decisions were made then and they know what decisions they will be able to make now, in this situation. They may not all be perfect, but the longer you work for the Company, the more you encounter crises, which you approach in a certain way, therefore, you will know how to solve them in the future.