That's why it takes its motto—we jump to the pump for you—seriously and literally.
Pulling into one of the nearly 80 kiosks Domo has across Western Canada, drivers are met by employees who quickly spring into action to fill their tanks. This can't be once-in-a-while behavior because the employees represent the customer’s all-important first contact with the brand, says Douglas Everett, Domo’s chairman.
"You drop whatever you're doing to serve the customer," he says. "The guest comes first and you're out there immediately. Our idea has always been that service would be fast and friendly. And our people are right there—they're not back in the shop, they're dedicated to filling up your tank."
Everett says "jump to the pump" is a snappy slogan that quickly gets across what Domo is all about. (He laughs when admitting the corporate tag line was originally borrowed from a long-ago television advertisement in Winnipeg for chocolate Easter eggs.)
"It has definitely become one of the better-known slogans in Winnipeg, Edmonton and Calgary,” says Everett. “Part of it is its catchiness. If you think about it, Esso, Shell and Petro-Canada are some of the biggest companies in the world and their slogans aren't as well known as 'jump to the pump.' "
Domo was originally spun off from the Dominion Motors car dealership in downtown Winnipeg in 1970. The intention of the now-defunct operation, which was once the largest Ford dealership in Canada, was to brand the retail petroleum division Dominion Gas. That was quickly scuttled, however, when Dominion signed a deal with Canada Safeway to put gas kiosks on a number of the grocery giant's parking lots. One of Safeway's largest competitors at the time was Dominion food stores (unrelated to Dominion Motors), so to avoid any legal entanglements, the first two letters of both Dominion and Motors were melded together prior to Domo's first outlet opening in 1970.
Everett says the quick-response service gives Domo its edge and has contributed to building the corporate character. It has also helped it develop a different demographic than its competitors.
"We skew slightly more toward women," he says. "Most gas stations would have men as two-thirds of their clients because it tends to be the man's job to pump the gas. It's very important for our clients to get full service, especially with slightly more mature women; they don't like pumping their own gas."
Domo has also built its brand value through giveaways for minimum fills. Collectable tumblers, glasses and the like have proven very popular over the years with women 25 years of age and older.
"We've built our reputation on [giveaways]. They're quite high quality and we've been boosting the quality of them even more lately. They're not junky," he adds, noting Domo sometimes gives away free soft drinks or bottles of water on hot summer days.
As with so many retail operations, location is key. Domo kiosks are generally on the "going home" side of the street because that's when the majority of people stop for refueling. They also tend to be situated in front of shopping centers or convenience stores, which provide retail backup.
Everett says one of the primary thrusts of its brand is offering full service at self-service prices, which is a product of its low overhead. Its minimalist kiosks have room for an employee or two, a cash register, a few bags of chips and packs of cigarettes for sale—and that's it. It also has relatively high volume per outlet, which minimizes costs per liter.
To make sure its people are truly jumping—and not lollygagging or meandering—to the pump, Domo ensures its compensation is very competitive. In addition to paying more than minimum wage, employees can also earn CND 200 (US$ 179.55) each month in bonuses by making sure their cash is accurate at the end of the shift or upselling customers on soft drinks, bags of chips or chocolate bars.
Simply doing their job well can pay off, too. Service levels are monitored by secret or mystery shoppers who rate individual employees on variables such as the speed of their response time and whether they cleaned the windshields. High scores result in bonuses of CND 10, $25 or $50 (US$ 8.96, $22.40, or $44.80).
Domo only recently strayed from its core business model, adding convenience stores to five of its existing locations. While it's nice to have other revenue streams, Everett doesn't sound like a man about to chart a new course.
"Our market niche has always been going against the flow of the overall market," he says. "It's probably not what consultants would normally advise. We may tinker with car washes and self-serve stations but copying what the major oil companies are building probably isn't the way for us to go in the long run. You've got to build you own niche."
But a pair of market observers thinks Domo is fighting an uphill battle. Michael Ervin, head of Calgary-based petroleum consulting firm MJ Ervin & Associates, says the problem with its business model is it lacks the ability to expand the sale of non-petroleum items.
"Every year for the past 15 years, the revenue contribution from non-petroleum offerings has been increasing, whether it's from a convenience store, a car wash or fast food," he says.
To make matters worse, the margins on gasoline sales have been going in the opposite direction.
It all adds up to a do-or-die situation for Domo. "I think they'll be forced to change," he says. "If you look at the outlook for retail prices going forward, it's very evident there's never going to be an improvement in margins. That will put more pressure on gasoline marketers to continue expanding their non-petroleum offerings, which will further squeeze the revenue that comes from the gasoline side."
Ervin says while there's no doubt Domo's quick service is one of its competitive strengths, today's market is being driven by volume and non-petroleum revenue.
"The best service in town can't overcome [that combination]."
Ervin notes gas-selling grocery store chains pose a serious threat not just to Domo but to all traditional gasoline retailers because they're taking significant volume out of what is already a slim-margin environment. More gas tends to be pumped at grocery store gas bars because they often have lower prices and they invariably promote cross-merchandising offers, he says.
Robert Warren, executive director of the Asper Centre for Entrepreneurship at the University of Manitoba, agrees with Ervin's assessment of the situation. He's confident Domo will likely be around for another five years at least, but he's not optimistic it will last much longer.
"I'm not sure having your gas pumped for you is as important as it was 10 years ago," he says. "Today, it's all about speed. People have speed passes, they wave them at the pump and they're in and out in a hurry," he says.
Warren says there may be an even bigger risk if Domo follows the lead of its competitors and builds convenience stores and car washes in great numbers.
"That takes them away from their core business model," he says.
The good news is that, even if the brand isn't sustainable in the long run, the company's real estate holdings are particularly valuable, especially in Calgary, Canada's fastest-growing city and the home of going-through-the-roof real estate.
"That would be the exit strategy. If I'm getting squeezed out on the price, I'll eventually look at liquidating the real estate and recouping my investment that way," Warren says.
Everett notes nothing of the kind is currently being contemplated. Domo is, however, in the early stages of investigating ways to leverage its brand in other areas, such as retail and delivery service.
"If you're going to be a successful small business in this area, you've got to find your niche and go for it," he says.