The Tamiami Sunoco south of Phillippi Creek believes in the old gas station adage of service with a smile.
And they really turn back the clock on Tuesdays when Nicholas Spring, 19, runs from car to car, pumping gas, washing windows and checking oil for free, just like the full service stations of yesteryear.
"He greets the customers, informs him that it's free full service day, he pumps your gas, check your oil, wash your windows, check your tire pressure. And boy, does he run," says Russ Spring, owner of the Sunoco. "He runs from 10 to 4, and never realizes how tired you can be."
Nicholas will be entering the Marines soon and plans to attend college, so the seasonal service is due to end in April. The service runs 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each Tuesday and is free, but tips are appreciated. The gas station is located at 5808 S. Tamiami Trail.
The Spring family, with Russ' wife Liz Spring, bought the gas station on April 15, 2010, investing $100,000 into the gas station and convenience store.
"When we bought the place, it was five days before the BP oil spill," Russ said. Despite that initial scare, they forged on and with Russ' 20 years of convenience industry experience, turned the Sunoco into a customer-first store.
"We cleaned the place up," Russ says. "We made it a safe, well-lit environment for all of our customers, and we have developed such a rapport with all of our customers, like anyone would."
His coffee and beer vendors, J. Bean and Budweiser, respectively, also added a local touch by posting aerial shots of Siesta Key onto the wall above the drink and coffee stations.
"We try to be that on-your-way to the beach store where we've got everything you need," he says.
If the store doesn't carry something, write it down on a list and the store will see what they can do to carry it.
"Just a return to old-fashioned, good customer service," Russ says.
Convenience stores are typically busy, but management of one has to be deliberate and well thought out to make them successful.
"You've got to build a business with baby steps. We thought we'd come in here with an $100,000 investment and say, hey, look at the profits we're making! What a great investment! We didn't make a dime a first year, the second year was better and this third year is even better."
In 1990, a neighbor of the Spring family worked at a Mobil terminal on the Hudson River when they lived in New York, and said they were looking for a district manager for their retail division, but was asked to first start out to run a convenience store.
"Here I am 27 years later, running my own and I ran company operated ones for 23 years," he says.
He fell in love with the merchandising aspect and finding ways to grow sales and bring in customers.
One of the other different things the store does is carry craft beer. It is also the first gas station in America to have a Little Caesar's pizza. The pizza shop is leased and managed by Jack Loeffler, who also owns the Bee Ridge and Ringling Little Caesars.
Russ is also looking for ways to tap into the electronic smoker market. Profits on selling tobacco products are slim, prices of cigarettes continue to increase, and more people are looking to quit.
"We have a whole gondola of healthy snacks, and now we have a partnership with Clean Smoke on Bee Ridge Road, and convert that back room into a clean electronic smoke section," says Russ, who is an electronic/vapor smoker himself.
He would like to work with Visit Sarasota County to see if it's possible to become a miniature visitors' center stand. His employees give directions to customers about 10 to 15 times a day, he estimates.
"So many of people who are heading for the key, go right by us, and I want to get some sort of official status of just being a visitors' center where we can put up all the pamphlets of things to do in the area," he says.
If you ever get lost, just stop at the Sunoco, let Nicholas pump your gas while Russ gives you directions. And remember to smile.
What Customers Are Saying
Russ pulled some comments from customers about the full-service station and Nicholas, and here are what customers left as comments:
"I always enjoy coming here on Tuesdays...they pump my gas...check the air in my tires, wash my windows, and all this while I go inside thew store to get a free fountain soda and buy my daily newspaper."
"The young man is so polite and helpful.I'm elderly and absolutely hate pumping gas."
"I come every Tuesday as I am handicapped and it is very difficult for me to maneuver in and out of my car."
"I wish more stations offered this…it's like old school...when I grew up we always had full service stations...now when you can find a full serve station (which is rare)...they charge extra, here they don't"
"The Spring family is a joy to deal with. Always so helpful and they always have the lowest gas prices around".
"Hey, why not? The kid pumps my gas while I go and pick up a pizza at Little Caesar's inside the store. I toss the kid a buck now and then. He works hard. You don't see a lot of that these days."