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NEXT L.A. / A look at issues, people and ideas helping to shape the emerging metropolis : Self-Serve Gas Stations Are Adding ‘Pump TV’ to Pump Up Other Sales

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The next time you fill up your tank at the gas station, don’t be surprised to see a small video monitor in the pump come on with a commercial.

In the latest twist on self-serve, stations are installing the small “pump TVs” to entice customers to buy more than just gasoline.

At one West Los Angeles Unocal station, the monitors, about six inches square, were added in March to make a pitch for the carwash that was added at the same time.

As a customer gets gas, a commercial playing on the monitor extols the environmental and other virtues of getting a carwash at the station’s ProWash.

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“A good 30% to 40% of [carwash] sales” are due to the at-the-pump commercials, said station manager Bill Fulton.

Filling up her dusty black compact, teacher Cheryl Johnson admitted that she had succumbed to the video sales pitch.

“This is the first time I’ve seen one, it’s interesting,” she said.

Mesrop Mesropian, a limo driver, was not convinced, however.

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“I have a problem with the [gasoline] smell, I have to stand at the front of the car,” Mesropian said, indicating that it is difficult to see the screen from that angle.

As he filled the shiny black Lincoln Towncar, Mesropian said that although the ad had not persuaded him to get the car washed, “maybe they can advertise something else.”

Unocal plans to do just that, said Fulton, whose station is at National and Sawtelle boulevards.

Many stations are eliminating service bays and adding mini-markets. In those stations, the pint-size monitors will play commercials for items sold in the stores.

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“Some people don’t like it too much, they just want to pump their gas, they don’t want to listen to a commercial,” Fulton said.

The monitors are hooked up to a laser disc in the station that plays the commercial continuously. It starts automatically when the pump is activated and can’t be turned off at the pump.

“In my opinion,” Fulton said, “there should be a button that says ‘off.’ ”

For those put off by commercials, he has considered other options.

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“I was thinking of getting ‘The Lion King.’ Lots of people don’t mind watching kids’ things and adults with kids love it. All the kids in the car can watch while they pump gas,” Fulton said.


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