One step from the sky

 By Giancarlo Strocchia

The life of Erwin Insam, who manages an Eni gas station on the SS242 in Val Gardena, at an altitude of 1,300 meters, is centered around his of family-run business. His station, set in a valley in the Dolomites Mountains of Northern Italy, offers a place for climbers, hikers and other tourists to receive useful information for a safe stay in the mountains while savoring homemade strudel

Ortisei’s selling point, can be found on the SS242 main road, located in a picturesque valley at 1,234 meters, between the slopes of Mount Rascesa and the wooded hillside of the famous Seiser Alm.

“From ’92 until a few years ago, I ran the Agip station in Selva, Val Gardena, together with my wife and my father. Today, my whole family is involved, here, at the Eni station in Ortisei.” Pride in a life dedicated to supplying fuel and sustenance comes through in the words of Erwin Insam who, during this busy time at the start of the summer, manages to find the time to chat with us, in spite of the steady stream of cars stopping to fill up before continuing on their holiday routes. “Ours is a traditional family business. My wife takes care of the accounting. Diego and Maicol, aged 21 and 24, are my sons and colleagues. The former is a mechanic and the latter is a pastry chef who, when he has spare time, makes strudel to offer our customers. The boys have helped out in the summer ever since they were 8 and 10 years old,” explains Erwin. “Previously, we were managing a smaller station, then, last year, Eni gave me the opportunity to manage a much larger, better-equipped station, putting its trust in me.  The boys couldn’t wait to start working. I never said to them ‘you should come’–it was their free choice.”

The service station not only provides fuel, but also a place to stop to gather breath and strength. “Look, our station is very large, approximately 3,000 square meters, with two methane gas distributors, 4 self-service pumps and 14 full-service pumps. We provide just over 3 million liters of fuel per year, concentrated between the summer and winter months, when the tourist footfall is great. This feature gives our station added value. We are a reference point, where those who come to refuel take the opportunity to gather information about mountain routes, trekking and excursions. We make an effort to maintain a good relationship with our customers, as much as possible, given the large numbers of vehicles that come and go. Even during the most challenging times, we never fail to greet customers and provide the courtesy of further information or a suggestion of locations to visit or places to stay.”

The family

The manager, Erwin Insam, and his wife Michaela deal with the administrative side of things and the bar, while their sons Diego and Maicol manage the service area.

Their diverse customer base comes from a range of backgrounds to travel on the important artery that cuts through the mountains of Trentino. “Nowadays I can say that 50% are tourists and the other half we receive are locals. We know the latter group well—when they come here to fill up with methane, we get to chat and catch up. We have many customers from Val di Fassa and Val di Fiemme, and from as far away as Trento who come to us for this reason. Without exaggeration, the telephone also rings up to 40 times a day; it is customers from the neighboring valleys who wish to inquire about the methane pump and the station opening times; they come specifically for this reason.”

The rush of activity can bring the unexpected,, sometimes requiring a quick change of plans on the fly. “We literally operate on the road, and anything can happen. Like the time when, a few years ago, a truck went through the vehicle barrier right in front of our station, and, I must say, it was fortunatel for them it happened where it did. .The vehicle braked and took over 6 meters to come to a stop and immediately after I saw smoke pouring from the driver’s cabin. I acted right away with fire extinguishers, and saw that the driver was about to lose consciousness. I took him out of the cabin and helped him to recover by making him sit near the station;  he was suffering from smoke inhalation. This is perhaps the most memorable incident, but what normally happens is that many people, perhaps returning from a walk at high altitude, come down here suddenly, to 1,200 meters, and experience breathing problems. Quite often I have had to provide first aid, if only in the form of a glass of water, to customers suffering a crisis from lack of oxygen.”

“I have to say that over time I have found that the Eni sign is recognized and admired by many foreign tourists, especially for the quality of the product. I can say that the “six-legged dog” has the same effect, on the Germans or Dutch, as would a pretty blonde, for male customers, obviously: a fatal attraction.”

“The [economic] crisis has affected things here too”, says Erwin, although, paradoxically, there have been some favorable implications.  “In fact, we have seen things improve, and I’ll explain why: instead of stopping for two weeks, tourists stay for just three or four days, from Saturday to Tuesday. In one week there are at least two change-overs and, therefore, we sell more fuel. Before, they booked from week to week, but now it’s not like that. Money is scarce and holidays are shorter. But, in the end, people still go away, even for a few days, and maybe return in September. Therefore traffic, for us, increases.”

One station, one story

A visit to the family’s station when they were still in Agip. The Insam brothers have walked the asphalt of a service area since the age of 8-10 years.

“Here, like elsewhere, customer loyalty is first and foremost. Kindness and politeness above all,” says Erwin “we always say good morning with a smile. People of a certain age especially enjoy talking a bit. Then, as I said, being a mountain location, people ask us for directions. A station like this, also due to its location, inevitably becomes a reference point. If a tourist comes from Turin and is needs help, I give them all the information they need, from a map of the area to recommending a doctor. I always say that instead of us paying contributions to the board to promote tourism, they should be supporting us.”

about the author
Giancarlo Strocchia
Journalist, started his career first at radio stations headlines; after that he worked with TV stations and daily media press (La Voce di Montanelli, Euronews, Rai Format). He has been working for over a year with the Department of Public Information of the United Nations in New York and he has been involved in corporate communications and CSR. Today collaborates with the headline Oil Magazine and the web portal