‘This gas station is the ultimate combination of a student union and a business’

No less than 35 students who independently operate a gas station with fourteen pumps on the Amsterdam ring, a bakery, four wash boxes, a car wash, four vacuum cleaners, a tire pump and a good dose of fun. These are the ingredients for Kriterion Student Pump.

Job Wink (24) is chairman of the special gas station on IJburglaan. The economics student put soul and bliss into the pump for a year. “To be honest, this year there was a bit of university and a lot of gas stations,” he admits. “But I have learned a lot. From doing business in a general sense to communicating with customers and companies you do business with. You don’t learn that at university.”

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Kriterion Student Pump has been a household name in Amsterdam for decades.

Money for the students

The gas station is part of the Kriterion Foundation. The foundation has existed since 1945 and was created when members of the Student Resistance opened a cinema in Amsterdam’s Roetersstraat. That way, they were no longer financially dependent on their parents to study. In the 1960s, the foundation was expanded with Shell Kriterion, which at the time was still about two kilometers away. In addition to the cinema and gas station, various catering companies and a babysitting center are also part of the fund.

All projects that are part of Kriterion function as independent BVs, where the students are responsible. “A very complicated construction, but ultimately the foundation is the sole shareholder,” explains Wink. “We operate to create a profit, but no profit flows to individuals. It is the idea that the money should all benefit the students and should be used for the purpose of the fund, as stipulated in the statute, ’employment for students’. And not just the students here , but also those on the other projects now and in the future.”

Structure in gas station

The gas station itself also works according to a specific structure. All employees are part of a committee. In addition to standard activities such as cash register operation and cleaning, they are also involved in facility relations, purchasing, financial affairs, human resources or promotion. The students per committees make their own decisions and make investments, such as the ten benches that are placed throughout the square with a view to the future charging stations.

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Criterion Student pump
Washing facilities at the petrol station.

All these committees also set up a ‘committee leader’ who, together with the chairman, makes up the day-to-day management. “There are things that go beyond the committees, as we had with corona, for example,” said the chairman. “Essentially, it’s working at a gas station, but if you look at the selections, it’s special. We all do it. I’m chairman, but not boss.” Finally, there is a sixth, optional committee that should not be missed by a large group of students: the party committee.

However, there are also some matters which the students cannot simply decide on, for example because their knowledge of the specific subject is not extensive enough. Having always been a Shell location, the station became part of Vissers Energy Group last year. A move that, given the perspective they offered in future activities such as loading, came from the students themselves, but they were unable to negotiate. “Our time is too short for that. This is typical for the parts where students are involved and have an influence, but it must be discussed at foundation board level.”

Reinventing the wheel again and again

Apart from that, the freedom young people have is great and there is room for experimentation. “For example, we have a fridge in the store where we offer drinks that we ourselves have come across and like. We would like to test that here. When we start offering a new drink, all thirty students often buy it first, and it does very well the first week, and much less a week later,” laughs Wink.

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Criterion Student pump
The Studenterpumpen store recently got a new bakery.

The chairman is aware that the company is an oddball, which also has its disadvantages. “For example, I think it’s a shame that you build something, but you also know that it’s temporary. You depend on the group. And because the students have to keep reinventing the wheel, capital is also lost. You document everything, but nobody works here for ten years. The task is to transfer as much knowledge as possible, but of course not everything works.” This does not mean that students do not build on the work of their predecessors. “We’re thinking ahead about things like a new bakery that we recently opened. It’s going from board to board.”

Getting rosters around

All employees at the well-run station are in the middle of a period in their lives that for many is associated with irregular weeks and days. It is therefore difficult to complete the forms during exam periods, says Wink. “Usually the boss arranges it, and here we all do it together. And some are easier to do than others. It is important for the feeling of the group that everyone feels the same way. And we hold each other accountable for that. We do fun things together, but we also run a business. And you also have to take responsibility for that. But sometimes it gets in the way because you also have your studies and exams on the side.”

Like many other gas stations in the Netherlands, the students are also facing a staff shortage. In order to attract new people, they participate in UvA’s opening week every year and actively recruit on social media. But most new colleagues end up at Kriterion Elevpumpen via via. “Students often think, ‘what, a gas station, is it funny?’ And then they come here and they see that it’s only 35 peers, which also has a social element, like get-togethers, a gala, and an annual weekend out in the summer. Once people are in here, they often stick around. It’s the ultimate combination of a student union and a business.”

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All (former) employees can leave their name on one of the pumps.

Part of history

If the municipality of Amsterdam ever decides that the gas station is no longer relevant and should, for example, become a charging hub, Wink hopes that it will remain in the hands of Kriterion. It is part of the city’s history, he says. “Elevpumpen has been around since the 1960s, so I don’t see why we are not also part of the future of the petrol station industry. With motivated students who want to achieve something, you can foresee the future here for decades to come and make it a successful business.”

That an experience like the one at Kriterion can also provide more than just making the textbooks is evident to Wink from the fact that he and his colleagues were able to keep the gas station running during the corona period. “We have all ensured that we could stay open during the corona period and that almost no services had to be cut. It was sometimes a difficult phase we were in, but I’m really proud that we managed to hold on. What we do here is simply unique. This is not found anywhere in the world. You really just have to appreciate that. Even when things go wrong.”

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