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Small is still beautiful

01 May, 2009
Why one independent in the Scottish Borders is resisting expansion and instead sticking to traditional values. Linda Harrison reports
Page 21 

Graham Walker believes in bucking the trend when it comes to forecourt shops. He has run Duns Service Station in the Scottish Borders for 20 years, but the small kiosk on the site is pretty much the same as when he first took the business over. And he has no plans to change or expand it.

Graham says that while some retailers might see this as financial suicide, he believes small businesses in the local community should stick together and not take trade away from each other.

He explains: "I've never wanted to expand the shop on the site, it's part of my business ethic.

"A lot of my good customers have shops in Duns and they're trying to eke out a living too. I'm here to sell fuel as well as sell cars. I think there's enough business here for everyone, but if we all jump on the bandwagon and start selling everything then I don't think anyone really benefits."

The shop therefore stocks the basics like soft drinks and a small selection of sandwiches for passing motorists, as well as items such as bags of coal.

The market town of Duns has a population of just 2,800 so Graham relies on his local customers. He also benefits from through traffic as the site is on one of the main routes into the Borders.

== Rally cry ==

Graham runs the business with his wife Louise Aitken Walker. The couple met through rallying and Louise had a career in the sport that spanned 14 years, up to 1993 when she retired to have a family - son John and daughter Gina.

Louise was the first woman to win a national rally outright. She also survived a horrific crash in Portugal and became the first British driver to win a world title - the Ladies World Rally Champion. She was awarded an MBE in 1992.

The couple decided to buy the garage in Louise's home town of Duns because they wanted to spend more time together.

Graham explains: "I was an engineer and obviously Louise was doing very well in rallying. We were only 26 or 27 at the time and we tried to work it so we weren't in the same team. But it got so that we hardly ever saw each other.

"One of us would be flying out of the country while the other was here. It was obviously me who had to change jobs and so we bought the garage. It was originally built by Esso in 1959."

== Hobby horse ==

Louise has now returned to her other hobby - horses - and also runs a busy livery business behind the garage. Graham concentrates on running the forecourt as well as the adjoining used car sales and van hire business.

The couple live next door to the site. Says Graham: "It takes me two minutes to walk to work, and that's if I'm taking my time and enjoying the morning! It's a lifestyle thing really, we just enjoy it."

The site recently moved to Jet from Q8, and Graham says it was one of the best decisions they ever made for the business: "After doing a lot of research I decided I liked the work ethic of Jet's Fuelling the Local Community, and now we're a lot more aggressive with pricing - we're keeping up with the likes of Morrisons, which is 15 miles away and is our biggest threat.

"That's what we needed, we were just losing customers before because of price. We've definitely upped our customer numbers since joining Jet in November."

In fact, Graham says fuel sales are up about 40% compared to the previous year since the switch.

He says this is partly down to pricing and partly to the Tokheim outdoor payment terminals installed a few months ago. The site is manned from 7.30am to 6pm, but customers can buy fuel 24 hours a day.

Graham adds: "The positive reaction to the lower prices and bright, modern forecourt has exceeded all our expectations.

"We are truly delighted that we made the switch. I like dealing with the company. In business there are a lot of people who promise things that don't happen. That's not what it's like with Jet. Paul Yates, who is Jet's regional manager - retail, didn't promise anything he couldn't deliver."