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Help and advice from Jac Roper

30 June, 2009
Jac reports on a good news story for a change and shares some ice cream
Page 16 

== With the right location and enough drive ==

There aren't enough upbeat stories around these days and certainly Service Centre doesn't hear many of them. If you've got the right location and the means to invest you could be quids in. No doubt that is stating the obvious but the Devonshire Snowdon family are positively delighted with the results of their refit.

Although none of it was taken for granted, by doubling the size of their store they have doubled their turnover. They run Whitehouse Services on the A30 at the main turn off to Okehampton, so are ideally placed for both transient customers and locals.

Eric, Min and their daughter Shelley, didn't get much change from a million quid but the investment achieved what was virtually a knock-down rebuild of a small c-store into an 1,800sq ft Budgens. It is already turning over more than 30,000 a week and Cliff Brookes, the site manager for the past 20 years, expects it to reach 40,000 by August.

"The turnover is phenomenal and I put it down to the quality," he says. "We wanted an image like Waitrose." The smart new store suits the BP site, which also boasts a restaurant with 120 covers.

Projects of this size don't happen overnight - first there was the research with Eric and Cliff exploring all the symbol group offerings and visiting a number of stores. Then the whole project was postponed for a year because the site's two main competitors both closed for refits. It would have been lunacy to join them. Then when the refit started it meant trading from a Portakabin for 11 weeks.

Cliff says those customers put off by the Portakabin trading are steadily returning: "We haven't had a single negative response. The success is all down to team work. In our industry a lot of sites have high staff turnover. We don't have that because it's very much a family-run business. I've been here since 1989 and a colleague has been here 28 years."

Experience certainly counts. "Over the years we have visited a lot of sites to keep on top of things... a bit like being a mystery shopper. You look at the cleanliness, the shop layout and you pick up ideas. You can become complacent otherwise," he says.

The high-volume site has other extras like a free-to-use Alliance & Leicester ATM. The National Lottery is promised for September.

== Summer's finally here ==

That decent summer 'they' promised us seems to be here, on and off, between the thunderstorms. With the slump also promising more 'staycations' than vacations abroad, would this be the right time to put in an ice cream machine, wondered Pete Singh who runs PS Service Station in Greater Manchester. And where could he get one? I found a company called Malibu (0161 874 5400) in his area which produces small counter-top machines which promise to make you 87% profit. Make soft ice cream cones for 10p and sell them for 1. At the moment the company is also offering 1,000-worth of ice cream plus a 5ft-high cone sign free, which it says is worth 250. The machines are available nationally and there are used ones for rent or new ones to lease or buy.

== Foot fall... two four-letter words you say ==

A lot of you resent Payzone and PayPoint. You dislike the fact that you collect zillions for them and get almost zilch in return.

However, rather than recounting the latest in a series of complaints (yes, I'm still getting them every week), I'm going to summarise a helpful 'frequently asked questions' document sent to me by PayZone. You can complain if you like, and I'm sure you will, but here goes anyway... The document lists all the services you can do with PayZone - and there are loads. It also operates more than 5,000 ATM cash dispensers in the UK. And it claims to reduce the high bank charges traditionally associated with credit and debit cards.

Payzone claims to offer some of the most competitive rates in the industry and due to retailer demand, it says it has recently adjusted its commission structure for certain services to ensure that retailers are better remunerated for small transactions as these make up the majority and take as long to process as high denominations.

Additionally, Payzone says it offers fewer cash collections per week than any of its competitors, enabling retailers to manage cash flow more easily. And it does not charge monthly rent.

There is a lot more like that on the lengthy email that Payzone sent me but I must add a cheeky tailpiece to this.

A Costcutter retailer on the East coast, whom I had better not identify, said he has found a way around the premium number phone number operated by Payzone. "What I do is disconnect the phone for three days," he says, "and then they call me. The phone line should be free because there is no profit for me in it and they are now charging for till rolls too. I don't mind if customers go somewhere else for a couple of days."

I will say this in Payzone's favour. Unlike its main rival PayPoint, it is entirely happy for retailers to host more than one terminal - the company is anti-exclusivity. It also does not insist on heavy contracts or notice periods.