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Help and advice from jac roper

01 November, 2010
This month's hot topics are payment terminals, hot food and hydrogen
Page 16 

Vouching for new scheme?

This helpline gets more than its fair share of complaints about the c**p commission offered by multi-tasking terminal suppliers. Paypoint, unsurprisingly as it has the most terminals out there gets the most complaints.

The latest comes from Mr Anon (who has had previous rants in this column). He writes: "The latest thing they (Paypoint) want us to do is to sell the new Visa 3V voucher. The customer gives us cash and we use the Paypoint terminal to generate a 'Visa number' which can be used for online shopping. Our commission for this? 10p!

"Ah, but, Visa charges a fee of £2 or £3 which the customer has to pay and we have to collect but we don't get commission on this! I might be cynical but I bet Paypoint get some of this fee and I reckon it will be more than 10p. So it seems that they can surcharge but we can't."

I put this to Paypoint and spokesman Peter Brooker replied: "I hope I can clarify some of Mr Anon's comments. The terminal produces a PIN which can then be used online by the customer to generate a Visa number. Retailers actually do get commission on the Visa fee which the customer pays. The fee amounts are £2 and £3.50. The commission is percentage based, not a flat 10p. The minimum transaction is £22 (including the Visa fee), for which retailers will earn 22p the same commission that we do. We pass on the entire Visa fee to Visa."

He adds: "I've had a look at the recent bulletin we sent to our retailers and see that it wasn't clear that there is a minimum transaction level or that the Visa fee is included in the commission paid to retailers. We're issuing our regular retailer newsletter later this month and I have asked for it to be clarified in the article on 3V, and apologise for any confusion we may have inadvertently created. I hope Mr Anon will be more satisfied now."

Well, the rant has achieved something then.

Hot stuff

Should I do hot food, wondered Jay Patel on email. "Customers have been asking for things like sausage rolls. I've got lots of chilled but no hot and a pretty good passing trade. How hard is it?" He also asked if I could recommend companies offering hot drinks machines.

Some retailers have made a real fist of catering. Recently the lunchtime Radio 4 programme You and Yours sent a reporter to an open day at a petrol station in Tarporley, Cheshire. The woman, who has owned it for the past six years, is now offering Indian takeaways with the fuel.

Comments from those stopping to sample the onion bhajis were all along the lines of 'people are looking for more these days'.

In the early '90s this country had nearly 20,000 petrol stations while the supermarkets only had a few now they have 25% of the market and the independent sector is down to 9,000. The supers have done the same job on pubs undermined their core product on price.

So these days, said a learned professor on the same programme, you need imaginative ideas to make a go of it. Thus the pub becomes the gastro pub and the petrol station becomes a c-store. With extras if you can manage it. Diversify or die, goes the mantra.

Brian Madderson, chairman of RMI, points out that there are a lot of entrepreneurial ideas out there. He cites a forecourt near Wardle in Cheshire which extended its range to include catering for animals, especially for horses (there's a riding school nearby) and Anne Fraser in the Highlands offering bed and breakfast and post office services alongside the petrol.

Then there's Westmoreland Services, on both sides of the M6, which is often praised as the best independent motorway service station in Britain with its restaurant and farm shop set in the scenic Lakeland hills. And I notice that Pearces Garage in Gunnislake in Cornwall, not two miles from where I have a cottage, runs a busy fish and chip shop. You can see the queues as you drive by. Tracy Boniface, who runs the family-owned business, has been featured in the trade press because she has just installed a drinks kiosk to help fend off a new Tesco forecourt that has opened a few miles away.

Will this one bomb?

People are funny about oil. You couldn't put it better than former USA Shell president, John Hofmeister, who said: "If you can see, smell or touch oil, something has gone seriously wrong." You are always fighting the volatility, he added. So how about hydrogen then? I thought it made bombs but what do I know?

Therefore I bring you the latest in alternatives Britain's first hydrogen-powered car. Honda is offering its FCX Clarity as the first production fuel cell car to be built on a dedicated assembly line. It's powered by electricity generated by an onboard chemical reaction, so its range is far greater than conventional electric vehicles. For example, it does 270 miles to the tank so you could go all the way from London to Cornwall without having to refuelonly problem is, how would you get back?

It's a nippy car apparently, doing 0-60mph in just a few seconds and will do 100mph while racing to the next pump. Which brings me to the fact that there is no national network of hydrogen pumps. Any volunteers? There are 10 all told in the UK, all on university campuses. And there are only 32 Honda Claritys on the road throughout the world 19 in California, 11 in Japan and two in Europe.

But in 10 years' time it will be a different picture.