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Jac starts 2011 with lots of sound advice and tips to get you through the year

11 January, 2011
Help and advice from Jac Roper
Page 16 

Two warnings for a Happy New Year

Happy New Year but let's get the warnings out of the way first.

Have you finished amending your shelf labels to accommodate the 2.5% Vat hike?

A pain but there's no way round it as I'm sure everyone will remember this being the third change in VAT in the past three years. (Pity politicians can't be made to run small businesses before they are allowed to be in charge of the whole country.)

Jayesh Patel (JP Service Station) emailed to ask what the rules are on price-marked packs.

He writes: "I think that we can add the extra percentage on all price-marked goods as long as we put up a notice on the till."

He's quite right but he should have received a letter from HMRC explaining the situation.

You had to charge the new rate from January 4 but, because of epos and eftpos and price-marked goods, you may put up a notice for up to two weeks after that date informing customers that the price on the pack may differ from the price at the till.

I'd also like to warn everyone against the cowboy rating companies. These bad pennies crop up with every recession and their tactics get cuter every time.

My rating contact in Preston, Ken Batty, tells me that up to 50% of his clients had been contacted by 'business rates consultants' warning them that their appeals had not been submitted yet and that there is a deadline.

As Ken points out, there is a correct time to submit appeals given that the current ratings list is a difficult one, but there is no deadline. You have all the way up until the next one (March 2015).

Avoid cold callers at all costs.

Of course, you can put in your own appeal for just the price of a stamp. However, if you feel you need professional help (and as we all know, forecourts need all the help they can get), then you can contact the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors or the Institution of Revenues Rating and Valuation or the Rating Surveyors Association for a list of reputable local surveyors.

Shopping for cheap fuel

This is being written while much of the UK remains in winter's white-knuckle grip. Seems ironic that when there is a real run on demand for fuel that prices should be allowed to go sky high no, I'm not talking vehicle fuel, but gas and electricity.

So I'm happy to pass on a suggestion that comes from Alan Taylor, director at USC (Utility Savings Corporation) on how reputable utility brokers such as his can help relatively large consumers, like forecourts, reduce costs.

I firmly believe in utility brokers. You wouldn't shop around for your own insurance would you? You'd let a professional do the shopping.

First here are a couple of credentials. Recently USC won the Supplier Excellence Award at the National Federation of Retail Newsagents (NFRN) Awards in London and is now their supplier of the year. USC is also business partner with the National Federation of Subpostmasters (NFSP), and trade partners with both Londis and the Rural Shops Alliance.

"We could offer every forecourt a free energy health check and rollover protection," suggests Alan. "This enables us to find out if the forecourt is in contract and what rates they are paying. If they are out of contract and paying unnecessary expensive rates, they could well save immediately and then, of course, we would ensure that they never rollover moving forward. Rolling over, as you are aware, means that the retailer could well be tied in to a 'contract' for up to two years paying around 30% more than they should. "USC will contact the forecourt in ample time to then offer a selection of competitive market rates. All contract end dates are stored and again, we contact the forecourt offering contract prices etc on an ongoing basis."

The offer is at no cost to you, no obligation and no contract scenario. Call 0844 855 1428. All I can add to that is Happy New Year.

Little tips that all add up

Mike Stayte of John Stayte Services, Fromebridge Filling station on the A38 at Whitminster is good on tips.

He suggested chiller strips and timers a few months back as a way of saving on the electric bills and he suggested remote control shutters after thieves hot-wired their way into his old ones causing losses/damages of 5,000 all told.

Now he has one for garages preparing for the summer in locations that suffer water shortages. "We have three sites with jet washes and we were always running out of water in the summer because we're in an area where the water pressure is low. But we installed a slave tank and that solved the problem."

And here's one for luck. Jack Stokes emailed to ask where he might obtain 'Cheques not/no longer accepted' stickers. He'd already had a good look around. "I've trawled the net and asked my fuel company." One of my suggestions that he should have a look at www.vistaprint.co.uk seems to have done the trick. Vista does all sorts. You can, for example, literally get hundreds of business cards for a fiver. Vista offers a window decal plus design for 2.99. Of course, having written the above, I'm sure I'll be contacted by clever clogs who print all their own signs up, for nothing!