Forecourt Trader
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Family affair

06 October, 2011
The Majid family has united two businesses to help them compete more effectively in the tough economic climate. Amy Lanning reports
Page 21 

Forecourt retailing is in Tariq Majid's blood. From the tender age of six he was helping out at his father Abdul's site in Lower Basildon, Berkshire. Now, 30 years later, Tariq runs 12 sites with his dad and brother Farooq.

Adbul made his first move into petrol retailing in 1980 with a then Q8-branded site in Lower Basildon. In 1986, after saving up enough money, he did his first knock-down rebuild and started to build up a network first with Whitchurch Service Station in Hampshire.

Tariq remembers the early days: "I've grown up with petrol stations," he recalls. "I used to work there at weekends when I was at school. Even at age six I was putting stock out. At age 10 I would help fill up the cars because it was a serviced petrol station, check oils and change lights. It was pretty cool. I learnt more from the business than I did at school because you're meeting lots of different people every day."

Tariq officially joined the business at 18, becoming joint director of Majid & Sons with his father. Farooq holds the position of director at U&I Fuels, and while Majid & Sons and U&I Fuels are separate companies, the three directors have merged their operations in a bid to improve the deals they make through economies of scale.

"We've done that to give us more power really," explains Tariq. "When we buy things, we work together to get better prices. The cost of everything is going up so it's better to say we have 12 sites than four or seven. We are two companies and we each run the businesses our own way but we try doing all the buying and selling together for better deals."

A turning point for the business was the appointment of an operations manager three years ago. Paul Merritt, who previously worked for the Co-op, has helped the Majid family push the shop side of their forecourts. "Paul has had a major influence," says Tariq. "He goes around the sites and gives us his improvement plans and we try to get the money from somewhere to implement them. But he has really proved himself."

Paul's recommendations have boosted shop sales by as much as 100% at one site. A shop extension at their forecourt on the A34 in Didcot, Oxfordshire, has increased shop sales by 40%, and by 100% at Lower Basildon. "At Lower Basildon, shop sales were 700-800 a week and we just couldn't get any more out of it. We were going to give up and sell the site but Paul came in and implemented alcohol and bakery.

"We gave the shop a face lift and extended it a bit. It was a 10,000 investment but it doubled sales to an average of 1,600 a week and for the first time ever we've gone over 2,000, which is very impressive for that site."

The latest development was in January at Didcot. The site is situated on the busy A34 but the entrance to the forecourt is on an awkward bend.

"I have big dreams for this site but we need to win the lottery first. It's such a busy road that you could do a motorway services-style development but that costs about 10m. It has so much potential because it's such a busy road, but we can't afford to do that."

Fuel volume at the site is now 2.5mlpa but Tariq knows that it's the positioning of the entrance that's holding the site back. "We got onto the Highways Agency about moving the entrance because it comes up too quickly, but just to talk to them costs so much money. It's thousands. We did take that into consideration when we bought the site, but the price was good."

Next on the agenda is a knock-down rebuild of the shop at the Hounslow site. "We're redeveloping a couple of sites and will do one at a time. At Hounslow the forecourt is fine so we're just doing the shop and we expect that site to become our flagship. It's a big development, which is going to be a big test for me."

The redevelopment has taken two years in the planning. London Underground's Piccadilly line runs underneath the forecourt. "People don't realise how dangerous a petrol station can be. The local council had to make sure everything was safe."

Building will start in January and the site is expected to be completed by April/May. The 800,000 investment will see the 600sq ft shop transformed into a 1,500sq ft convenience store with offices upstairs. Tariq is hoping shop sales will increase from 20,000 a week to 30,000, with fuel volume remaining stable at 5mlpa. "We have been lucky that our fuel volume is only slightly down by about 2-3%. Because we're in quite affluent areas the sites have held their own a bit better. Petrol retailing has changed so much it's a lot more involved now. Before people wouldn't worry about the shop. Now, if the shop isn't presentable and well stocked you won't be able to do the sales."

The three directors have formed a strong relationship with Palmer & Harvey (P&H), and now all sites have Mace-branded stores, apart from one, which is Spar. "P&H has been a big help to us it's amazing how well they have improved. They've really helped move us forward. It's worthwhile having all the network under the Mace brand. We now have a regional area manager who gives us a regular update on the whole network we never had that before. We can sit together and see where we can get cheaper prices and better deals. You have to keep proactive."

After the redevelopment at Hounslow, Tariq plans to do two more knock-down-rebuilds at Fyfield and Steadhampton, a combined investment of 1.3m. Then the trio will go on the acquisition trail. "There are lots of sites on the market and some are going quite cheap so we could probably go out and get one tomorrow, but we want to get all the sites up to scratch first. Patience helps a lot unless something comes up that we can't say no to!"


FACT file

Retailer: Majid & Sons/U&I Fuels

Number of sites: 12

HQ: Lower Basildon, Berkshire

Site locations: Lower Basildon, Whitchurch, Great Shefford, Fyfield, Hounslow, Feltham, Yarnton, Steadhampton, Postcombe, Didcot

Fuel brands: Murco, Texaco, BP

Shop brands: Mace, Spar

Employees: 60