Literally absolutely powerless

Can you imagine having your petrol station and adjacent MOT business and car wash being without power for nine days? Nine hours is crippling enough.

When things aren't going with the Flow: What a labyrinth it can be when companies hive bits off here and there so that your supplier/service support becomes owned by another company. They will usually all claim business as usual but for those on the receiving end when it goes wrong it can be anything but.

Going with the flow: Here's a happy new year tip from my regular tipster Steve Vaughan, Handbridge Services, Chester. He knows first hand that forecourt operators are more than happy to make any and all savings possible. And lately he's been looking at wait for it water. Sounds straightforward, simple, but it isn't.

Auto-enrolment nothing to do with cars: Anyone who knows Londis retailer Steve Vaughan (Handbridge Services, Chester) knows that he likes to pass on useful tips. In 2015 he recommended AEclipse, a company that will set up a pension scheme for you without ripping you off. (And as we all know, any new scheme involving money and red tape, automatically attracts rip-off merchants). His latest tip is on the same subject. (And I do know that 'pensions' is a very boring, easily-ignored subject although, funnily enough, the older you get, the more interesting it gets).

You need to treat your best asset in a very civil manner

A question of integration and co-operation: This one was a really very different case for me involving as it does, some fast-moving technology and two big organisations. Imran Khan runs St Giles Filling Station with a Costcutter convenience store in Durham.

Total eclipse of The S*n: That's not my headline it belongs to Liverpool. There is currently one helluva campaign going in the Speke area in Liverpool to boycott The Sun newspaper. If you want to see some colourful comments have a look at the public Facebook group called Total eclipse of the S*n which has gained some 13,000 members in just a few weeks including 10 major petrol stations in the area.

Make sure you cover your back: When Jagdish Radia rang me from Leaway Service Station in Birmingham, in late April, he had been without insurance cover for over a month: a shock-horror story if ever I'd heard one.

Energy firms that are not fitting the bill: In the last issue I marvelled at Extra Energy's inability to bill Huw Griffiths for his electricity supply for 10 months. Huw had been putting the money aside in a big tin as he reckoned the bill was around £20K.

Where was the customer service when it was needed? When you pay £3,000 a year for a service contract you rather expect a bit of prompt attention when things go wrong. In mid-February, I got a call from Khalid Mohammad who runs Shelfield Service Station in Walsall in the West Midlands.

Chasing after the money: I expect some of you have been chased by debt collectors. Not pleasant is it? Even if you do owe the money. But when you don't owe it, it's a very bitter experience.

How do you deal with such a petty bureaucrat? Gill Marsh Forecourts cannot be the only company to have had a run-in with the local council following bogus complaints about noisy remote refrigeration.

Not a very good start: Sharon Collins, from Saffrons Garage in Bodenham, Hereford, is kicking herself for signing up for a Point Four epos system. She did so because she believed that it could handle a link into Sage and fuel card bunkering, whereas her old system could not.

A cash point with no cash is no joke. You offer extra services, on top of your normal marketing mix, in order to draw in the punters and to make a bit (never very much) on the side. All very well when it's glitch-free, but a pain when it isn't.

Booker's been in the news a lot lately and it's all been good. But for one retailer there had been a lot of frustration although nothing to do with Booker's offering, which he is quite happy with. Around six months ago a new Booker delivery man managed to back onto Jagesh Radia's forecourt (Leaway Service Station in Birmingham) and damaged the top of the canopy. "He didn't know the height of his vehicle," says Jagesh, "and it is now hanging loose and dangerous."

In my last column I reported on the huge upheaval that Kumar Selvakumar's Black Horse Service Station in east London's Walthamstow had undergone due to roadworks. These were not just any old roadworks.

Is this price fixing?

If you give everything away you'll get plenty of footfall... but no profit, says Paul Ghuman who runs Pentagon Service Station in Derby.

Really, really bad news

This is a totally anonymous story, although the two protagonists will recognise themselves. A reader approached Forecourt Trader with a very real problem. The other party will know who they are because of the details to follow. I am simply not naming anyone in the hope that this dire situation may be agreeably resolved.

The rocky road to booze

I expect most of you are licensed or want to be. Even now though it isn't a straightforward process for forecourts. Here is a bit of a master class for you.

Large sums

If I am notorious for anything it's for not being good at sums: hence my word-mongering career.

Knock-down prices: Nothing like a makeover to start the year. And if you want your place to look like a million dollars or should I say pounds, then you might have to spend that much.

You're not paranoid they ARE out to get you

Happy New Year and all that. I wish you a bright, shiny start. But some things never change. This very minute someone will be trying to scam somebody in the forecourt world. The one doing the rounds just before Christmas was fake £5 vouchers 'redeemable' against JTI tobacco brands Benson & Hedges, Silk Cut, Old Holborn, Hamlet and so forth.

Deck the Halls with Boston Charlie...

It was always my favourite, fractured yuletide 'carol'. I thought originally that it referred to some mafia 'event' involving an unfortunate Boston-based bloke called Charlie, and his fate was to be plastered around the walls. But that turned out to be wrong as it's just a nonsense rhyme that relates to the American satirical cartoon Pogo. And the actual first line goes 'Deck us all with Boston Charlie'. Sounds even messier.

Save your energy

Costs go up, profits go down. What to do? Look at operating overheads. Regular contact Stephen Vaughan, of Handbridge Services and Londis store in Chester, wants to pass on his experience with energy savings.

There's no help in the pipeline

The devil, as always, is in the detail. Or, in the case of contracts, in the fine print.

Scratching the surface

I know I often write about Scott and Phoebe Preston's various sagas on Shetland that's because they're always interesting and possibly because, rather than in spite of, Tagon Stores being so remote. And possibly because Scott keeps me informed of events (hint, hint, if you ever want a story written up, let me know).

They giveth with one hand...

And taketh away with the other. No prizes for guessing my reference is to government and its budgets.

Choices, choices

If you have nine shops and you are in the Top 50 Indies you are already a success by anyone's standards. But it never stops there you are always looking to improve. Intake Developments, an up-and-coming chain of forecourts, all Jet sites, has shops ranging in size from 500-1,850sq ft.

Will it be 'aye' or 'nay'?

A column I wrote a couple of issues back in Forecourt Trader's sister paper Convenience Store on the upcoming referendum prompted an email from forecourt operator Scott Preston.

Buried letters will cost you money

Ever heard of PCI DSS? Depressingly I have quite a few times now. You may have seen it buried between some lines you got on a statement from the bank or credit card company. Between the two helplines I run for Forecourt Trader and Convenience Store, I have had quite a few retailers ringing me about this cost of compliance fee on traders who take credit/debit cards.

Keeping safe

Khaliq Mian rang from Knowle Garage in Braunton, north Devon, looking for some suggestions on commercial insurance. He uses a local broker but, like most things, the costs have been going up.

When you are only just over the limit

In Scotland businesses qualify for a rates discount if their rateable values (RVs) don't exceed £25,000. This allows businesses with two or more properties with a cumulative RV of under £25,000 to qualify for relief at 25% on individual properties with a RV up to £18,000.

Is this really such a risky business?

Where do you buy your insurance? Do you switch very often? Does it go up by much when you renew? How about when you make a claim? Have you got a good broker?

The loan arranger good guys

This column is kicking off the New Year with some good news. It comes via Steve Vaughan, a Londis retailer who runs Handbridge Services in Chester.

Are you up to speed on technology?

I must congratulate Tony Barlow, who runs the Mount Service Station in Shrewsbury, for employing such an observant cashier named Robert Fox. Robert works for Tony during the week and for another business, called Claremont News, on a Sunday. On Tony's urging, Robert sent me an email entitled 'Torex/Micros Iridium vs Supernews anomaly' as both businesses use Torex epos systems.

Do you really get what you pay for?

How do you know if the amount of fuel ordered is the amount delivered? How much of a hot topic is the temperature of fuel?

What's the real price of petrol?

The price of petrol is a perennial headline grabber. You would think, by now, enough journalists reporting on the subject would have 'got to the bottom of it'; ie the public would know that the retailers have nowt to do with the price at the pump, even if they do own the ruddy pumps.

Get approval before you improve

Sometimes there is no pleasing the local authorities. Linda Sheppard tells a cautionary tale that anyone who is thinking about making improvements should read.

You really don't need crashes

After 18 months of firefighting with a system that is meant to help him run his business, Jon Brownsey says he is beyond angry now. He first got in touch with Forecourt Trader last September over ongoing problems at his Fordingbridge Service Station, Hampshire, with his Micros (previously Torex) system. It summed up as crashes, error messages, inability to poll at night or to order grocery supplies from Londis.

How you can optimise your losses

Here's a cautionary tale for you. Back in March 2010 James Henderson, managing director of Cohannon Inn Ltd (which includes a filling station in Dungannon, County Tyrone), was approached by Energy Saving Company, an approved agent for Carbon Trust. It offered to supply electricity optimisers paid for via a no-interest loan from Carbon Trust.

Look after your assets

Here's a cliché question for you Mr Forecourt Boss: what's your best asset? I'm sure you have many but full marks if you said 'staff' unless, of course, you spend every working hour right there on the till.

A pain in the cashflow

Quite an Easter wasn't it? What with a hole in the wall cash machine being blown up into a much larger hole at a petrol station in Weyhill, Hampshire, while Steve Jones was busy getting sued by a policewoman after the poor dear tripped on his Nun's Bridges forecourt kerb in Thetford, Norfolk, while investigating a potential incident. Both made front page news in the nationals.

Do you take plastic? Of course you do

You'd probably have to go as far as Germany to find a forecourt that doesn't accept cards although I haven't been to Germany lately so I don't know if their 'cash only' policies still apply.

Always check out the label

'Freddie' rang up. As you may have already sussed, that's not his real name. He believes that a nearby competitor may be trying to stitch him up but didn't want to ID anyone for obvious reasons.

A second quote saves the day

Happy New Year to all. Right, that's enough joy; now back to the problems. Garry Gibson, head of operations at Cooper Bros in Wishaw, Lancashire, certainly had a time of it last year.

Stand off at the pumps

Tony Barlow, whose business trades as Local Service Stations in beautiful Shrewsbury, had an adventure at the pumps one Saturday that you could all do without. He says: "Just after opening up, a small white lorry pulled up to the diesel pump and the driver asked if we took EDC cards. I knew we did but verified it on the till and confirmed as such to the driver.

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About the Forecourt Trader Group
Forecourt Trader continues to maintain its market-leading position as the major source of information for the petrol-retailing sector.

Targeted at independent retailers, all those connected to the industry seek out Forecourt Trader (magazine and website) for its strong mix of news, industry and retailer profiles, as well as scheduled features that cover all categories of a service station operation at length, on both the forecourt and shop side of the business. ...more »