The increase in sales and footfall at Redworth, as well as the quality of service from both Greenergy and Nisa, were so positive that the decision was quickly taken to convert a second forecourt and shop at Wheatley Hill, near Durham, to Greenergy and Nisa. This second site opened after rebranding and shop modernisation (including extension to 90sqm) in November 2013, and the results have exceeded the family's expectations once again, with fuel volumes up a staggering 56% after the first three weeks' trading, and shop turnover up 51%. "If we continue the way we are, we will hit 8mlpa inside 12 months, which is very pleasing indeed," says Joan.
The family's three sites had been experiencing a slow but steady fall in sales volumes and profits since the recession began in 2008. Joan explains: "We were concerned about the long-term viability of the operation and were worried enough even to discuss moving away from operating forecourts altogether. If we were to remain as fuel retailers, we knew we needed to focus on the shopping experience as well as on the fuel side.
"We also wanted to make each of our sites a destination in itself, so people travelling home could pop in and get their chicken, a salad and a bottle of wine as well as their fuel. We're now stocking lines we've never stocked before, so people can come in and do their whole shop. At our Shildon site we've also introduced additional parking, which our customers think is really important."
Joan had done a lot of research and spoke to a lot of suppliers before she chose Greenergy and Nisa. "Changing fuel and shop brand is a major decision for any business and the prospect was a little daunting, but it was a risk that has paid off handsomely," she enthuses.
"Greenergy's fuel supply offer was original, flexible, competitive and in many areas quite unique. Paul Wilson, the local Greenergy territory manager, took the time to explain the cost implications of the various aspects of the offer, rather than just talking about headline numbers." Joan says the team is consistently friendly and supportive with "impeccable delivery reliability", even with the increase in volumes. "It's so refreshing to be able to discuss things openly with a supplier and to work with someone who is so transparent and customer focused," she says.
"Greenergy's competitive fuels offering has allowed us to compete much more effectively with our local hypermarkets, while at the same time maintaining or growing our margins. This has resulted in an outstanding increase in fuel sales at both sites. We had thought we would increase fuel sales by 10 to 15%, but to achieve 20% at Redworth and 56% at Wheatley is exceptionally rewarding and completely unexpected so much so, that we have had to install new pumps and a one-way system to cope with the extra demand."
Joan adds: "I believe our customers now understand that they can get quality fuel at competitive prices as well as being able to come into a warm, inviting shop and buy items for the family meal 24 hours a day with confidence. They no longer have to drive miles out of the way to a hypermarket as they get the same fuel prices and convenience from us.
"It's been much the same with Nisa. Chris, our retail development manager, has held our hand all the way and I can't praise him enough. He has helped us choose new products and has guided us on how much we should stock for example, we hadn't really stocked vegetables before."
Joan concludes: "We've moved a long way from the early days of our business, when fuel was served by attendants and we had just a very small kiosk. But Forecourts are totally different businesses these days and we really feel we're going in the right direction.
"The partnership with Greenergy has completely transformed our business and, as a result, we are are looking at further opportunities at our third site soon."