This summer’s floods caused havoc at forecourts across the country - but it was when the water started to drain away that the real problems started.
Some forecourt operators have been so badly hit they are expecting to be closed for weeks. For others, the repair work and insurance claims could take months to complete.
Waterlogged pumps, sodden food stocks, wrecked computers and electrics... the list is endless.Not to mention the potential of water having got into underground fuel tanks.
And where some forecourts and stores managed to remain above water level, they still saw their business affected. Nearby roads were often too dangerous to navigate or were closed off, making it impossible for deliveries, staff or customers to reach them.
One of the worst-affected sites was Mitton Manor Garage in Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire, owned by Guy Warner, the managing director of Warners Retail. Guy could only sit and watch helplessly as the waters began to rise around his forecourt last month - eventually submerging all but the tops of the petrol pumps and flooding his shop with at least 4ft of water.
"I waded into the site after it had happened and it was waist deep," he said. "A few hours later it was up to my chest. There were pumps sticking out of the water and when I poked my head inside the shop everything was floating around - freezers, fridges, food.
"It was just heartbreaking. We’re used to flooding in Tewkesbury -we have floods every year - but nothing like this. It’s unprecedented."
Guy is remaining optimistic but said the floods had wrecked everything and there was a lot of work ahead before the garage could re-open.
"It took five days to get back into the shop and when we did we were greeted with such a horrible sight," said Guy.
"Everything was wrecked and covered in silt. As you can imagine, a petrol station which has been under water for five days is not a pretty sight!
"We’ve spent days removing all the ruined stock. All the food had been in the water, so it was particularly pungent and unpleasant. We’ve had to strip the unit back to the bare walls, even the electric meter was under water so all that will have to be re-done."
The site also needs new pumps and a new EPOS system, but thankfully all of the data on its computers was backed up.
The company is in the process of drying out the store, which will be out of action until at least the end of the month.
But Guy has set himself the date of September 6 to open the newly-refurbished shop.
"Luckily we had very little water get into the fuel tank - which was extremely lucky considering there was an exclusion on our insurance policy and that was the only bit that wasn’t covered! We also had very little fuel in there comparatively speaking - about 40,000 litres on site.
"We were due a tanker delivery on the Friday of the floods, but it never got through because of the amount of water on the roads."
Guy estimates the damage will total £300,000-£400,000 when all is repaired and re-stocked.
But the forecourt and shop were fully insured - even for loss of business trading due to flood damage. "It’s times like these that you’re glad you didn’t go for the cheapest insurance," said Guy.
"Our policy is with Norwich Union and the company has been absolutely brilliant. We’re definitely one of the lucky ones."
Tewkesbury itself has been left devastated by the freak weather.
Guy said a DIY centre near to the forecourt will be closed for up to six months after part of the building support snapped due to the weight of the water inside the building. Other people are still waiting for the loss adjusters to get round to visiting them.
"It’s a pretty grim old scene," said Guy, who owns two petrol stations and three standalone Budgens food stores in Gloucestershire, Worcestershire and Warwickshire.
"The place is awash with insurance company reps - and trying to get hold of a skip is like trying to get gold. But you’ve got to stay optimistic. It may seem like a disaster for us, but the way I look at it is: we were insured - it could have been a lot worse. And at least I’ll get a new shop out of it."
Guy’s other site, in Quedgeley, was affected after the power went and all the stock had to be removed. However, Guy hasn’t let the disaster get in the way of expanding his empire: "We recently opened our new stand-alone site in Moreton-in-Marsh," he said. "It was launched on the date we had planned - even though a week earlier the water had been just 4ft from the door."
Among the other retailers affected in the area was Gloucester-based Clive Gardner, chairman of Gardner Garages.
His forecourt in the city centre was almost submerged after rainwater started streaming in from Evesham and the nearby hills. To make matters worse, a power cut meant he had to move all his chilled stock to another site.
Clive sat and watched the water rise up around the petrol pumps for six hours. He was also worried about the 87,000 litres of fuel underground.
It was a similar story in Oxfordshire, where many businesses were forced to shut up shop while the water flooded in.
Mark Wilson, group operations manager at the Fraser Group, said the company’s Cannon Pool station in Witney escaped the worst of the flooding. But while the site was more fortunate than many others, Mark said the weather still affected business.
"A lot of staff had their houses flooded, while others couldn’t get to work because the area was under water. It will take a long time for people to get their lives back to normal."
The overall catastrophe is expected to cost insurers in the UK at least £1.5bn - and it is estimated it could take more than 12 months before many homes and businesses get back to normal. But help is at hand as the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has announced the establishment of a £500,000 fund aimed at assisting businesses affected by the floods.
And the Retail Motor Industry Federation is offering help to members who are having problems with any business issues connected with the flooding. Members can call the helpline number on 01788 5383 07/08/09 or email their query to firstname.lastname@example.org.
=== unseasonable weather ===
While some businesses had to close due to the floods, many others have felt the knock-on effect of three months of wind and rain.
Barbecues should be flying off the shelves at this time of year. But many will have been taking up valuable space in stock-rooms over the early part of the summer. Similarly, barbecue food, ice cream, and soft drink sales are suffering because of the unseasonably bad weather.
Robert Fraser, a director at Thames Valley-based Fraser Group, said he had noticed a big change in what customers were buying compared to last year.
"Last year’s sales were up on the previous year because we had such glorious weather. Things like cold drinks were flying off the shelves. And of course we had the World Cup, so beer sales were also up.
"But this year we’ve sold fewer barbecues and pretty much everything associated with the summer.
"April was a very good month, but May, June and July have been very poor."
Robert, who co-owns five sites with his brother Hugh, said forecourt operators were often hugely affected by extreme weather conditions. But at least there was a silver lining for his company: "One good thing is that we chose to make some major changes to our site in Witney, Oxfordshire, last year and not this year," he said.
"Last summer we had a huge re-devolopment and the work meant we were without a canopy at the garage for four months. I think we had maybe a few days of rain at the most. But if we had decided to make the changes this year... well, you can imagine what it would be like trying to build a forecourt or put in a tanker in those conditions.
"Not to mention trying to keep our customers happy. So we were very lucky.
"As for the rest of this year, we’re keeping our fingers crossed that we’ve seen the worst of the weather and hope that things are looking up."