My day begins with the earth moving for me. Sadly, as I live near a railway line that just means the 6.40am train is passing by. At least it gets me out of bed in time to pick up my dog, Billy, from where he’ll be sitting by the treat drawer and take him out for his daily walk. It has to be done, rain or shine, and if the train didn’t wake me up he probably would.
From home I usually get to the site between 8am and 9am, and the first order of business is the daily hassle of emails and post. Once that’s taken care of, I head into the forecourt shop and talk with the staff to check if there’s anything urgent.
Assuming there’s nothing major, I begin dealing with the daily paperwork everything from analysing wet stock, verifying invoices to checking margins and ordering fuel. The forecourt is only part of our business, with the other including several large car franchise dealerships, workshops and a repair centre so, in addition to the regular issues of managing a petrol station, we also have to ensure we have enough fuel for our internal customers: the 120 or so courtesy replacement cars and recovery vehicles of the dealership’s fleet.
The latter, in particular, are big and a bit unwieldy, so we need to be sure they’re not getting in the way of our retail customers when they’re filling up particularly as the forecourt’s fuel tanks aren’t massive.
As a local business that celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2012, and as I’m the third generation of Hammond to be involved, we have a lot of involvement with the local community. That means I’ll check with the dealership team to ensure we’re stocking items our local repeat customers want, such as a winter car care pack. Our customers trust us because we’re a local family business and we try to repay that loyalty as much as we can.
In addition, once a week I meet with all the directors of our various business units to discuss everything from the brand of air freshener we should stock to our long-term strategy for the next decade. We try to be as proactive as possible rather than reacting, because that enables us to keep our service levels high and keep offering customers something new.
The afternoon could entail a sales event at one of the dealerships (as a Hammond family member I’m often trotted out to meet customers and prospects) or, more often, I’m working at the forecourt to keep things ticking along.
I like to pitch in with everything except any sort of DIY such as assembling units and fixtures because I’m notoriously awful at it.
Among most shoppers the perception is still that forecourt prices are higher than those of other shops, but we check out the local competition and regularly use promotions and work with our wholesaler, Palmer and Harvey, to ensure we remain highly competitive. We also find the Mace promotions great at driving footfall into the store.
And with our location at one end of our small market town, we have a lot of customers from businesses and residential areas nearby, mostly as impulse shoppers. With supermarkets loss-leading on fuel, it’s become a nightmarish market for independents and margins on petrol are really tight, so the store is more important than ever.
The team in the forecourt work shifts so it’s unusual for me to have to stay too late, thankfully.
And despite the pressures on the sector, the forecourt is still an invaluable part of our business. I’d like to think that we will still be here and still be known and trusted by local customers in another 50 years’ time.
Name: Louise Hammond
Company: AW & D Hammond Ltd
Job title: Forecourt manager
Career history: I joined the family business in 1999 after working in a local pub. First I worked in HR and then in accounts payable, before taking over the forecourt when we refurbished it in 2006
Greatest achievement: Winning a £50 bet from my dad by parachute jumping despite a near-crippling fear of heights
Tips for business success: Service matters. It’s easier to retain customers than find new ones
Most likely to say: "While you’re here, could you just help me with this?"
Least likely to say: "Of course, I can assemble it. I’m a DIY maestro."
Other interests: My friends and family; salsa dancing; pilates; football