It is fair to say that I am not a morning person. After hitting the alarm’s snooze button several times, it is my husband’s threats that I will be late and left behind that drag me from bed. We aim to get a 7.55am train to London together, but we seldom make it. To compensate I have to buy him coffee. I buy coffee quite a lot!
The train is the perfect place to catch up with emails and plan the day ahead. As a senior solicitor in the property and licensing department at law firm Winckworth Sherwood, my work life is split between the two areas of law. I am lucky in that I get to work with petrol forecourt retailers supporting and developing their acquisition and disposal strategies, as well as securing the relevant licences that they need to operate successful and profitable sites.
The day begins with checking the progress on ongoing instructions. I am frequently instructed to advise on both the purchase and sale of existing forecourt businesses across the country. Despite the sluggish economy, there remains considerable activity with the majors and larger independents.
It is a funny old industry, as I often find clients purchasing sites they sold off 10 years ago. No matter how many searches you carry out, they know the history of the site better than you!
The purchase and sale of sites is a specialist business. Environmental issues are at the fore and while a prudent buyer would be wise to carry out an extensive and intrusive survey prior to exchange, it is not always possible when a site is trading and the seller is keen to maintain the business. Most, if not all, acquisitions and disposals involve the transfer of sites as a going concern. This throws up tax issues, TUPE considerations with the transfer of employees, fuel supply agreements, ATM contracts, petroleum licences and the premises licences.
A difficult purchase or sale will often require me to visit the site with the client. They may all look alike to the average customer, but each one is very different. One site we visited had a significant problem with Japanese Knotweed, which had to be treated and monitored. The threat of this plant should never be underestimated and the cost of removal can be huge.
A recent trend I have noticed is for site owners looking to increase potential revenue from their forecourt stores by granting sub-leases. While the potential is promising, it is important to get the balance between the two competing businesses right. My job is to make sure the right questions are asked and the lease is structured in the best way possible for my client.
Given the ever-decreasing margins on fuel, the importance of the convenience store to the success of the business is now more crucial than ever.
The other part of my daily routine involves the serving of premises licence applications for, among others, petrol forecourt stores. Led by my colleague Robert Botkai, Winckworth Sherwood has one of the most successful licensing teams in the country. Over the years, we have built up excellent relationships with officers around the country and this has certainly helped when objections are received.
I often attend licensing sub committee meetings. We are also actively involved with the RMI and you will find one of us at most of their regional meetings.
Winckworth Sherwood has close connections with those in the know and we are monitoring (and trying to encourage) possible changes to the licensing laws. There are several things to watch out for in 2013, including the possible abolition of personal licences. We are also hoping that the government will repeal the law that excludes premises that are primarily used as a garage from selling alcohol. This would be a real boost to forecourts.
Unless I have a licensing sub committee hearing, the day ends at around 6.30pm. Then I head to the station to find that what is usually an eight carriage train has been reduced to four. Jam-packed and delayed is never a great way to end a busy day.
Name: Sabrina Cader
Company: Winckworth Sherwood
Job title: Senior solicitor, property and licensing department
Career History: Joined Winckworth Sherwood as a trainee in 2005, qualifying as a solicitor in 2008.
Greatest achievement: Never having been refused an application when representing clients at contested licensing hearings.
Tips for business success: Be honest and up front at all times.
Most likely to say: "Must be time for a holiday!"
Least likely to say: "Ask someone else."
Other interests: Cricket and baking.