Forecourt Trader - 30 years at the heart of the fuel retailing community

It's a family affair for Simon Hockings of AUK

02 March, 2010
As custodians of the family business, Simon and his brothers stick to basic business principles learned from their father
Page 66 

My brothers and I operate six filling stations in the Lake District and we wouldn't want them anywhere else. We work from our HQ in Fleetwood, dealing with the accounting functions, and are supported by our office manageress, Helen, based at Prizet Services near Kendal. She makes our lives much easier and her organisational skills and happy approach to life make her indispensable but don't tell her that! Our three site managers are likewise indispensable and we have three of the best they keep the show on the road. They order fuel and shop products, staff the tills and deal with all the day-to-day issues of a typical forecourt. Mel, our maintenance man, keeps the sites looking neat and tidy, the jet washes and site services fully operational. He loves a chat on his daily rounds and tells me he likes to 'keep everybody happy'. Our staff are indeed our biggest asset.

On Mondays I am usually in the office by 8.30am and, once I've dealt with my emails and post, I'm on the phone to the site managers to check on the weekend's business. By mid-morning I like to get out for a jog around the golf course and onto the beach for about 40 minutes and God bless mother who still sorts out our lunch. Her soup is still the best! Tuesdays, I'm in the Lakes with Tony from P&H. He is an invaluable source of knowledge on all aspects of retailing. Together over the past few years, we have rationalised our shop stock, standardised the ranges we carry and planogrammed each shop to precision! His attention to detail is almost obsessive and I'm sure he stock rotates in his sleep poor wife! Tuesdays we are in the Lakes to get round the sites; Wednesday is an office day when we run the payroll for our 40-odd employees; Thursdays we are back in the Lakes and the paperwork returns to HQ so that the management information can be produced every Friday.

The winter is not the best time of year for us, as the tourists hibernate till fairer weather tempts them out particularly so this winter. The Lake District was hit by so much rain during November that the lakes and rivers burst over causing extensive flooding. We had to close three sites for several days as the roads were under water. The water came to within an inch of flooding one of our shops and the petrol pumps were almost totally submerged. Amazingly when the water subsided we switched the power back on and they worked. It's a good advert 'Gilbarco Eurolines water resistant to 50 metres'! The snow of January kept the roads quiet too, so our figures for the past three months are none too pretty.

Still it seems we are all in the same boat. BP and Shell reported significant losses on last year. My heart bleeds for them!

Our financial year ended on February 28 so we spent a couple days with all hands on deck to count everything for the annual audit. I trained as an accountant for several years with Ernst & Young in Manchester. It's always good to bring something to the table in business, so our books go to the accountants well prepared. You can't go bust making a profit, the old man used to say, so we keep making a profit and we've not gone bust yet. Business is that simple!

I had a reply from my MP Tim Farron (Lib Dem for Westmorland) we've had the pleasure of serving him with fuel on several occasions to a letter I wrote regarding the excessive escalation in our business rates and, in particular, the way the Valuations Office Agency treats valuations on a national level, with no allowance for local variations. We have rural sites where the car is often a necessity and not a convenience. A 58% rise in rates is tough to take. All retailers in a similar situation should write to their relevant MP to keep the pressure up for a change. I suspect we'll have to take the huge rates increase on the chin, but I am determined to reduce our own cost structures. A pound saved is a pound earned! We must rationalise, ditch the blue sky thinking, lose a bit of weight and get fit. Me too! The economic recovery is fragile and we need to sit tight. If you are not sure then do nothing, as the old man used to say! Our mission is to pass the business on stronger than it was before, play a bit of golf and enjoy the ride! So far so good I'm sure the old man would be proud.


Simon Hockings:

Name: Simon Hockings

Job title: Company director

Company: AUK Investments Ltd, founded in 1966 by my father Reg. I operate six forecourts with my brothers Angus and Marcus

Mission: To maximise its potential, diversify, develop and build for the future and to pass it on stronger than it was before

Career history/biog: Trained as accountant with Ernst & Young in Manchester

Greatest achievement: Still waiting for that one!

Hobbies: Golf, football, getting out and about in the Lakes for walks, and mountain biking

Most likely to say: "Come on you Pool" (keen supporter of Blackpool FC)

Least likely to say: "It's my round"

Tip for business success: You can't go bust making a profit





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