Rather than tear his hair out trying to think of new ways to boost his business, Steve Jones of Nuns’ Bridges Filling station on the A134 in Thetford, Norfolk, has decided to have it cut instead. Last month he opened a barber’s salon in his 1,800sq ft Spar store, which includes a Post Office, off licence, bakery and dry cleaning service (as well as a very posh loo).
The salon is set into one of the walls of his shop (cutting into storage area behind) and comes complete with washbasin, mirrors, glass-door frontage and of course, its very own professional barber by the name of Tom Carter.
The salon is called Motorhead - to combine the elements of fuel and hair - and looks extremely smart, if a touch incongruous in a forecourt store. But Steve thinks he’s hit on a ’cutting edge’ idea. "People need to have their hair cut and there are not many barbers in Thetford," he says.
"I’d been thinking of changing things around in the shop - the DVD rental business we had, for example was time-consuming to manage and not profitable - and found I had two metres of shelf space with nothing to put on it. When we redeveloped the shop three years ago I thought then about having a ’shop-within-a-shop’, so it’s always been in the back of my mind to do.
"The staff fell about laughing when I suggested the salon to them. But I think it has a lot of potential. We didn’t think many ladies would be interested in having their hair done on a forecourt, so we opted for the barber’s shop. We had six customers the first day and 26 in the first week. We’re charging £6.50 for a dry cut, with a special rate of £5 for boys up to 14 years old. We do take appointments but if Tom’s not busy, he’ll do it straight way. He’s here 8am to 5pm every day (half day Wednesday and closed on Sunday), with late opening till 7pm on Fridays."
Steve has spent £5-6,000 developing the salon, but it’s Tom business - he rents it from Steve, although the first two months are free while it gets going. "We’ll give it as long as it takes," stresses Steve enthusiastically. "I’ve just got a hunch about it."
Whatever happens, Steve has generated a lot of publicity for his site, with the launch of the salon attracting interest from both local and national press and TV. But more importantly, customers have so far shown great interest in the convenience - and novelty - of the service.
"Not only have we got passing trade here, we’ve got schools and the local community. So the salon is handy for mums picking up their sons from school, who can pop them in for a quick trim, and also ideal for people on the road," explains Steve. "Our second customer was a van driver who had travelled from Wales, and was so pleased with the service he said it was the best cut he’d ever had. So we’re giving quality - not just the service. If we give people a bad hair cut they won’t come back. The same applies to the rest of our business.
"We’re always trying to give a quality service. I think of how Marks & Spencer does things, and I don’t think forecourts should be any different. There is a lot of innovation in the forecourt sector - there has to be. Every time the fuel price goes up, the margin is eroded. You always have to think outside the box, to see what you can do. The salon is an add-on, we’re selling something extra."
Having started out on the site 17 years ago as a commission operator for Murco, Steve has used his wits and determination over the years, to buy it and - particularly with his latest venture - establish a business that you have to say is a cut above the rest!