Brother and sister, Babu and Vijaya Sivarajah, run the Aylesford Service Station on the outskirts of Maidstone in Kent. It’s on a busy road that runs onto the M20. There are many industrial units nearby, plus a huge Waitrose distribution centre.
Babu says the site was pretty run- down when they took over last September, but they invested £40,000 to give it a makeover. That plus the move to Best-One resulted in a massive rise in turnover - from £4,000 a week to £9,000.
"When we took over, the shop just offered car care bits plus cigarettes, sweets and papers. We invested in chiller equipment; Bestway advised us about ranging and the business has just grown and grown. The Bestway rep still constantly monitors the range to see what’s selling and advises us when changes are needed."
The biggest change in terms of range is the amount of chilled foods on offer. A vast chiller has pies, pasties, sandwiches and subs plus the components customers would need to make their own sandwiches.
There are also lots of chilled soft drinks and wine and beer. "We’re expanding our wine range. It does sell well - mainly on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights - but we want to push it further and I’m thinking of doing a leaflet drop to promote it."
The forecourt is open 6am-8pm, Monday to Saturday but is closed on Sundays. At present they get one delivery a week from Bestway but that might soon rise to two. Deliveries come direct from the depot in Northampton but Bestway is opening a cash and carry/distribution depot in nearby Gillingham in October.
Babu says he spends between £2,500 and £4,000 a week with Bestway; the rest of the stock comes direct from other suppliers.
There’s a sandwich bar right next door but it closes at 2pm so Babu picks up the trade then. However he is negotiating to take over the space, knock through to make the shop bigger and put in a self-service takeaway offer.
There are a lot of car-care lines dotted about the shop. Babu says he inherited them from the previous owner but he is trying to whittle them down. He says: "We do have some unusual lines like kettles and mini ovens but that’s because we get lots of lorry drivers in." The free coffee he gives them in the mornings helps to keep them coming back.
He also has lots of maps on display and he says these are for the lorry drivers who are "sick and tired of sat nav taking them the wrong way".
When he took over, the site was doing 45-50,000 litres-a-week on fuel, now it’s 70,000. The pole sign says Independent Fuels and Babu mainly deals with CPL. He says it’s all quite straightforward and he’s happy with the arrangement.
== Seaside success ==
Anwar Rana has been in the forecourt business for nearly 30 years. He began by working for Amoco but for the past 11 years he’s been running the Richborough Service Station site near Sandwich in Kent. On the shop side, he’s been with Palmer & Harvey and then Key, but switched to trading as a Best-One Express last summer.
"The people at Bestway attracted me," he explains. "They were honest and prompt with their responses to queries, plus they are competitive."
Unfortunately Anwar has had roadworks right outside his forecourt for the past two years, which are there while workers create a dual carriageway on the busy Dover to Ramsgate road. Unfortunately they have had a terrible effect on his business - he lost 40% of his fuel sales as drivers who were keen to avoid lengthy delays found alternative routes, but luckily he hung onto his shop sales. "The men working on the roads came in, plus we have a massive Pfizer site close by and staff from there come in regularly," he explains.
The effect on sales of fuel - which is supplied by Texaco - was devastating. Volume went down from five million litres to 2.5 million at the worst time. Now volume is up to just over three million litres and growing. Says Anwar: "Luckily the roadworks finish next month. There will be further works but they will place us right on a busy roundabout which will be good news."
As if the roadworks were not enough, Anwar also has to contend with tough competition with a Total site almost directly opposite and a Jet site just down the road. But he reckons that when all the roadworks are complete the Jet site will be sidelined.
His forecourt is impressive. Quite simply it’s massive - with a double entrance and exit. The canopy height allows double-decker height vehicles in, and the length is okay for lorries.
There’s a restaurant that used to be a Little Chef right next door. It uses the forecourt as its entrance and Anwar says that helps business. Plus he rents space on his forecourt to a hand car washing outfit. For the future, he would like to extend the store into a mini supermarket. He has the land and could easily double the shop space.
At present the shop is around 500sq ft. Turnover is £8,500 but Anwar reckons it could easily reach £12,000-£13,000. Since switching to Bestway he says his margins have improved.
He gets 85% of his stock from Bestway: "The only reason we don’t get the rest from then is because they don’t stock it. Their promotions are popular, so much so that my customers look out for them."
One of the reasons Anwar and Babu joined Best-One was because the fascia was different - in Kent they are surrounded by other symbol groups, but they wanted to stand out. However with Bestway’s plans to expand they’ll probably be seeing more Best-Ones around the county.
=== Fact file:best-one ===
Number of members: 450, including 15 forecourts.
Requirements for membership: turnover in excess of £8,000 per week; retailers must be prepared to bring their stores up to Best-One specification; support drop shipments promotions and core ranging as well as implement scanning. They must also meet an agreed minimum spend - all negotiations are individual.
Members’ benefits: a focused image; shopfitting and merchandising services; drop shipments; consumer-led promotions; exclusive label; EPOS and scanning solutions; finance and insurance facilities; fully delivered service with 14 days credit (subject to status); on-going business support and advice. Plus no central office surcharge, no joining or annual fees.
Own label: Best-In own-label range of around 400 products.
Promotional activity: four-weekly promotions supported by POS and leaflets. Also available are ’profit earners’ on a three-weekly cycle which include Bestway Cash and Carry Diamond and Platinum promotions.
2007 and beyond: so far this year, 14 new Best-One stores have opened. A standalone coffee concept is also being trialled. In March a quarterly membership magazine was launched.