Having a Tesco Express open just down the road from your site would have most independent retailers running for the hills.
But not Rocky Leach. Rather than sit back and watch the competition start chipping away at his business, he started to make changes at his West Yorkshire site and show that - just like his Hollywood namesake - he wasn’t going down without a fight.
Rocky, who’s worked in the forecourt industry for 25 years, says: "It was November 2005 and we were doing £10,000 a week on the shop side, and with margins on fuel getting tighter it had become a necessity to expand the shop. We were very worried about Tesco opening - the store was a One-Stop before. So our plan of attack was to expand our shop to nearly double its size (from 800sq ft to 1,250sq ft), and go down the symbol route. We also vowed to do everything we could to match or beat Tesco in terms of standards and service."
Rocky, who is named after his dad’s best friend from his time in the Navy, decided to enlist the help of Spar. The group recommended that Rocky and his wife Alison overhaul and update the product selection at the Chellow Heights Service Station, which is on the B6144 on the outskirts of Bradford.
Rocky explains: "Our business has totally changed - we’ve really expanded our chilled and grocery offering, and we now offer a good wine and spirits selection. In fact, alcohol accounts for about a third of our sales and is our most profitable area. We’ve also added an external fee-paying ATM, PayPoint and a coffee machine, and we’ve got the Lottery coming in. As a result, our shop turnover has almost trebled to £27,000 a week.
"We get a lot of passing trade - we’re the last petrol station going out of Bradford before you get to more rural areas - but we also get a lot of local customers who walk in from the estates for their groceries. There are a lot of elderly customers who drive in for their daily shopping, we like to give them a bit of a hand."
Rocky and Alison haven’t noticed a jump in fuel sales at the BP forecourt, which remains at about 6mlpa. But they believe much of the store’s success is down to the help Spar gives with promotions, leaflet drops and POS materials. They’ve signed up for Spar’s Daily Value scheme, which has different offers that change every few weeks - while Spar monitors nearby stores to make sure their prices remain competitive.
Rocky, who runs another smaller site in Rossendale, Lancashire, which he is also considering moving to Spar, says: "People come in and say, ’do you know you’re cheaper than Tesco’s on that item’? It’s a great feeling."
The 24-hour site operates seven days a week, and has an open door at all times - Rocky is looking into getting a security guard, but currently it’s run through the night by two staff members.
Rocky has a degree in civil engineering but got into the forecourt business after his dad left the Navy and set up as a builder. His dad had a fuel account at a petrol station in the area and when it came up for sale he asked Rocky if he wanted to buy it with him. And Rocky has never looked back.
As for the future, as well as plans to modernise his Lancashire site, he is in negotiations to buy a chunk of land next to Chellow Heights. If successful, he wants to knock down his shop and build a new 3,000sq ft store, with extra space for alcohol and chilled food so he can expand his sandwich range. He also wants to offer more parking.
Rocky believes in being a hands-on site operator, and when he’s not in the shop he’s in his tiny office behind the store checking out WebSpar. Spar is busy putting broadband into its stores so retailers can access the service, which provides weekly bulletins with advice on how to cope with the latest legislation and keeps retailers up to date on new products which can be ordered online. Other services include being able to access staff training downloads and get advice on how to improve product displays. "I like to keep an eye on it - I don’t like to miss anything," grins Rocky.
When it comes to taking on the big boys at their own game, Rocky Leach is a true heavyweight.