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

You know standards are high at the forecourt at Toomey's Southend Motor Village when you arrive and spot the manager Mark Dance straightening a sign on one of the petrol pumps. It's not so much that he's adjusting the sign, more that he's wearing suit trousers, a shirt, tie and waistcoat. But, once you visit the forecourt and the accompanying Spar store, you realise his outfit reflects the business' incredibly high standards. Mark runs the site for owner, Michael Toomey, who has a second forecourt at Basildon. The Southend site, a busy transient one on Cherry Orchard Way a connecting road from Southend to Rochford opened in October 2008, with a 1,683sq m canopy, which at the time was the largest on any petrol filling station in Europe.

Bonds that drive profit

With eight Texaco branded service stations and convenience stores, 14 workshops, a major wholesale tyre business, a rental property business, emus, deer, cattle and around 800 new-born lambs to contend with, it's not surprising that Richard Whittemore is up before dawn most mornings. While Richard's main focus is his automotive businesses, he represents many modern forecourt retailers who have diversified their business portfolio to ensure success, with their forecourts being just one string to their business bow.

Rising to the challenge

There have been many petrol filling station knock-down-rebuilds which have transformed the existing site into a modern-day forecourt operation, but perhaps few have required quite such vision and creativity to maximise the opportunity, as the owner of Abbeyside Services in Selby, Nick Baker. He has built an imposing two-storey modern forecourt operation with a total of 4,000sq ft of floor space, on a tiny, crazily-shaped plot of less than half an acre a triangulated piece of land which tapers sharply at the back to a width of a couple of feet. Where there was once a small and dated forecourt with a tiny Mace shop, now stands a large glass-fronted building, high and proud on one of the main roads into the centre of town, attracting both commuters and local residents to its mesmerising array of offers.

P&G hosts inaugural 'Shelfhelp' forum to help retailers win in convenience

P&G has reaffirmed its commitment to the convenience and impulse channel by hosting its first ShelfHelp forum. The event brought together the company’s 'ShelfHelpers' retailer ambassadors, all selected by P&G at the start of the year, to work in collaboration with P&G’s convenience teams across its core household categories - laundry, homecare, health & beauty and baby.

10 years in the making

Last month East Yorkshire-based Jos Richardson & Son proudly marked 125 years in business, with a celebratory lunch with family, friends and business associates. It was a great occasion and coincided with the official launch of the company's new £4m service station and truck- stop development on Junction 36 of the M62 at Goole a project which has taken 10 years to complete but is already paying dividends, according to managing director Joe Richardson, who runs the business with his sister Jane, and co-directors Karen Marshall and Graham Andrews: "Our HGV diesel sales have doubled, the petrol station is 30% up on previous retail sales and rising," he says. "The shop is already at £30k, and rising. The Subway is at £7k a week. So we're very happy."

Driving retail

As the first of the MRH/Co-op trial sites opened last month in High Road, Eastcote, west of London it was a great moment for MRH chief executive Karen Dickens and her team, who are on a focused mission to upgrade and grow the company's network. The opening was a very jolly occasion, with children from a local primary school doing the honours, on an open day attended by local dignitaries and executives from MRH and Lone Star, the US private equity firm that bought MRH in January 2016.

Blood, sweat and hopefully no tears

Regular readers of Forecourt Trader will be familiar with the long-running saga of Tollgate Services, a Shell site just off the A2 at Gravesend. They will also therefore be familiar with the determination of its owner, Simon Privett, to defy plans by BP to build a service station and drive-thru McDonald's just 50m from his site, which could ruin his business.

King of the road

Aas the news broke that Rontec was extending its partnership with Morrisons with plans for a further 40 Morrisons Daily convenience stores across its network, I was in the hot seat literally in the back of the car with Rontec's legendary chairman and chief executive, Gerald Ronson, on one of his equally legendary regular site tours. "It's a major development programme between two companies who have a similar 'can do' culture," he says. "We've done 10 Morrisons sites, and the figures so far are encouraging. We're doing another batch of 40, but our network has the potential for at least another 50 from a locational and size point of view potentially we could have up to 100 sites under the Morrisons banner by the end of the year. It should give us another £50-70m turnover. It's keeping the team busy! But it's where I believe this industry is going."

Duo with a wealth of retail experience

In 1974 Dermot Dowling had already ignited a passion for petrol retailing when he set up Petrocell Holdings. Forty-two years later and now into his 70s, Dermot no longer handles the day-to-day running of the company but, as chairman, remains an active force within the business. The engine of Petrocell Holdings is now managing director, Alan Spackman; plus financial director Elaine Reed; and Dermot's two sons, John and Pat.

Forging ahead

It's been a busy start to the year for PRA chairman Brian Madderson, as he responds to the many media requests that follow any news relevant to the forecourt retailing sector. In this case, it was the usual flood of calls to appear on national TV and radio to comment on the rising fuel prices.

First-class forecourts

Our round-up of the Forecourt Trader of the Year 2016 winners moves on to the Midlands and Northern England

Making a splash

For the past few years, car washing has been gradually side-lined by the growth of the forecourt convenience retailing business as well as the competition from hand car wash operators.

Raw talent

Joan and Barry Raw make a very talented brother and sister team. Together they have developed a network of four successful forecourt operations which collectively sell 24 million litres of fuel a year.

Cashing in on chips

Walk through the main doors of Syston Service Station and you're faced with a tough choice: turn left into the smart Spar convenience store or right into the ultra modern Mackays fish and chip shop. Luckily for owners James Kemp and Simon Mackay, most customers visit both parts of the business as they complement each other rather nicely. Part of the Carsley Group, the men along with their business partner Charles Masters took over the site back in February 2015. Then it was a Mace store, with the 3,000sq ft space decked out in Mace's corporate blue. They immediately switched to Spar and put in a stud wall, which took the sales space down to 2,000sq ft. They then used the other 1,000sq ft as a stockroom while they considered their options.

Making a marque

Sunshine, blue skies and country roads there couldn't be a better build-up to seeing the new Murco branding. Driving round a bend on the A30 in Stour, Dorset, and there it is, standing out in all its freshly-installed, star-spangled glory, attracting the attention of motorists surprised by the colourful transformation.

Being served

Rachael Hockmeyer runs a mighty fine petrol station for someone who drives an electric car! Yes, she is teased particularly at Texaco meetings but she is more than comfortable squaring the financial and environmental benefits of her car, with running an excellent forecourt convenience store and workshop business, serving the needs of her hungry and carbon fuel-dependent motoring customers.

Cheeky chappie

The entrepreneurial spirit is certainly alive and kicking on UK forecourts nationwide, and none more so than in the north east in Darlington to be precise where independent retailer Nick Baker of NJB Services has been working hard launching his own brand of coffee.

Fortunes on the Rise

Suci and Aruna Sucindran own and operate Yari Petroleum Ltd, known as Bishops Rise Service Station, a 3.9mlpa modern freehold site situated in Hatfield, Herts. It recently rebranded to Gulf, the first of a number of important steps the couple are taking as they look to the future. Formerly a flagship forecourt for Harvest, the move to Gulf and supplier Certas Energy has resulted in unleaded and diesel volumes both rising by around 1,000 litres a day. The site now benefits from a more competitive pricing structure and a renowned fuel brand.

All Hans on deck at Ravensthorpe

Ravensthorpe Service Station recently distinguished itself by being recognised as the 500th Gulf-branded forecourt. But it is also making a name for itself in its local town of Dewsbury, having been transformed into a leading edge forecourt and convenience operation following a four-month knock-down-rebuild.

Redditch rejuvenated

The sale of Brooklyn Motors, Redditch, in 2009 signalled a crossroads in the career of Jackie Braziel. She was the forecourt manager but unfortunately the new owners, Bristol Street Motors, had no plans for a filling station.

Passing the baton

Susie Hawkins always knew she was going to join the family business Top 50 Indie the Simon Smith Group but she joined sooner than she'd intended.

Winning legacy

Winning Forecourt Trader of the Year was amazing," says Jay Gohil, managing director of the Gohil family business, centred in Cosford, Albrighton, Wolverhampton. "It opened a lot of doors for us. The fact we won the award meant people like the Lakeside Group asked us to join. That changed a lot of what we did Subway came along which enabled us to open more stores. Where we are today, (a growing business employing 80 staff, with the original two forecourts, plus one standalone Subway, two Spar stores, and another in development) can be tracked back to when we won the award."

Ups and downs

The past year has been a high-profile one for fuel, with volatile petrol and diesel prices often making headlines, including claims in January that average petrol prices might even fall below £1 per litre.

Allied for success

In 1988, Peter and Pat Bellini bought a piece of land and set about building a forecourt and shop. Today, Bellini's of Ilkeston is a flag bearer for small businesses; a multi award- winning site (the couple won Forecourt Trader of the Year in 2004) and the last remaining independently owned forecourt in a town dominated by hypers.

Making a difference

Slowly but surely, and using a tried and trusted formula, Peregrine Retail is making its mark in the South West of England.

Sandringham gem

HKS, the Leicester-based Top 50 Indie, last month celebrated its 31st birthday with the launch of its flagship site, HKS Sandringham, its biggest development to date. It was a busy month for the successful Thakrar family business, with confirmation that it has acquired seven new sites from Shell, to add to its 27-strong network.

Life's a Breeze for Harvest

Last month Harvest Energy launched a new sub-brand Breeze on a redeveloped site at Holmer Green, near High Wycombe. The company describes it as the first 'virtually attended' filling station in the UK. The 'attendants' are 100 miles away in Peterborough, remotely operating the forecourt as if they were on site, through a state-of-the-art system of CCTV links, Scheidt & Bachmann fuel pumps and Clou CRID card payment technology.

Forecourt sites win two Londis awards

Two forecourts picked up awards when Londis announced the winners of its annual Store of the Year awards.

Sewell on the go opens new lorry park

The first purpose-built lorry park on the A63 Westbound, at Hull, has been opened by Sewell on the go, which is ranked 23rd in Forecourt Trader's Top 50 Indies.

Smiles all round

It's happy days for Mike Cheskin's two Gulf-branded Gloucestershire forecourts as volumes and profits have increased by over 25% and his daughter Ruth demonstrates that you can teach an old dog new tricks.

The forecourt site saga

As I arrive at Exelby Services' new £6.5m filling station and truck stop just off the A1M at Leeming Bar, I am greeted with a broad smile the type of smile that reflects a great sense of pride and relief that this state-of-the art facility is finally up and running and proving its worth.

Boosting value

You don't expect to see pallets loaded with bulk packs of products in a forecourt convenience store, but that's just what you get at Bush Service Station, one of Top 50 Indie Falcon Sharma's 12-strong network of forecourts in and around the Midlands.

A growing force

The total number of sites run by the Top 50 Indies has surged by more than 300 compared with last year, boosted by MFG's acquisition of more than 220 sites from Murco, and the continuing sell-off of sites by other oil companies.

Full of beans

It's going to be an especially busy year for Joe Richardson, managing director of Goole-based Jos Richardson & Son, a family-owned business with five forecourts in the north east.

Provident pastures

Last month the Top 50 Indie Dewsbury-based Brookfield Group, held a grand celebration to mark the opening of its new £2m forecourt development in Pocklington, East Yorkshire. The launch of the new-to-industry site was marked by a two-day event which included a visit from a Ferrari Formula 1 racing car, giveaways and a wide range of in-store offers.

Building business

It's a busy time for the Simon Smith Group with the imminent knockdown rebuild of two of its seven filling stations. The new sites include shops with a combined floor space of 5,000sq ft, which will add impetus to the firm's retailing business. Plans are also in place to introduce a Post Office to one, further strengthening community interaction.

Sites for sore eyes

Life in the fast lane, for many of us is literally just that charging down the outside lane of the motorway in a rush to get to the next appointment, whether that is work or play. But wouldn't it be nice to get off once in a while and take that frown off your face? If you do, there's no better place to do it than the relative oasis of calm that has been created by Westmorland Ltd and its 'family' of sites on the M6 in Cumbria Tebay Services, northbound and southbound; Junction 38 Services; the Rheghed Centre; and more recently the amazing new development on the M5 northbound Gloucester Services.

Social climbers

If you're not posting or tweeting, uploading or linking you could be missing a promotional trick. That's because more and more forecourt retailers are using the likes of Facebook and Twitter to boost their profile in their community and promote what they do.

Sound vision

Falcon Garage is an amazing new development that displays great vision. And so will its customers when plans to open an opticians on the forecourt reach fruition later on this year. The site, in Tadley, Hampshire, is owned by Suresh Patel and his wife Usha, and has been totally transformed during the 27 years since they bought it as a traditional-style Texaco-branded forecourt with workshops and a tiny shop.

Partners for profit

Strong growth continues to underpin the financial performance of MPK Garages Ltd, with the Leicester-based forecourt operator reaping the benefits from its partnership with Londis and an incisive fuel supply strategy. Last year's turnover for the Top 50 Indie rose by over 20% as its portfolio of 25 filling stations, based predominantly in the East and West Midlands, achieved shop sales of £9m. "We drive growth organically and, where we can see a strong return, through acquisition," explains Paul Kershaw, director of MPK Garages.

The Winning Legacy

When the Chartman Group's Winning Post site in Exeter finally opened its doors on May 14 it was the culmination of a seven-year plan to create a legacy. It hasn't all been plain sailing, but by being patient, and with a bit of good luck thrown in, the end result means the site has more than earned its title of 'Winning Post'.

"We bought the site from BP seven years ago with a view to developing it," explains director Clive Sheppard. "It was tired then and we knew it was past its sell-by date. It was an old-style site with a four-square layout and a kiosk, which had been expanded in the '90s. But the forecourt surfaces were cracked and we were forever getting potholes plus the roof in the office used to leak!"

The company did its best to make the most of the 600sq ft Spar shop and forecourt, which is located on the A38 at the end of the M5 also known as the Devon expressway. But the obvious question to ask is why did it take so long to develop it? In contrast the answer is very short planning!

"In the beginning the planning issues dragged endlessly on," explains Clive. "The site is next to an area of scientific interest. Secondly, the area in general is in the Haldon Forest, a rural area. The third aspect, it is the gateway to the Teignbridge District, and the Council wanted something that would set their area in a good light.

"From our perspective we wanted to get the right development done and were a bit constrained by the land we had available. It was important for us to have a state-of-the-art place and we wanted this to be our main development our head office is just down the road. This was also going to be our flagship site we wanted something to be proud of, something that would make people turn their heads as they went by, something with the wow factor.

"It was a challenge and you don't get many of those opportunities in a lifetime. Some companies are developing sites all the time and it becomes a routine thing. We've done a number of developments, but we wanted this to be the biggest and the best."

The planning issues involved endless meetings and a burden of bureaucracy. The situation wasn't helped when the planning officer retired and a younger person took over. "He didn't seem prepared to take any responsibility which was quite frustrating. He would always veer on the side of caution and have to ask someone else, so progress was very slow," says Clive.

The first planning application included a hotel, in the lower area of the four- to five-acre site. However, the Chartman group couldn't find anyone interested. Plus there were also niggles over the size of the forecourt plot.

"We were never quite happy because everything was quite cramped on the site. We approached the Little Chef next door about buying some land from them but that didn't go anywhere. Then Little Chef went into receivership and we seized the opportunity and eventually bought the whole plot from them in January 2012.

"We got it by the seat of our pants. On the day we completed January 31, 2012, one of the Irish banks that had picked up the shell of the business and the government announced there wouldn't be any more asset sales. We just literally got in there at the last minute with the purchase."

Little Chef owned a lot of land, so the acquisition boosted the Chartman Group's plot by about two-thirds to 14 acres, giving the company control of everything around it. "If we hadn't bought the Little Chef we would have had to make a decision, whether to compromise the development, or to keep waiting. As it turned out we waited a while it was long enough but it worked out. We could see the Little Chef was on its last legs, and wouldn't survive."

The acquisition opened the door to going back to the architects and getting a new brief. "We wanted something that would be in-keeping with the natural environment, and the setting," says Clive. Hence the stanchions on the canopy are designed to resemble Silver Birch trees. "We liked the idea of the starting gate layout with the HGVs and ordinary traffic integrated under the same canopy."

Another stroke of luck came in the choice of construction company. Fortunately they chose William Southern (Plymouth). Another favoured company went into administration. "If we had used them they have to take control of the site during construction contractually we would have been stuck," says Clive.

After seven long years, and much activity, including a move to Esso supply in line with the group's seven other sites work finally started in January (see our reports in each issue from April). The site closed for business on March 3, and despite the excitement of the impending development, Clive admits to a few tears as he closed the door on the shop for the last time. The site re-opened after a magnificent transformation on May 14. The 2,000sq ft Spar shop, with its extensive range, including grocery, chilled, off licence, local produce, Costa Coffee and branded Winning Post food-to-go area, is already up to £28,500 a week. Fuel volumes are up to 167,000 litres a week (up from 125,000).

So has it all been worth it? "It was a fantastic experience," says Clive. "It's very hard work and you're living on the edge of your nerves, but I really enjoyed it. The transformation, bringing something up from the ground, it gives you a great sense of power at what you've created. Like having a baby! You're left with a tremendous sense of pride and achievement."

Creating a legacy (Pt 3)

Exeter-based Top 50 Indie, the Chartman Group, has finally completed the redevelopment of its flagship Winning Post site on the A38 at Haldon Hill (see April and May issues for previous reports). The site lies within an area of great landscape value, and the design brief was for a high-quality development in sympathy with its surroundings, and distinct from the normal filling station appearance. In order to achieve this, the canopy lid has been designed to reflect a tree canopy spread, supported on slender raking columns which represent the trunks, further enhanced by minimising fascia signage. The store is clad in a sustainable alternative to real wood to provide a natural feel. The weekly reports were provided by John Carp, site manager of Williams Southern Ltd.

Pride of Portsbridge

It's been a painstaking process but last month saw the opening of a glorious redevelopment of a forecourt site in Cosham, Portsmouth, by the family-run Garner Group. Brothers Mike and Tim Garner, along with financial director Dave Auger, have overseen an amazing transformation of Portsbridge Service Station, a small, traditional garage on a restricted irregular-shaped plot, which has been brought into the 21st century with a modern, spacious Jet-branded forecourt, and a stylish 2,200sq ft Nisa convenience store. It is also the first petrol station in the country to feature the new Nisa format.

Creating a legacy (Pt 2)

After a rather flood-ridden start, progress has continued steadily at the new leading-edge forecourt being built by the Chartman Group, the Exeter-based Top 50 Indie, which has nine sites. The company received planning approval for the redevelopment of its iconic Winning Post location near Exeter last year, and all was set for the start of the year, but the weather had other ideas. Work finally began in mid January. Director Clive Chartman describes the project as a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity", and says the intention is to build a flagship site for Chartman which will provide a legacy for the company, and a landmark on the A38 route into Devon and Cornwall. The weekly reports are provided by John Carp, site manager of Williams Southern Ltd.

A new beginning

They'd had their eye on it for eight years, and finally last December the Cheema family acquired their first forecourt.

Creating a legacy

When last-minute planning issues pushed back the start date on Chartman's knockdown and rebuild of its flagship Winning Post Filling station, near Plymouth, Devon, they could not have imagined what a challenge the elements would present.

Forecourt store picks up top convenience award

Former Forecourt Trader of the Year winner Parkfoot Garage was crowned Convenience Retailer of the Year 2014 at the Convenience Retail Awards, organised by trade magazines Convenience Store and The Grocer.

Sealing the deal

He said he'd never do it, but in February Ken Kay confirmed that he'd put all his eggs into one basket, by signing the final one of his 12 sites over to the Texaco brand. "I have never wanted to do it because putting everything in one basket is a risk, and I've always tried to balance risk," said Ken, who is CEO of the Blackburn-based Kay Group (UK) Ltd.

First Costco PFS to open by summer

The US retail giant Costco has confirmed to Forecourt Trader that its first UK petrol filling station (PFS) is scheduled to open before the summer.

Sainsbury's milestone

A new Sainsbury's forecourt and store represent a major milestone for the supermarket giant as the number of Sainsbury's Local stores has exceeded its supermarkets for the first time.

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Weekly retail fuel prices: 2 October 2017
RegionDieselLPGSuper ULUL
East120.5363.90127.17119.00
East Midlands120.03127.76118.80
London120.3757.90128.81118.85
North East119.80129.71118.46
North West120.19127.87118.63
Northern Ireland119.22125.23117.53
Scotland120.2463.80126.78118.50
South East120.7259.90129.39119.48
South West120.39128.00119.02
Wales120.0459.90126.47118.61
West Midlands120.0865.90128.12118.84
Yorkshire & Humber119.73127.02118.57

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