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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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Weekly retail fuel prices: 20 January 2020
RegionDieselLPGSuper ULUL
East Midlands132.93141.67128.44
North East131.55139.57126.67
North West132.1066.90140.54127.58
Northern Ireland129.82134.61125.46
South East133.80141.93129.03
South West132.9567.90139.13128.12
West Midlands132.7866.57142.07128.26
Yorkshire & Humber131.9963.90141.14127.34

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