Rural winner of the year 2004 Denis Lawrence has been in business for 25 years, and together with his niece Elaine and more recently wife Rita, has developed a sizeable portfolio. “We tend to develop a business – usually a convenience store – and then move on, selling the business leasehold, but retaining ownership of the property,” says Denis. “We started with £2,000 many years ago, and now have around 18 tenants, some commercial and some residential.” He acquired the garage in Llandrindod Wells, on the banks of the River Wye, mid Wales, seven years ago, not as a going concern, but as empty buildings which once operated as a traditional garage operation with workshops, showroom and fuel sales. It included a storage area and four-bedroom bungalow and had been on sale for a long time – he paid £169,000 for it. “The buildings were converted into a 2,000sq ft convenience store, then we ‘neglected’ it for a few years while we developed other businesses,” says Denis. “We returned to the site two years ago and embarked on a £400,000 development programme – which included £150,000 of grants, one from the Tourist Board, and one for businesses recovering from foot and mouth. In the first year after our return we had boosted turnover by 40% to combined shop and fuel sales of £1.2m. We did some customer research and expanded some parts of the shop such as news and snacks. We also built a café and turned the adjacent land into picturesque gardens where people can relax and take in the lovely views. “We are on the A470 – the main route between north Wales and Cardiff – and there are not many facilities around here, so we’re trying to provide tourists and passersby with what they need. The café is going so well – averaging more than 100 people a day – we will break even in 18 months.” Rural Oil Co/multi grocer-owned/mged Julia West has worked for Texaco for nine years, having started as a sales assistant and worked her way up to becoming a manager within three. She is currently working on the Jeremy’s Corner site in Bolney, West Sussex, which attracts both local custom from the village and commuter traffic from the nearby A23. Julia has been on the site for about a year and in that time the site has seen a significant increase in sales, due in no small part to her enthusiasm and energy in bringing the customers in. “When I arrived the site was a bit unloved,” she says. “I focused on trying to make it look good – keeping it clean, tidy and so on. But my speciality is promotional displays which create some in-store theatre and a focus for the customers. It reminds them what we sell, and we get a lot of favourable comments, which encourages customer interaction. At the moment we have a seasonal display with ice and snow to show off our de-icers. Winning the award is great – it’s nice to know that what we’ve been doing here is appreciated.” Rural Independent ten sites or more Vivo Templepatrick is one of 52 sites owned by Andrew Millar & Co. Around half of them have petrol forecourts. The Templepatrick site in Co Antrim has been in the group for four to five years. It is in a village location about 12 miles from Belfast, but on a key route to Belfast International Airport. It has a BP-branded forecourt, and a 7,500sq ft store offering a full grocery range, food to go, freshly baked bread, a butchery and fresh fruit and produce – although no off licence. It is run by 38 staff, a mix of full and part time. After completing her business degree Sharon McKenna joined the company seven years ago as a trainee manager, and has been running Templepatrick for 18 months. Drive-offs were extremely high, but close staff monitoring has alleviated the problem. Sharon works long hours at the site – which is open seven days a week from 6am to 12pm – but not doing paperwork. “Spending time on the shop floor is very important to keep an eye on what’s going on and get to know customers,” she says.