Everyone, from my girlfriend through to petrol retailers, asks what my work consists of on a daily basis! Put succinctly, we buy and sell petrol stations, but as dedicated property advisers to the fuel retailing industry, we do anything from valuations through to rent reviews, development advice and business rates.
As a consequence, no two days are the same. I live in Cheshire and I usually spend two days a week in our Birmingham office, with the remainder of my time spent with clients. We cover the entire country, including Ireland, so that does mean a lot of miles on the road. I will also spend one or two days a fortnight in London with investors (who own petrol stations leased to operators) and banks.
Despite the hours in the car, I do seriously value spending time with clients and seeing their properties, as it enables us to properly understand their needs.
When Amanda and I set up Barber Wadlow at the beginning of 2009, our goal was to provide a personable service to independent retailers. We both used to work for big corporate advisers, but given the small-scale nature of the fuel retailing industry, we were struggling to invest time in independent retailers’ property matters. And we have seen an ever-increasing demand for our services over the past three years, despite the difficult market conditions.
On a daily basis, we are dealing with disposals and lettings of sites on behalf of retailers, who range from the Top 50 Indies through to single-site operators.
We have, in the past 12 months, sold and let sites to the Co-Op, Martin McColls, MPK Garages and Park Garage Group, as well as some of the major supermarkets. We also deal with acquisitions our largest transaction to date was the acquisition of Motor Fuel Group where we advised the new owners. This transaction involved a lot of late nights to ensure a successful conclusion on Christmas Eve.
After an early meeting, I may then move on to another site in order to inspect for valuations that we have been asked to carry out, or possibly business rates appeals, redevelopment advice, etc. In respect of the latter, we are finding many retailers are being faced with the need to make substantial investment in their sites, such as expansion of shops, in order to fend off new competition. A development cost does not always equal additional property value, therefore we will run appraisals to project future value post-development, to ensure financial viability.
If I can, I will try and get back into the office in order to catch up on some paperwork with our office manager, Sharn Mann. I will also run through any valuations. Amanda and I work very closely on all instructions. Amanda’s expertise is second-to-none she has worked with many of the big oil companies and independent retailers over the past 25 years. She is also a practising Independent Expert and Arbitrator, therefore if any retailer falls out with their landlord on a rent review, in all probability it will be Amanda who is instructed as a third party to seek a fair settlement.
Last year was a big one for us, as we were appointed property advisers to the RMI. As part of this role, we have assisted many RMI members with their property-related issues, whether that’s advising on a business exit strategy for a retiring operator, or handling lease renewal negotiations.
Part of my day will always be spent dealing with these matters, as well as working with the RMI itself on the next challenge against the VOA on business rates, which are set to be re-valued in 2015.
And after a busy week at work, the weekend is definitely for relaxing. My big hobby is horse racing, which may even rival my passion for petrol filling stations (one day I want to run my own site!). But even in horse racing, I cannot get away from petrol retailers. Last year, I won a race at Cheltenham which was sponsored by Warners Retail (a lá Guy Warner) and the part owner of the horse has since bought a number of petrol station investments!