A friendly welcome, a bit of banter and some sound purchasing advice are all part of the offer at Chaddlewood Garage in the Plympton area of Plymouth.
It’s a family business that’s been in operation for more than 75 years. Annette Boston, who has managed the company for the past 22 years with her sister Christine, is in no doubt about the reason for the business’ continued success.
She says: "As a family-run business I think we give that extra bit of service. We have some brilliant staff, some of whom have been working here for years. They’re always friendly and bring a real personal touch. I think people appreciate that and feel comfortable to stay a bit longer in the store, which hopefully leads to more sales."
This friendly atmosphere is not lost on her staff. In a time when it’s common for most retailers to complain about high staff turnover, it is refreshing to hear that many of Annette’s current team have been working at the store for more than five years, with some even clocking up a decade’s service.
The family atmosphere in store is further enhanced by the fact that Annette and Christine are the fourth generation to run the business. Plus there’s a fifth - Annette’s daughter, Kelly, who works full-time in the store - already waiting in the wings to take over.
== The generation game ==
First opened in 1931 by AG Edgecombe when he retired from the local dockyard, the company was passed down to his son Archie and daughter-in-law Dorothy in 1964.
Next came Molly Mills, daughter of Archie and Dorothy, who took over the business with her husband John.
John, who is still the company’s chairman, retired in 1985 to become Lord Mayor of Plymouth, leaving the day-to-day running of the business to his daughters Annette and Christine.
"I don’t think our great-grandfather ever thought that his family would still be running the business 75 years later, but it has just been a natural progression," says Annette.
A day of celebrations to commemorate the company’s 75th birthday took place last October.
"We wanted to mark the day with something special and also thank our customers, many of whom are locals who have stood by us down the years and shared in the changes to the business," explains Annette. "We had a magician, a ’guess the year’ competition, as well as giveaways and a prize draw to win a mountain bike, barbecue or surround-sound system."
The changes Annette refers to included last year’s decision to adopt a Mace fascia. "We’ve been dealing with Palmer & Harvey for nearly 40 years, and they’ve given us lots of support, but we came to a point where we felt a ’symbol’ would be good. We wanted to be seen as a proper convenience store operation rather than a forecourt with a shop tagged on.
"Aesthetically we also liked the look of the Mace livery against its competitors.
"We have still got a free hand to sell what we like and Mace does not restrict us in any way but they do support us when we need it."
== Only indie in the village ==
The move to a symbol fascia came at the same time as Chaddlewood found itself as the only independent forecourt in the surrounding village of Plympton.
Annette explains: "There were four or five independent forecourts in Plympton. Now it’s just us and we have to face competition from a Tesco, Sainsbury, Somerfield and two Plymco stores. But Mace has been great with its in-store offers and this has allowed us to remain competitive with the supermarkets.
"Our professional new look coupled with our loyal customer base have meant we can not only stay competitive but we can also grow."
Recent growth includes the addition of an in-store bakery, which Annette confirms has been a revelation in terms of sales.
Annette and her sister are keen to find out exactly what their customers want and so carry out local surveys on a regular basis.
"Again it’s going that extra step," she explains. "We like to take into account what our customers want when they come into the store, the surveys allow us to do that and also to concentrate on individual sections, which maybe aren’t performing as well as we thought."
The shop now has a turnover of £21,000 a week, and Annette admits that shop sales are more profitable than the fuel side of the business. However, she says this doesn’t mean they have taken their eyes off issues surrounding the forecourt.
Initially supplied by Mobil, the company is now supplied by BP, and sells 150,000 litres of fuel a week.
Annette says: "We have no problems with BP and we like the brand. The company is also very up to date on the latest regulations and issues, which helps keep us informed and help us get across to the customers what is right for them. We always try to emphasise to customers the better quality fuel they get from our pumps and the help it gives their vehicles. Hopefully we are getting through to some of them."
== Forward thinking ==
One area that Annette is keen to explore further is the option of introducing biofuels to the business.
She says: "It is something that I have been keeping an eye on together with the cost of supplying it. We were considering trying LPG but it hasn’t really taken off so I’m glad we kept our options open on that."
Annette’s current focus is on making the most of her new in-store bakery/food-to-go section. Plans to introduce baguettes, sandwiches and salads are in the pipeline.
She says: "We are always looking at tweaking things in order to get the maximum we can from the site. The shop isn’t that big and there is only so much we can do. But what we can ensure is that everything we stock is spot on, and in line with the majority of our customers’ requirements."
There’s no doubt that Annette and her sister are devoted to their work but they are also devoted to making sure that both staff and customers feel like part of one big happy family.
=== Facts: ===
Name: Chaddlewood Garage
Location: Plympton, Devon
Fuel sales: 150,000 litres a week
Shop turnover: £21,000 a week
Staff: 21, 6 full-time, 15 part-time
Opening hours: 6am-11pm, seven days a week
Strengths: Friendly staff, in-store bakery