Buoyed by a glowing report in last month’s Shop Doctor, Derek Lodge, chairman of Top 50 Indie Rusdene Services, invited me down to see this "marvellous" site in West Sussex, which was the subject of the article. Rusdene runs Gilhams Service Station in partnership with another Top 50 Indie, FW Kerridge. The
site was reopened last November following a comprehensive redevelopment and in its new guise has certainly been making its presence felt in the local community and beyond. I had already heard glowing reports from several other sources, so a visit was long overdue.
Approaching the site via the leafy countryside roads of rural West Sussex, it’s clear the three quarters of an acre site in Easebourne Lane, Midhurst, is situated in a very privileged part of the country, an area of outstanding and historic natural beauty. Just how privileged is clear when you arrive and discover it’s right next door to the sizeable Cowdray Estate, with its world famous Cowdray Park Polo Club (and royal associations), not to mention holiday cottages, clay pigeon shooting, Cowdray Park Golf Club and the ruined tudor mansion of Cowdray. In fact the backdrop of grazing ponies on lush green fields, separated by a hardwood rail fence, is more akin to scenes from a Jane Austen novel, than a bustling 21st century forecourt.
Because bustling it certainly was. The endless stream of customers seem positively gleeful that after many years of - by all accounts - a rather ramshackle BP petrol station, they now have something they are proud to embrace as the answer to all their local fuel and convenience needs. It also looks extremely smart for a petrol station.
"Architecturally we’ve made it as attractive as we could, and to blend in with the locality as much as possible - hence the slate roof and stonework," explains Derek, a chartered surveyor by profession who worked for Esso, building forecourts for many years before setting up Rusdene Services with a colleague more than 20 years ago. His expertise, experience - and patience - was a considerable asset not only in gaining planning permission for the redevelopment, but also in acquiring extra land from Cowdray Park, which increased the existing site by nearly one third. It provided space for the niceties such as landscaping to merge in with the field-side of the site.
While fuel volumes are hitting around 7 mlpa - and counting, as local forecourts disappear - it’s the sales growth in the 200sq m Nisa Local Essentials store that is providing the gasps of amazement. Targets are being met and broken, with weekly sales now approaching £40,000. And there is still the summer to come, with the activities at Cowdray Park, and nearby Goodwood, attracting many to the area. The off licence is a particularly thriving category, hence the extended specialist offer to serve those sorts of customers who arrive in their Aston Martins every week to buy a couple of £20 bottles of wine.
"We are throwing loads of labour at the store (we have 22 staff) and will continue to do so while the business is still growing as the important thing is to satisfy our customers." And with that he runs off to sort out another area of growth - congestion on the forecourt!