It could be argued that forecourt retailing in the UK has taken a leap forward thanks to one independent site in Somerset.
The Esso-branded Budgens Local forecourt run by Phil and Lesley Tout in the village of Langford has just been doubled in size to create a 3,000sq ft selling space. It has a large food-to-go operation selling everything from whole cooked chickens to Indian takeaways (and every kind of naan bread you could imagine). It has an impressive fresh and chilled offer, an off licence, and excluding food-to-go, the store sells 7,000 lines. There’s even an upmarket hair salon on site run by the Tout’s daughter Buffy.
But it’s the fresh offer that’s proving to be big business. Sales of fruit and veg are currently making up about nine per cent of all sales, which is treble the amount at an average forecourt. And with fresh, says Phil, you need to take a different approach.
“What you’ve got to do with perishable goods is get used to chucking it out,” he says. “The secret of success is not to be frightened of wastage – if you’re not throwing any out, you’ve not buying enough, so you’ll be missing a customer.”
While the Touts have been in the petrol business for 25 years, they do not come with a wealth of experience in food retailing. Phil was a motor mechanic by trade and slipped into petrol retailing after buying a repair workshop that also sold petrol in a small way. The couple then moved to Rowberrow to run a new-build petrol station with a 45sq metre kiosk, where they stayed for eight years. But just before embarking on the Rowberrow venture, they bought the freehold on the Langford site they operate today.
“The Langford site was the best in the area so we bought it when it was out on lease,” explains Lesley. “And when the lease expired we took it over, but we had to wait 10 years.”
Phil adds: “When we were rebuilding, it just so happened that Martin Hyson, chief executive of Budgens, was driving by and suggested we make it a Budgens. And quite honestly that is the best thing that’s happened to us.”
When the Touts first signed up to Budgens two and a half years ago, shop turnover was between £45,000 and £50,000. And when the site was in bits for the refit, they took an astonishing £60,000 in one week.
“Now we’ve doubled the size of the store we’re looking at doing £70,00-plus per week.”
The site sells around six million litres of fuel per year but Phil and Lesley say the shop is their main business now. “We earn much more out of the shop – more than double the profit of the fuel, so we don’t concern ourselves with how much fuel we sell.”
Because trolley shops have become the norm, the Touts have invested in a belted checkout. “Customers now prefer the belt because it’s quicker and easier for them,” says Phil. “We’re now going to have a twin-belt checkout.
“People think that you need to be in a town to have a decent supermarket, but if you put the right offer in, people will travel to you.”
And since the site reopened, the Touts have had fantastic response from their customers. “The locals are very enthusiastic about it, which we’ve found a bit strange coming from the motor trade where nobody likes you very much,” says Phil. “One customer said that it’s raised the whole feel of the area.”