Joan and Barry Raw make a very talented brother and sister team. Together they have developed a network of four successful forecourt operations which collectively sell 24 million litres of fuel a year.
They complement each other well. Barry does the building. The colourful and engaging entrepreneur who lives abroad for most of the year having semi-retired in his 40s when he had "a bit of a touch with some land" can turn his hand to many things, and likes nothing better than wielding his mechanical digger across greenfield land creating the foundations of a profitable business.
His sister Joan, also a charismatic character, runs the business day-to-day, bringing many management and customer service skills learned in her previous career in the hotel business, to help with the design and efficient running of their four-site network.
The most recent site to join their Kenworth Ltd line-up was Chilton Service Station in County Durham. It is the latest new-build project developed by the company and features a four-island, eight-pump forecourt and a 200sqm Nisa store. It’s already proving its worth. Just a month after its official launch on August 11, from a standing start, it is doing twice the national average in fuel volume 5mlpa and counting, according to Joan.
"The opening was excellent," she explains. "Shop sales are already just over £20k a week, with more growth to come. In the first week the site was achieving the same volumes as our operation at Shildon."
The company’s Shildon site Redworth Service Station is on the outskirts of Bishop Auckland, and in July 2013 was the first of its filling stations to convert to a full Nisa-branded offer on both the shop and the forecourt, with the fuel supplied by Greenergy.
The move coincided with a refurbishment, following which sales increased by 20% almost overnight.
The growth in sales and footfall at Redworth Service Station, as well as what they describe as an impressive service from both Greenergy and Nisa, persuaded the Raw family to convert a second forecourt and shop at Wheatley Hill, near Durham, to the same Nisa/Greenergy formula. This second site opened after a refurbishment (including a shop extension to 90sqm) in November 2013, and the results exceeded the family’s expectations once again, with fuel volumes up 56% after the first three weeks’ trading, and shop turnover was up 51%.
Then in July 2014 the family completed its allegiance to the full-site Nisa-branded concept by converting its original site, Beacon Service Station, Catterick Garrison in North Yorkshire. Within six months it was again seeing impressive performances with a 52% rise in fuel volumes, and 60% increase in shop sales.
Then came the latest development at Chilton, which, like the sites at Shildon and Wheatley Hill, was built on a greenfield site.
"The land here was owned by the council," explains Barry. "We tried to buy it a decade ago but it was initially too expensive. However, 10 years and a bit of negotiation later, we finally sealed the deal last year. During that time the road system had changed, with the construction of the A167 Chilton bypass which made it a great location for a forecourt.
"The council were keen for us to develop it as it provides a good service to the town and was better than the other offers they were getting, which were mainly to develop recycling facilities! The site enhances the area, and provides another facility for the locals.
"It’s a huge forecourt its size and location means customers can pull straight in, get something for dinner, plus a bottle of wine, and be back out on the road quickly."
Joan and Barry seem genuinely excited about the current success of their filling stations, and are keen for further expansion, but staying in the forecourt business hasn’t always been that straightforward.
Barry originally started the business in late 1979 as a multi-franchise car dealership at the Catterick site, with the petrol side leased to his father. After about 10 years he got fed up with the car sales business and started doing some property development.
"When my father retired we got rid of the car dealerships which were bad news, and knocked everything down, replacing it with a big forecourt and a small shop which we expanded two years ago," says Barry. "It was then that I realised what good money there was in fuel. I then developed Wheatley Hill, and later the site at Shildon, both greenfield sites."
However in the years following the recession, sales and profits began to slowly decline, so they had a rethink about their business even to the point of considering turning the sites over for property development.
But they enjoy the fuel-retailing business it’s like a hobby and they decided to focus on making each of their sites a destination in itself, stocking a full range of convenience items, as well as offering competitively priced fuel, in good locations with modern facilities. After doing their homework and a visit to Nisa’s annual exhibition at Stoneleigh they took the plunge with the Nisa/Greenergy partnership, and haven’t looked back.
"The service and the price are the two key factors that have kept us with Greenergy," explains Barry.
"Being with Greenergy means we can compete with the supermarkets and still make money something we were never able to do when we were with a major. Greenergy has taken out the middle man. We have the freedom to set our own pricing, and we’ve never done so well on fuel. It’s price that sells fuel people will travel miles to save 2ppl.
"Plus the service is excellent. If I run out of fuel now, Greenergy will have a tanker here in two hours.
"Petrol retailing is a great business," stresses Barry.
"What other business could you go into, doing it as we do buying the land and building the sites ourselves and making the same return on the money. And if it all goes wrong in the future, I’ll just get my digger out, bulldoze t all down and do something else with the land!"