== Callers having to drive really hard bargains ==
I’ve had two calls lately about cars. Fair enough I suppose - for people running forecourts it’s a not-unrelated subject although not one where I can profess much expertise.
I can spot Porsches, Jags and Minis (because I have one) but after that it’s mainly red cars, blue ones, square jobbies.
Nonetheless I found somewhere, hopefully helpful, to send my callers.
The first person was having an argument over his car insurance, so I referred him to the Financial Ombudsman on 0845 080 1800. It sounds an extremely friendly service with the boss doing his own welcome recording so if you have a bitch about banks (bounced cheques taken in all good faith etc) or insurance - he’s your man. And he is not without teeth, although in this case I don’t have an outcome yet.
My second caller was John McCormick who runs a petrol-station-cum-Spar-store just outside Belfast. At the end of March he ordered a new car, a Renault Megane 1500 diesel, which he saw offered in the Daily Mail at a very good price, to replace his gas-guzzling, insurance-intensive 6-litre Merc. "I assumed I would have to wait the normal three weeks," he says. It turned out to be nine.
When he rang me his tax and insurance were due to run out on June 16 and he had been given a delivery date of July 1. It was a sort of take-it-or-leave-it offer, he adds. "I could understand it if it was a Ferrari or a Porsche, but this is a mundane Megane."
I was interested in these two problems because, in both cases, they had nothing to do with retail.
Both operators were consumers, and consumers generally have all kinds of rights.
Trading standards, for example, will leap to attention at a consumer complaint whereas, if it’s business to business, you will be very lucky to enlist their help.
I sent John to ConsumerLine (08456 00 62 62) which is the Northern Ireland equivalent of Consumer Direct (08454 04 05 06) which services England, Wales and Scotland.
This is a government-funded service you can consult free over disagreements with suppliers, faulty workmanship, contracts, overcharging and so forth as long as you are calling as a consumer. They will tell you your rights.
As it turned out John didn’t really have any rights because there had been no contract involved, nothing in writing. However, after a quiet word with another dealer John learned that he was being bumped down the line in favour of others - simply a case of who bleats loudest gets the attention.
John threatened to ring Renault head office and he is now being told that mid-June is the likely date. He’s going to use his wife’s car for the intervening fortnight.
== Rescue may be in sight for Big Media customers ==
I had been hoping to report good news about a rescue package for the customers of Big Media, the company which went into voluntary liquidation on April 18, leaving some 230 forecourt sites with presently-useless screens in-store, advertising nothing at all.
It may still happen but the company that contacted me with the idea, and which is in discussion with several others (including, I believe, the leasing finance company), isn’t ready to go public yet.
If and when it does there will be space here to publicise it.
Meanwhile, if you are stuck with screens and want to talk to the company interested in taking over, get in touch and I will pass on your details.
== Look out for Londis’ new, improved offer ==
There’s a new, improved package on the way for forecourt stores that belong to the Londis group.
I’ve been talking to Rob Clifford whose site trades at Torpoint in Cornwall. He tells me that he has been part of a focus group which has been discussing ways to make the symbol group package more relevant for forecourts.
"We have issues with things like point of sale," says Rob. "People don’t usually walk past a forecourt, they drive past it, so signage needs addressing.
"We’re also looking at getting the supply chain to incorporate car care. It’s extremely positive.
"There are over 300 Londis sites selling fuels so it’s a big part of the estate. It should also help recruitment."
Rob has been part of two preliminary meetings so far and will be attending the first official strategy meeting - "the real head bashing" - in mid June in Yorkshire.
The group will also be visiting a model store that will be unveiled at the same time.