The coming year will mark a special point in the life of family-run independent HKS Retail. June 2 will mark its 25th year in business, and it has much to celebrate as it reflects on its successful journey in the petrol-retailing sector.
From operating a single site leased from Mobil in 1984, the three founding directors, brothers Hasmukh, Kamlesh and Sailesh Thakrar, (their initials form the name) have carefully steered the business - through sheer hard work and supported by other family members - to a creditable number nine in the Top 50 Indies listing. The company owns 23 sites, has supply contracts with BP, Jet, Shell and Texaco, and a fuel volume of nearly 100mlpa.
The Leicester-based company continues to go from strength to strength. In the past year it has bought five sites, including four from supermarket chain Somerfield, and for the coming year is looking to buy other forecourt operations, or plots of land to bring new sites to the market. That is on top of a continuing programme of refurbishments and developments within its existing operations. It is not a position the brothers could have anticipated being in all those years ago when they started out and the market was a very different place. While running their first site - Clocktower, in Coalville, Leicestershire - the brothers attracted other oil companies who wanted them to run their sites, because of their high standards of operation. So for the next 15 years they operated a number of sites for different oil companies, including Mobil, Elf, Shell, BP and Texaco.
"It had a lot to do with the personal touch," explains Shane Thakrar, son of Sailesh, and currently the company’s very enthusiastic head of business. "There was always a friendly, familiar face. We also operated high standards in the store, with good stock availability. People kept offering us more sites and that gave us a good basis to grow the business from. At that stage it was a predominantly oil-company-owned market."
The first site HKS purchased was Clock Tower where the business started from. "We bought it from BP just before the oil company did its big disposal programme," says Sailesh. "It was very big move for us," confirms Sailesh."From the start we’d always run the sites as if they were our own, but owning our own site was a whole new world.
"We were also one of the first dealers on a Platts-plus deal, which we signed up to when we bought Clock Tower. We knew the area well, and knew it was more beneficial to control the pricing, plus the margin was good, and we were more competitive than the if the oil company was controlling the price. At the time the supermarkets were trying to build their market share and moved very quickly. The Platts-plus deal gave us the ability to move at the same speed as them."
A short while later the BP sites HKS was operating were part of a package that BP put on the market. "That was when the real change came about," explains Sailesh. "We had suddenly gone from having one freehold site to the chance to buy several more. It was one of those crossroads where either we buy more sites, or go down to just one. At the time we felt lucky we had bought Clock Tower. We put an offer into BP, and were dependent on winning this tender against other bigger players To us it was a big deal, because we knew that if we didn’t buy it, we could be out of business."
Ultimately HKS was successful in acquiring four sites they had already been operating. "We had the experience with the one site we had bought, so we were confident we could make it work. Our bank - the Alliance and Leicester -was also supportive," says Kamlesh.
The brothers had actually wanted to buy 19 sites, but at the time as they owned only one site, and the bank didn’t have that much experience in the market, it was difficult to raise the necessary finance. "Nobody really understood the business, because buying sites in this way was never really anything independents had done," explains Sailesh. "It was a good move. Up to then we had been on a fixed margin of 2.2ppl as a tenant/licensee, but following the purchase we went to a Platts-plus deal and started seeing a margin of 3.5ppl.From there the whole structure and dynamics of the company changed."
It was at that point HKS was able to negotiate its shop deals a little better, and really started putting the focus on shops, and particularly off licences."We currently have two BP Connects and four Costcutters - which have all recently been redeveloped, one with a Subway inside," says Shane. "We also have four Mace stores - we have always worked very closely with Palmer & Harvey." The HKS shop offer varies according to the local demographics. "We do research and ask the customers what they want," says Shane. "Value perception, particularly in today’s market, is essential, as are high standards of operation." The growth of the HKS operation really gathered speed between 2004 and 2006, when at least 10 sites were acquired, including the East Midlands Airport site - a great location for the company. HKS also acquired three forecourts from an independent retailer which also gave them a car, van and minibus rental business. They also have two MOT sites. "It’s all turned out to be a very good business for us, and is growing each year," says Shane. The three-site acquisition also included a 3,500 sq ft warehouse, which has developed into a purchase and distribution operation for the company’s sites.
In December 2006 HKS became the second dealer to buy a BP Connect franchisee site.
"We saw Wild Bean Café as a good area to move into. It’s a difficult area to start from scratch, but when someone has already got the expertise as in this situation, that gave us a good model to learn from. It is a very efficient operation. We’ve got good-volume sites but we still think the shop is key to differentiating us from other sites.
"More than the local forecourt, we want to be the local convenience store - not the forecourt where you can get a few groceries, but the convenience store where you can get petrol."
=== HKS - the history ===
== June 2,1984 ==
First site taken on from Mobil, on an operating lease - Clocktower, Coalville, Leicestershire.
Between then and 1999 HKS operated a number of sites for oil companies including Mobil, Elf, Shell, BP and Texaco.
== 2000 ==
Began acquisition with the purchase of Clocktower, its first site, from BP.
== December 2002 ==
Elms Park, Loughborough, Leicestershire
Groby Road, Leicester
Flying Horse, Markfield,
Leicestershire, with HKS MOT & Servicing
== March 2004 ==
Tongwell, Milton Keynes
== May 2004 ==
Wyken, Ansty, Coventry
== July 2004 ==
Roseville, Bilston, West Midlands
== October 2004 ==
Silverdale, Clifton, Nottingham
== December 2005 ==
Airport, East Midlands Airport
== January 2006 ==
Ockford, Godalming, Surrey
== August 2006 ==
Ibstock, Leicestershire - HKS Rental: Car, Van and Minibus Rentals
== December 2006 ==
Mill Lane, Dallington, Northampton
== September 2007 ==
Saxon, Bletchley, Milton Keynes
Norman, Bletchley, Milton Keynes
== May 2008 ==
Threeways, Blidworth, Mansfield
== July 2008 ==
Wendover, Aylesbury Buckinghamshire, Colne, Watford
Halfway, Walton on Thames, Surrey
Forton, Gosport, Portsmouth