Driving onto Station Road in Llandaff North, central Cardiff, it would be hard to miss the James & Jenkins name. The business is a sprawling mix of car dealerships, motor workshop and the Texaco/Mace-branded Tivoli Service Station, together spanning a long stretch of the road.
Managing director Mark James’s father started the business in 1968 with one petrol station. His mother was walking with Mark in the pram when she saw a for-sale sign on Three Elms Garage in Whitchurch and encouraged her husband to buy it. He built up the forecourt business to five petrol stations and took on his first car franchise in 1984 with a Vauxhall dealership.
"Then the hypers came in and the market consolidated and now we’re back down to the one site, plus we lease the original site to Johnsons for a drive-through dry cleaners," explains Mark. "There are a number of hypers in Cardiff and that squeezes the marketplace tremendously."
Mark joined the business in 1992, having worked in an accountancy firm, and now James & Jenkins centres around Station Road, covering the full range of motor services, including Renault, Chrysler, Jeep and Proton dealerships.
"Vehicle repairs are the cornerstone of the business and fuel is part of the overall offer," says Mark. "We can sell you the car; if you crash the car we can fix it; and we sell you the fuel to run it. The forecourt is the shop window for the whole franchise. Now we have the new Texaco Shining Star image it’s a very pretty proposition."
Tivoli Service Station was the first pilot site for Texaco’s Shining Star image. "They chose this site because it’s an inner-city, tight-fit site. We had streams of visitors from Chevron before, during and after expressing their likes and dislikes. I was insistent that because it’s a tight forecourt we would need particularly strong bollards at both ends of the pumps and they’ve been worth their weight in gold, which you can appreciate when you see how many times they’ve been hit. There were only low-level bollards on one end of the pumps in the original spec from Chevron."
The image revamp was completed in June 2009 and now Chevron is in the process of assessing how the branding has held up. "It’s been very interesting being involved in such a huge project," says Mark. "And ruthlessly, from my perspective, I knew that we were going to be onto a winner and get a lot of stuff done that didn’t cost us any money. We have done well out of it."
At the same time as re-imaging the forecourt, Mark introduced a free air/water tower, external ATM and signed up to the Mace fascia. "That gives us a reputable name over the door and a much better retail proposition," he says."Fuel volume is down by 6% but the shop side of things is doing much better shop sales for the year to date are 6% up." Forecourt manager Linda Wraith, who joined the business two-and-a-half years ago, has been instrumental in the site’s new-found success.
"Margins in the shop were nowhere near where they should have been and we had a lot of staff problems," explains Mark. "Linda came in as a breath of fresh air and turned around the profitability of the shop.
"When the overall business is doing well, individual focus can wane it’s not the right way to approach things but it’s human nature. When we got a new image, new shop and new staff, that gave us a much-needed focus and now the petrol station is contributing very nicely to the bottom line."
With the Texaco brand and Chevron’s Pembroke refinery currently in the process of being bought by US oil company Valero, Mark admits that times are uncertain. "We have been told there’s going to be no effect on the brand going forward but it is uncertain there are some fringe issues. I believe there are possible issues with the Techron additive branding on the fuel and where the rights to that lie, so there might need to be changes to the pump livery.
"A lot of money has been spent on promoting Techron, so if we have to backtrack off that and call it something else it will be a shame because it would have been a wasted effort."
Mark is also increasingly concerned about the growing price competition in the fuel retailing market. With a Tesco Extra half a mile in one direction and an Asda in the other, James & Jenkins is finding its petrol station consistently far adrift on fuel price. "There’s a hyper on every junction as you come into Cardiff," says Mark. "Our pricing is on a weekly Platts basis but I have to benchmark that to the local hypers and sometimes they are selling it for less than I’m buying it for. It’s unfair and Mr Public doesn’t necessarily understand.
"We have lost a few local accounts as well as Texaco account cards recently because people can drive to Tesco and find fuel 5/6ppl cheaper. It’s a real issue. Every site has its natural volumes but that level isn’t necessarily enough, which is when you get into competition.
"Tesco can be on an adjusted three-week lag which gives them a huge advantage in a rising marketplace. Quite what they do in a falling market I don’t know, but knowing Tesco they’ve probably got that covered."
But Mark is continuing to ensure the James & Jenkins name stays at the forefront of people’s minds. The company has appointed a PR agency to keep the business’ profile high. "You’ve got to keep up with the times and move with the media that’s out there. I don’t quite know where it’s going long term yet, but doing things like Facebook and Twitter are all part of the bigger picture."