When interviewing Forecourt Trader of the Year winners, there’s always a common theme that runs through the ensuing features, with words like skill, enthusiasm, foresight, shrewdness and determination being readily apparent. But what brings all these elements together to create a winning formula is the ability to work incredibly hard. Peter and Pat Bellini are no exception. This year it was their turn to emerge as frontrunners at this year’s awards in the face of stiff competition, and again the superlatives will get an airing.

The Bellini’s are an extremely talented and conscientious couple who have worked together for 30 years to build up a business they can be proud of. It’s a family operation, started 40 years ago by Peter’s father who, long before it became the norm, offered a range of groceries and an off licence alongside the traditional fuel/car sales/workshop operation. And soon their son James, currently at university, will be joining them. He has aleady been involved in particular projects in the business – most notably the coffee shop – and the Bellini touch is much in evidence.

When we wrote about the Bellinis earlier this year (June 04 issue), we told how continued investment had given the Bellini’s business the ‘wow’ factor. And according to Peter, that is the response of many of the customers – and indeed myself – when first walking into the shop. The initial ‘wow’ is the sheer size of the shop, which now stretches to 7,000sq ft following developments over the years, and most recently, the complex restructuring of the building, which incorporates a workshop/MOT service on a lower level at the back, which handles 50-60 MOTs a week. Another ‘wow’ factor is the extremely appealing coffee bar, which, apart from a wonderful range of coffees, paninis, pastries and so on, has extended its offer to include English breakfast (following customer demand). Walk on into the main part of the store, and a tempting fresh fruit and vegetable display on the right, leads to an extensive cheese and fresh and cooked meats counter on the left, offering the sort of expertise and service once offered in specialist high street shops, but now sadly disappearing, in the face of pre-packaged supermarket fare.

Walk on past the neatly stacked range of groceries and chilled produce and there is a huge range of greetings cards – enough to compete with the big high-street names. But onwards to the back end of the shop, and by then your mouth will be dropping to the floor. For there is an amazing range of beers, wines and spirits, including a walk-in beer chiller, and wines from all over the world, that you’d be hard pushed to find in any local store. And to complete the picture, everywhere is immaculately clean and tidy, whatever time of day – as witnessed by the various judges who visited the site during the latter rounds of the competition. Flowers are also a particular speciality, accommodating visitors to the nearby hospital. Gift-wrapping, hampers and soft toys are also on offer. “We wanted to create a store with certain areas that are better than you can find anywhere else,” says Peter, who – as revealed by the various certificates hanging on the walls – is a stickler for ensuring his staff are well trained – whether it’s wine or cheese diplomas, NVQs, Nisa’s LifeLong Learning courses, as well as their own brand of Bellini customer service training. “Survival is about creating a point of difference,” stresses Peter. “We’ve been with Nisa Today’s for nearly 20 years and believe it’s the best symbol group. It allows an independent to be an independent, not just another ‘me-too’ fascia.

“We want to give people more than they expect, and are working harder now than when we started 20 years ago. It’s a crusade – you’ve got to have a passion for it. It’s a journey of a thousand steps, and we’re only at 500 steps.” In fact Peter uses the philosophy of a French wine maker to describe the Bellini ethos: “One part passion, a lot of hard work, and a big dollop of madness!”