Does your credit rating need a check?

I’ve been contacted by Peter Lewis who arranges asset finance (purchase leasing) for retailers to purchase equipment for their shops’ refrigeration, their shop fittings, epos, CCTV and petrol pumps. And he must be a good guy because he says he remembers reading my columns years ago when he had shops of his own.

He says: "Over the past 12 months a lot of retailers have been refused finance not just because of the credit crunch, but over their own credit rating."

As this was obviously having a knock-on effect on Peter’s business, he decided to do some research and found out shockingly that "a lot of the time it’s because they owe a mobile phone company as little as £10".

He adds: "It might be because they are in dispute or moved contract before the existing agreement was finished and a penalty payment was imposed."

The mobile phone company will then hand the debt to a collection agency and the customer ends up on a black list which shows up on a credit search. A lot of the time banks and finance companies don’t bother to check why a customer’s credit score is low because it is easier just to refuse the application.

(I can vouch for this I once had my handbag pinched; the crooks ran up debts based on my details and I got the bad credit rating. None of the credit checkers bothered to read below the ’there-is-a-problem’ ticked in the relevant box. It took an MP to clear my name and 12 years later it took Trading Standards plus a lawyer to get the intermittent debt collectors off my back.)

But that’s another story. Peter concludes: "I would urge your readers to check their credit rating themselves before applying for any bank loans or finance, and pay off any late payments and keep a record of it. Another tip is to make sure you are on the electoral roll as funders always check this as well."

Pouring on the profit?

I trust you are making the most of the supers going ’dark’ on tobacco, if not already, then any minute now.

It’s an immensely important category for forecourts after all one of the few places a smoker can still indulge in his/her habit in comfort is in their car. That was an aside really. Another thing drivers like to do is eat choccies and drink coffee in their cars.

Tony Evans emailed to ask whether there were any statistics on the benefits of offering coffee at his forecourt.

He had had a rep in telling him that a bean-to-cup machine could be leased for around £25 a week. If he sold 25 cups a day he would make around £9,000 a year.

Those statistics are about right; however, I am currently dealing with another retailer who got talked into a coffee contract a couple of years ago when he was new to the business and who still has two to three years to run on the lease. He is paying £130 a month and says: "So if we were selling four cups a day at £1 each we would just about break even. However, we are lucky to sell four cups a week!"

And that, unfortunately, spells out the downside of leasing arrangements. The deal didn’t live up to expectations and there isn’t really any way out of the contract.

It means you need to look beyond the rep’s patter, take some time over it (have a cup of coffee or two, discuss it with your partner, your staff and your customers) before taking the plunge. Full marks to Tony for doing just that.

Copping a feel to find the genuine article

Raj Patel, at my local garage, took a good look at some pound coins I offered him recently. And no, I’m not just buying teaspoons of petrol, it was an afterthought for some basics bread and water if you really want to know.

He told me that he had had quite a few fakes lately. I did a spot of research and learned that he is spot on.

There are 43 million fake pound coins in circulation. That’s around 3% of the total.

Some are so good they are accepted by vending machines.

But, take them in a sack to the bank, and the weight will be wrong. You lose!

Look out for the date of issue if the coin looks surprisingly new (although good luck with that tip if you have a queue).

There are loads of ’master mind’ ways of spotting the not-so-deliberate errors including the design on the back of the coin not matching the official design for the year it was issued and the lettering or inscription on the edge of the coin not matching the year.

More sensibly the official advice points out that the designs on both sides of the coin won’t be as well defined compared with a real coin and the alignment of the design might be at an angle.

Hold the coin so that the Queen’s head is upright and facing you. The design on the back should be upright too.

I think the first thing to do is feel the ribbed edge of the coin.

If it’s rough then you will be justified in telling the customer that you think it might be a fake and then examine it more closely for uneven, badly spaced or indistinct lettering.

Fake coins are often more yellow or golden than the real thing and are often thinner and lighter.

I have a friend in retailing who tells me he can spot one at 50 paces; well, actually just by hefting it and giving it a quick caress.