Poor partners

When times get tough, as they certainly seem to be in some quarters, you would think that your suppliers would try even harder to work with you. I was recently contacted by two forecourt operators who were having horrendous problems with their distributors/suppliers. I offered to highlight their situation through this column but both thought twice about it worrying about upsetting their already-teetering apple carts.

What do you do when your supplier fails to show up? (And yet the same haulier manages to supply another site with petrol just a mile down the road.) And your contract says you cannot shop elsewhere? I suggest you are screwed.

This independent remained out of fuel for four days. Normally he would sell 4,000 litres of diesel and unleaded a day but that weekend he even had to send half his newspapers back. "People were just not coming in the shop," he says. It got sorted but he felt he had been short changed in favour of a bigger customer.

Or how about a recently-rebranded site which suddenly had its credit limit slashed by half despite the fact that the retailer had never defaulted on any payments?

It was a long and complicated story but the upshot was that he was left with an impossible hole in his cash flow.

Then there’s the domino effect. While he was frantically arranging for further security cover with his bank, the bank returned a direct debit for the very first time. So now the bank is getting jittery and thinking there is no smoke without fire. The retailer feels that he has been unnecessarily hung out to dry. Fortunately, overall, he does have a pretty good relationship with his bank but it has been and continues to be a very anxious time. He isn’t sleeping properly!

Then a third retailer called to say that his bank had just decided to move the goalposts, again creating a problem that wasn’t there in the first place. All I could advise was that he check his credit rating and if it was okay, try shopping around. Sooner or later banks will be competing for customers again.

The government is pushing, via its Project Merlin, to boost lending to small businesses. The big five banks have agreed to lend about £190bn to businesses this year with £76bn specifically earmarked for small firms. But, as they say, the devil is in the detail, and we don’t know yet how all this cash will be delivered.

Cheque this one out

Back in January Jack Stokes asked where he could get ’Sorry, cheques not accepted’ stickers. I eventually suggested Vistaprint which has a good rep for really cheap cards and so on. However, someone (who is obviously just catching up on his reading) has now responded on email saying that such signs, custom-designed to fit on pump heads, are available from Exeter-based CTC Wholesalers tel. 01392 829990. You can get six notices for £6 plus £1.50 postage.

This is useful to know now that the UK’s cheque guarantee card scheme is set to close. So if you’ve been relying on old Shakespeare to guarantee up to a specified limit, bear in mind that from June 30 the promise will be removed. You can still accept cheques if you wish, but there will be a risk.

A reminder about oldies

Employers should note that the default retirement age (DRA) of 65 changes on April 6 subject to parliamentary approval. Thereafter the DRA will be phased out over a transitional period running until September 30. The last date on which an employee can be given notice of retirement under the DRA is April 5, 2011. In the future there will be no default retirement age for employees.

You need to know about these changes because, if they were implemented incorrectly or unfairly, it could add up to discrimination and tribunals.

On a Roller

So Rolls-Royce has joined the race to electrics. Its new luxury electric limo can run on 2p per mile. The good news is it would cost over £200,000 to buy (see, I’m on your side; while you are still struggling to sell petrol, these alternatives do you no favours and I only report them because a) they are interesting and b) you need to know which way the wind is blowing).

This latest ’experimental electric’ launch is based around the existing £300,000 Rolls-Royce Phantom, which achieves only around 15 miles to the gallon.

The electric-powered version will be re-chargeable from domestic mains and has zero emissions.

Its electric drive-train is capable of getting it to 60mph in less than eight seconds and its range is over 120 miles on a single charge (its got the largest battery pack ever fitted to a passenger car).

It debuted at the Geneva Motor Show on March and will tour during the rest of the year, serving as a test bed to gather a bank of research data which will be crucial in informing future decisions on alternative drive-trains for Rolls-Royce Motor Cars. The company will offer Rolls-Royce owners in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and North America, test drives and the opportunity to give feedback on it. Enthusiasts, members of the public and the press will also be given the chance to participate.

It won’t actually go into production until the company establishes sufficient demand. If the demand arises then the car should be in production by 2013.