Michael Johnston has been running the busy Euro Spar, Castle Wellan site in County Down, Northern Ireland for about three years.

And he’s thrilled with the site’s success - as well as being named the best rural independent with nine sites or less, it was also the overall winner of the rural category at the Forecourt Trader of the Year Awards 2007.

Michael says his job is always busy at the Maxol-branded garage, which sold 2.1 million litres of fuel last year and catered for 14,000 customers. But he adds that the job is also extremely fulfilling.

The site has a 6,500sq ft supermarket-style store with an impressive deli, fresh meat counter, salad bar and food-to-go section. There is also a busy café attached to the store which boasts friendly waitress service.

And Michael says he has even more adventurous plans for the site: "We’ve got another floor above the shop which we currently rent out and I want to move the café up there.

"I’d like to use the extra room on the ground floor for an offering like Tim Hortons, which is a Canadian chain that offers premium coffee and doughnuts. It would be a more profitable way to use the space, and we’ve got the same size area above the store, so I think it could work really well there."

Michael also decided to introduce an off licence last May, and this has proved a very popular addition. It already accounts for 6.6% of sales - and he aims to grow this figure to at least 10% of sales.

The site’s customer base is local residents but it also manages to attract plenty of general traffic passing through the area.

Michael adds: "It was a real thrill to be named best rural site at the Forecourt Trader of the Year Awards, and we had a tremendous time on the night itself.

"It says a lot about our dedicated staff and the quality of their work for us to have won, and it is really great for them to be rewarded in this way.

"We’ll definitely be entering the awards again this year."


=== Rural: oil co/supermarket owned & managed ===

Northern Ireland certainly dominated the rural category in the 2007 awards - Robert Foster’s Vivo Randalstown site in Country Antrim, Northern Ireland, was named the best oil company/supermarket owned and managed site.

The BP garage offers an excellent range of services including jet and car wash facilities as well as a comprehensive c-store with a good display of seasonal lines.

Robert has run the fairly unique site - its store is situated inside an old church and is a listed building - for two and a half years.

He says: "The staff are the strongest part of the business - it’s all credit to them that we won this award."

The busy site sells 40,000 litres of fuel per week and has about 8,500 customers.

Robert adds: "We’re quite near the motorway so we pick up a lot of trade from workmen who stop to fill up with diesel and pop in for their morning tea. We don’t do any food-to-go at the moment but it’s something we might offer in the future. We’re looking into getting a full refit and a food-to-go section could be part of that."


=== best motorway site winner 2007 ===

Roadchef’s Norton Canes M6 Toll MSA in Staffordshire has only been open for four years but it’s the third time it has been a winner in this category. The high-volume BP-branded site pumps about 390,000 litres of fuel a week and caters for around 10,000 customers.

Susan Grainger runs the impressive site, which has a popular café area and also offers outside seating in the spring and summer.

She says: "Our standards are high in all areas, especially when it comes to keeping the store and toilets clean and tidy, making sure our staff are helpful, and keeping a well-stocked c-store.

"The outdoor seating area is a great success - we get lots of bikers through the forecourt and it’s great for them to be able to sit and have a coffee with their motorbikes.

"We also get lots of passing holiday and business trade, so the food-to-go section is usually pretty busy.

"It is fantastic for the site to win this award for the third time, the staff work so hard and really deserve to be rewarded in this way. I’m really proud of what we’ve achieved, and hope we can repeat our success again this year."

Susan plans to enter the site into more categories at this year’s awards.