Ravensthorpe Service Station recently distinguished itself by being recognised as the 500th Gulf-branded forecourt. But it is also making a name for itself in its local town of Dewsbury, having been transformed into a leading edge forecourt and convenience operation following a four-month knock-down-rebuild.
Almost as a timely gift for the local community, the large forecourt and 3,000sq ft glass-fronted Costcutter store opened in time for Christmas, and already business is going well, according to Yusuf Hans, one of five brothers in the family company MA Hans & Sons Ltd, which owns and operates the site.
"We’re already on target for 5mlpa, which is way past our previous volume," he says. "In the past it averaged 3.5-4mlpa, but prior to the redevelopment this had diminished to around 2.5mlpa. The site had been under contract with Total until September 2014 and we had been left with diminishing fuel card sales and no investment in the brand.
"Then Certas Energy acquired the Total dealer contracts and it gave us a chance."
It was a big decision to redevelop. The business was set up by their father Mohamed Ayeb Hans in 1986 at the Dearne Valley Garage in Huddersfield, an Esso-branded forecourt with garage workshops. Then in 1991 he bought Ravensthorpe Service Station as a disused petrol station from Esso.
He invested in the site and it traded successfully for many years, during which time a number of local forecourts closed down. Along the way the business acquired another site in Wakefield. In recent years all three sites had been branded Total.
Two of the sites went to Shell in 2014, but Certas Energy was keen to offer support at Ravensthorpe in order to help create a Gulf flagship site.
It is a sizeable plot, and featured a collection of retail premises, including car sales and a mobile phone shop, as well as a 600sq ft Mace forecourt shop.
"We were stuck in a time warp," says Yusuf. "Our sales were decreasing, and everyone around us had upped their game. We knew that if you don’t invest you die."
So they decided to go ahead with their plans for a state-of-the-art forecourt and convenience operation, ultimately costing £1.2m. However, as is often the case, there were planning issues. The size of the plot meant the Hans family was free to be creative and come up with radical changes, including moving the shop from a central position to taking up a huge area to one side of the forecourt. However, there were restrictions.
"The council said we couldn’t put the shop at the side because it was too close to residential housing; but it was our only choice as the fire officer said we couldn’t put it in the only alternative position because of overhead cables," explains Yusuf. "Because of the council’s various objections we had to do lots of tests and surveys. We also agreed to pay for a pedestrian crossing and road markings although none of that’s been done yet!
"We were prepared to take the matter to a tribunal, which would have incurred big costs, so eventually the council agreed. We first put in the planning in October 2013, and got the OK in September 2014."
The site was shut in July 2015 and after four months of a complete knock-down-rebuild down to ground zero with complex new pipework and tanks a fabulous new forecourt and shop emerged. The Hans brothers were ambitious in their plans, using the same architect used by Euro Garages. Brother Abbas, a keen DIY-er, estimates he saved the company around £60,000 with his efforts, creating in-store shelving and a rafted ceiling (see Building & Design feature, page 29). The new Ravensthorpe site is impressive by day, and even more impressive by night, as the futuristic structure and colourful lighting schemes from both the store and the forecourt penetrate through the darkness, and tempt customers in.
On entering the spacious store there is a huge food-to-go and seating area. However, where you might expect to find a Subway not possible since there is already one locally there is a Yaadgaar franchise, the first one on a forecourt. A long counter displays an endless range of colourful Indian confectionery and cakes; a hot food range is also slowly being introduced. So far the response has been very good, according to Yusuf.
"We have a strong Asian and East European community, and have catered for them as much as we can with our product ranges around the store."
There had been some worries about taking on the Gulf brand, since putting Shell on the company’s other two sites had made such a big impact on the business particularly with the premium fuel sales, admits Yusuf.
"We had talked at length with the Gulf team about our worries over premium fuel, which is why Endurance is strongly branded on our new site. But lo and behold, taxi drivers who you would normally think of as quite cynical have been singing its praises, saying it’s better than the premium fuel of the major brands. It’s currently around 25% of our diesel sales, even though it’s 8ppl above our regular diesel price."
Following an initial ’soft’ opening duly attended by the local councillors a bigger celebration is planned to welcome the local community. "We have already had an amazing response from customers," says Yusuf. "They say it feels like they’re in another century when they come into our store."
Beyond the customers, there is one other person the Hans brothers are also very keen to please. "Our father has been our inspiration," explains Yusuf. "He has always kept standards high. He has a great eye for detail and customer service is very important to him. He knew nearly all his customers, and it is important for us to keep that presence too. He is still involved, keeping an eye on things. He’s been a big help and has been behind us from day one."