In 1988, Peter and Pat Bellini bought a piece of land and set about building a forecourt and shop. Today, Bellini’s of Ilkeston is a flag bearer for small businesses; a multi award- winning site (the couple won Forecourt Trader of the Year in 2004) and the last remaining independently owned forecourt in a town dominated by hypers.
"It has been a constant battle against the multiples for us and all local businesses," explains Peter. "And just when we thought it couldn’t be more saturated, Tesco (just one mile up the road) decided to build a forecourt on its car park and Morrisons opened a flagship store and forecourt in January."
Remarkably, Bellini’s volumes have held firm at 3.5mlpa, partly as a result of its recent switch from Total to Gulf, but also thanks to its loyal customer base, which recognises the importance of Bellini’s within the local area for much more than the dispensing of fuel.
"With the dominance of the supermarkets, consumer choice disappears and this is opening up big opportunities for real independents," continues Peter. "More consumers now recognise the negative impact that a supermarket has on a local area and there is a greater willingness to rediscover the art of shopping in smaller independently owned stores. A well-run forecourt in the hands of an independent means choice, friendly service and value for money. Shopping becomes enjoyable again with local produce, promotional offers, no stress, no queues and people interacting with one another."
Peter is fiercely proud of his independence and his standing in the local community. His son James manages the business employing a team of 30, all of whom are committed to its continued success. As well as community spirit, the spacious four-pump, multi-nozzle modern forecourt is complemented by workshops and a 7,000sqft shop. Nisa has been part of the Bellini success story for over 30 years, the relationship starting with Peter’s father, Aldo, at the garage he and his family ran in Kirk Hallam.
"We are local people, employing local people, serving the needs of local people and, wherever possible, supporting our fellow local businesses," says Peter. "Our shop includes a butcher serving locally sourced meats, a deli, bistro, convenience store and an extensive wines and spirits display." Peter studied for a wine diploma and uses his knowledge for the benefit of customers; hosting regular wine-tasting events and operating the Bellini Wine Club.
"It’s just as important to ensure that our business has its own personality as it has to work alongside strong and reputable brands," enthuses Peter. "Nisa has proved to be a fantastic ally and in Gulf and Certas Energy, we have another strong team of people working on our behalf, delivering a quality brand with quality products."
It has helped, in the face of stiff competition, that the site is situated within a densely populated residential area, with a hospital opposite.
Reinvest for success
Nevertheless, the site’s success has only been achieved by a willingness to continually reinvest in the business, develop new revenue streams and provide the best possible customer service.
Over the years Bellini’s has won a clutch of awards including the aforementioned Forecourt Trader of the Year and the Booker Prize for Retail Excellence all of which further reinforce its customer values. The site also takes a lead in community matters.
"We work within the Nisa Making a Difference Locally initiative to support the local football team; we’ve helped our church’s (St Mary’s) Bells Appeal and regularly support hospital fund raisers.
"We also back the Nottingham Panthers ice hockey team, and their North American professional goaltender, Craig Kowalski, is an ambassador for the garage. He is always willing to lend a hand and help us raise awareness for good causes."
Peter says listening to customers is key. "We respond to their feedback with new lines and improvements across all areas of our operation. We recently started experimenting with the layout of the store adjacent to the till points. As a result, the improved flow has reduced customer transaction times and also seen a significant uplift in shop sales from fuel-only customers."
"I’ve never shied away from reinvesting our profits in people and facilities. We started with a 3,000sq ft shop, now it is more than double that and includes a range of over 300 bottled beers from around the world that is arguably the best choice of ale on a forecourt in the whole of Derbyshire. In addition we now have a highly popular 40-seat bistro serving a range of excellent foods including the ’Bellini Burger’.
We recently took on a full-time chef which enabled us to take the step from café to bistro and now we are seeking permission to sell alcohol in the restaurant. It seems only right that our customers should be able to enjoy a glass of fine wine or ale with their locally reared steak."
As an established beacon of its local area and having recently revitalised the forecourt with its move to Gulf, what’s next for this dynamic business?
"We are always looking ahead perhaps I’ll go back to my Italian roots and launch a range of homemade ice creams next. ’Bellini’s Gelato’, let’s hope it tastes as good as it sounds!"