Earlier this year Refuel & Go’s Bradwell Service Station in Braintree was awarded the accolade of Symbol Retailer of the Year at Palmer & Harvey’s Pro Retail gala dinner.
Despite having only opened in July 2012, the 1,200sq ft-plus store is on course to achieve shop sales of around £20,000 a week by the end of the year. No wonder the managing director of the Top 50 Indie, Andrew MacDonald, is proud to welcome me at the very smart 4mlpa BP-branded site last month. And as we sat at the shiny coffee table supping on Wild Bean fare, it’s easy to appreciate why the store was so highly acknowledged within the Palmer & Harvey Mace network.
But despite the immaculately merchandised shelving featuring a broad range of impulse and convenience items, the Wild Bean coffee and food-to-go offering, the trendy, eco chillers housing beers and wine, Andrew’s first comments are about his staff and the key role they play in the company’s success.
"These guys are our lifeline. They’re the customer-facing cashier, the honest people that have been with you for a long time. They’re the life and soul of the site, whichever site that might be. Without your staff you don’t really have a business - some of them have been with us for more than 15 years.
"They’re like a family. It’s about mutual respect we respect what they do for a job, and hopefully they respect what we’re trying to do as a fuel retailing business in a competitive industry. There have been so many people that have come and gone over the years and we like to think we’re a stable company."
Stable is definitely a good way to describe Refuel & Go, which was formerly known as Sectorsure and was renamed last year, to more easily communicate to customers what the business was about. The company is a subsidiary of the Trevellyan Group, and was formed in the early ’90s. It has grown its network very steadily, purchasing sites at regular intervals every two years or so broadly in locations that are within an hour or so’s journey from the M25, to its current portfolio of 10. The company was the first group signing for Harvest Energy five years ago, and that relationship looks set to continue for another five years on five sites. It also has two sites each with BP and Shell, and another site on which it is doing a joint venture with Sainsbury’s, but this is not open yet. All the sites are directly managed. Nine of the sites have Mace-branded stores.
"While we like to keep control, we try and empower our managers to have some creative input, to manage the promotions locally. We do that via Palmer & Harvey, and Mace all our sites are supplied by Palmer & Harvey. We made a conscious decision several years ago that we wanted a retail partner to help us in the shop not to hold us back and those guys have delivered. The new Mace image is very strong.
"As far as the development with Costcutter, we had very positive meetings with the Costcutter people at the Pro Retail show and here on site, and they seem like extremely switched-on retailers, which is what we want. They intend to retain the Mace brand and the heritage which goes with it after all, it’s been around a long time, and they want to take it to the next stage. To a certain extent Palmer & Harvey didn’t have the retail experience. The company is very good at delivering goods, but to take the symbol brand forward needed someone a bit more retailer savvy, which Costcutter certainly is. All I’ve heard from Costcutter so far has been very impressive, and the deal will give us more opportunities."