Former Top 50 Indie Hockenhull Garages (HGS) has opened a new petrol station and convenience store in South Wigston, Leicester. It is the first forecourt development for the company’s founder and chairman, Peter Hockenhull, since he came out of retirement at the age of 76 to assist in running the business with his son Joe, the managing director.
Peter has been in the petrol retailing business since 1963, first with Shell Mex and BP, and later building his own company which at one time numbered 38 forecourts running a mix of Total and Shell company-owned operations, as well as around 10 dealer sites. Peter sold the majority of his dealer sites to Euro Garages around 10 years ago, as he contemplated semi-retirement, but the company has continued to operate. A key part of the business today includes eight Shell cluster forecourt operations.
Peter also currently owns two other sites, plus a dealer site he had leased out which will be coming back into HGS operation in May. With the new development ironically called St Peter’s he has four dealer sites.
"I had the intention of semi-retiring, with the view of Joe and operations manager Rob Spooner who have been great friends for a long time taking it over. They were well experienced in the company at that time although I have always kept a watching brief," explains Peter. "But I’ve been inspired by both of them who are doing great things together to get more involved again. I’ve been playing tennis four times a week, but it was time for a bit more stimulation.
"We have complementary skills: Joe and Rob are much more skilled in this new age of disciplines. Their learnings from running the Shell cluster sites have been excellent. I am running our dealer sites and have been reinvigorated. It’s good to be back although it’s definitely a more challenging market.
"It’s shrinking in the sense of available sites. We have to find sites that are going to be doing 80k-plus litres a week. It might have to be greenfield sites!"
Earlier this year HGS had the opportunity to acquire the site in Dorset Avenue which had been derelict for many years, but already had planning permission for a forecourt development.
The purchase was supported by a HSBC loan which funded part of the acquisition and development costs. The new site consists of a Shell garage and Spar convenience store and has created 10 new jobs. HGS has installed state-of-the-art pump islands with four grades on both sides as well as Adblue pump dispensers.
And with an eye on the future, the company has run cables underneath the petrol station to enable electric charging points to be installed at some point. HGS will provide attended service on the forecourt at the weekends as well as a hand car wash operation. The 150sq m convenience store offer includes hot food, fresh bread and fruit, and the latest Costa coffee machine.
Peter said: "We’ve been looking for an opportunity to open a new petrol station in the Midlands for some time. Thanks to HSBC, we’ve been able to make that happen. We wanted to ensure the new petrol station was fit for the future. By investing in electric and hybrid charging infrastructure we’ll be able to keep up with demand as more and more drivers opt for greener cars. Meanwhile our fuel sales have been climbing each day we’re targeting a conservative 80k a week, but are hoping to do more."
The site is close to what Peter calls an "exciting residential area", with a local industrial estate and regular commuters. He admits to being slightly nervous, even though he believes 100% in the site, based on location, demographics and the Shell brand "but you never know!".
So is he enjoying being back, apart from in view of current property prices wishing he’d hung on to a few of those sites he’s sold over the years?
" I love the challenge. If Joseph had not turned out to be the success that I feel he is I would not be doing this. The key to the whole thing is having good staff. I’ve got a lad here whose heart and soul is in the industry. I’m looking forward to building a business back again for the future. I’ll probably retire (again) when I’m 80."