Rachael Hockmeyer runs a mighty fine petrol station for someone who drives an electric car! Yes, she is teased particularly at Texaco meetings but she is more than comfortable squaring the financial and environmental benefits of her car, with running an excellent forecourt convenience store and workshop business, serving the needs of her hungry and carbon fuel-dependent motoring customers.
The fact that at some point in the future admittedly it could be decades they might all follow her example and no longer require a key element of her business (apart from an electric charging point) does not bother her either. "We will adapt," she says. As indeed the company has been doing for many years.
The roots of Hockmeyer Motors go back to 1937, when her grandfather set up a garage/workshop business with a partner near Manchester. They had a few different sites over the years, always garage related. In 1972 Hockmeyer Motors sold its Manchester premises back to its fuel supplier, Shell, and moved to Lincoln Road, Holdingham, Lincolnshire where it has been ever since. It was then a dilapidated one-and-three-quarter-acre site, in the middle of farmland; with a kiosk in a little wooden shack on the forecourt, which couldn’t be further from what it is today a modern Texaco-branded service station and a 2,100sq ft Spar convenience store.
"When we moved here the fuel was Regent, one of the brands Texaco still holds the name for," explains Rachael, who with her husband Christian, came into the business in 1999, as her father David approached retirement. However, the business originally opted to be supplied by Esso, from 1973 until 2000, when the link with Regent returned, in the form of a new deal with Texaco.
"We changed to Texaco because it was a better deal," says Rachael. "At the time Esso were concentrating on really large sites, so the offer they gave us wasn’t good. The Texaco offer was great, and they really wanted us. They have really looked after us over the years."
In the past the business has sold second-hand cars, then became a franchised dealer with Mitsubishi and then Daihatsu. "When we came into the business we had a Skoda franchise, and the most important part of the business was the car sales and the MOT/garage workshop. The fuel was also far more important than the shop. But things change. Now the shop is far, far, more important than the fuel," says Rachel.
The workshop is currently doing well, but recent years have been difficult: "People who have workshops will tell you that after the banking crash and the housing crisis, it was quite a difficult business to be in," explains Rachael. "People weren’t having their cars serviced because they didn’t have any money. Then workshops had to deal with horrific repairs, caused by people not having their service work done. It was a difficult time. But it’s a good business now."
Although Rachael had worked in the business as a teenager, she did her own thing before returning as a director; and having worked as a store manager for Argos, retail was her thing. In 2001 she introduced the Mace symbol offer into the 500sq ft shop which was tweaked and expanded over the years, ending up at 997sq ft.
In January 2012, the company stopped being a franchise dealer, which prompted a huge redevelopment and expansion of the store later that year, encouraged along the way by Spar.
"We changed to Spar in autumn 2011," explains Rachael. "Spar was very keen for us to do this big project knocking through the walls of the showroom and extending the shop. We were a little reluctant because it was an awful lot of money. To encourage us they sent their merchandisers in and spruced us up a little, changed the sign above the door from Mace to Spar, and put in a few own-brand products. Essentially it was exactly the same shop being run in the same way as it had been, but just coming from a different wholesaler. Our sales went up 13%."
The results gave Hockmeyer Motors the confidence to press ahead with the new development. "Spar was very supportive about what we were going to do, and offered us so much help, especially with design, planning and layout. The merchandisers came and did everything, and even helped us with our ordering. They came back week in, week out, while we needed our hands holding. It would have been very difficult for us otherwise. We hadn’t done anything like fresh vegetables, fruit and meat before.
"Shortly after we went to Spar we managed to get the lottery terminal too, so that made a difference. We were also the first in town to have a Costa Coffee machine, which has been brilliant."
The next part of the project was in 2013, when the site was reimaged with new Texaco branding; it had new pumps, supreme grades and tank gauges. "It significantly boosted fuel sales, which are currently running at about 3.3mlpa - and growing. In all we spent about £250,000 between 2012-2013."
It’s been a huge learning curve, but the business has continued to grow and develop to serve a broadening customer needs, while still maintaining its roots with a traditional forecourt offer: "We still run local accounts on fuel, which we administer ourselves, and which represent about 20% of our fuel sales," says Rachael. "It gives us a big base of business customers, who want all the traditional things that a forecourt sells soft drinks, sandwiches, coffee, sweets, and cigarettes. But just before we went to Spar, 95 low-cost houses were built opposite us. A lot of people in low-cost housing don’t have cars, and they don’t want to lug things from town so they have to use us and they’re very loyal, regular customers. So that has completely skewed what we sell. They want things like nappies and fish fingers a totally different clientele from our established market. Then there’s the housing estate next door, which is a sort of affluent middle-class; and work is just starting on 295 three-, four-, and five-bedroom houses. The site opens at 6am and is very busy with hot food serving a lot of white van men, builders, and gangers who come in mini buses to go and work on the land or in the local chicken factories. They all shoot in to buy a lot of newspapers and cigarettes and quite often buy their breakfast and lunch at the same time. So we are trying to be everything to everybody."
Other services include Hermes parcel delivery and an external laundromat. The Hockmeyer family also serves their customers in other ways, by giving back to the community with their many charitable efforts helping to cement a constantly evolving business. "We feel very confident about the future," concludes Rachael. "We wouldn’t have spent all this money otherwise."