It’s going to be an especially busy year for Joe Richardson, managing director of Goole-based Jos Richardson & Son, a family-owned business with five forecourts in the north east.
Having recently completed a £150,000 store expansion and refit on the company’s Primrose Valley Service Station, in Filey, North Yorkshire; and a £500,000 redevelopment (forecourt, tanks and shopfit) on its nearby Filey Service Station (both Jet branded), it has even bigger plans for 2015.
First comes an £850,000 full knock-down-rebuild (KDRB) on its BP-branded site on the outskirts of York, starting in March. Then towards the end of the year if all goes well work will start on a £3-4 million project with a full redevelopment of the company’s Glews Garage operation in Goole, which currently includes a Shell-branded forecourt and new car dealerships (Vauxhall, Peugeot and Isuzu) as well as a used car sales and servicing business.
"We’ve got planning permission for a major development in September," confirms Joe. "It will have two fast-food outlets; a seven-lane forecourt with HGV fuel; HGV parking for over 60 vehicles; and includes a KDRB of the existing petrol station. It’s a major investment which we’ve been planning for six or seven ’painstaking’ years. The site is by junction 36 on the M62 and the plans were dependent on us getting funding for a roundabout at the exit, which happened last year. We’ve been working with the council for a long time on highways issues (which is a neat way of breezing over seven years of pain!). But it’s very exciting." In fact Joe has created quite a bit of excitement since joining the family business full time 10 years ago, when the company had just one site Glews Garage. Joe is the fifth generation of Richardsons. The business, originally a coal merchants, was set up by his great, great grandfather Joseph in 1892. In the late ’70s, during a period of industrial strife, Joe’s father Timothy realised the company wouldn’t survive as it was and, being mechanically minded, went into the motor trade, buying Glews Garage. Roll on 30 years or so, and within three months of Joe’s arrival into the business, it acquired Primrose Valley Service Station. "My dad bought it so I could cut my teeth/learn my trade up here," says Joe. "Within a couple of years we bought Filey Service Station four miles away. We operated three sites for about five years, then in 2011 bought Long’s Corner (Howden) and York Road in the same year. At Longs Corner (a multi-award winning site and something of a template for the company’s new developments) we immediately did a KDRB because it was originally an old-style Rover dealership with only two pumps and workshops, and needed updating straight away."
In 2013 Joe was appointed managing director of the company, and despite determined efforts, further acquisitions have not come to fruition, although he remains on the lookout. Funding for the redevelopments is about 50/50 retained profits and borrowings.
"We’re a smallish, £50m turnover family business, and it was drummed into me at an early stage to take a decent salary and plough the rest back into the business. I don’t view it as my company to sell, I’m merely a custodian. In terms of any expansion we’re more interested in freehold. Ideally we’d like about six or seven service stations. We want sites that retain good fuel volumes at a decent margin, not necessarily in city centres, more market towns or A roads so we don’t get too beaten up by supermarket pricing. But we also want sites where we believe we can provide the full offer food to go, convenience store and so on. Obviously they’re not that easy to come by. But I would rather have five sites earning very good returns, than 10 with maybe a couple of duffers in there.
"Throughout the year across our sites we’ll try and retain margins of 5ppl. Some of our sites do better than that, especially at the moment it’s a very healthy market. This past two or three months the fall in pump prices has been so dramatic, that even the supermarkets haven’t kept up. It’s a balance between not coming down too quickly, just to keep pace with the competition, and being mindful of what’s underground and at what price you bought it at. We’re on daily Platts, which I prefer, because some of our sites are so busy anyway you need a tanker when you need it, and you can’t really play the market.
"However, we always try and run our tanks as efficiently as possible for cashflow reasons, and at the moment we’re keeping our stocks low."
Having three different fuel brands across the five sites works well, according to Joe it’s good for keeping a foot in each camp in terms of getting to know a lot of people in the industry, both dealers (he is on the PRA executive committee) and oil company personnel. Also because each site is so individual, you might not get such a good deal across them all: "I would much rather, for example, Jet comes up with a good deal on sites it really wants, rather than come up with a blanket decision across all five that compromises certain elements.
"I believe that Jet works very well up here in Filey it’s not a massive commercial area in terms of fuel card business; and because of the Humber Refinery we get a low-cost deal. I like Jet’s approachability and customer service. I know I can pick up the phone to the top person, they’re a great team and really focused on customer issues.
"The BP sites do good fuel card volumes, and good Nectar penetration, so they work very well, and the Shell site has been Shell for 25 years and has grown and grown."
Being close to the seaside, the Filey sites have a rather interesting trade pattern in that roughly two thirds of their trade takes place in one third of the year between June and September. Hence their redevelopments have taken place during the winter months: "It’s expensive to close and redevelop, but we might as well do it during a period when we’re making less money," explains Joe.
All the Jos Richardson sites have a Spar store, off licence, lottery and Costa coffee. "The Costa coffee has been an explosion. We’ve got them on all of our sites and it’s transformed the profitability of the food-to-go section. Also, during the KDRB at York Road, we will be putting in our first Subway, and plan to put it in on at least three other sites. It’s a great product and in these brand-conscious days, Costa has proved to me that people will spend on a brand, and that’s why I want to make our sandwich-making more professional and more recognisable to a wider audience.
"Shops are a big part of the business, but I don’t think it’s as clear cut as just saying it’s all about the shops. I think you need a good fuel offer with good margins, good convenience store and food to go sales, and hopefully good valeting sales. That’s why if you can get all those things working on one site you should have quite a profitable business."
Focusing on service stations has proved a successful move for Jos Richardson & Son, and one that Joe hopes will take the business onto the next generation. It’s been fortunate that he loves the business the excitement of the instant impact he can make in the shop, and what he calls the simple procedures and easier cashflow compared to motor dealerships.
Today’s market is also favourable. Says Joe: "There’s never been a better time to be a small independent fuel retailer with a good convenience business."