A forecourt business waits for no one even if a late fuel delivery is threatening to hold the owner up for their daughter’s wedding. That’s what happened to Andrew and Diane Hindmarch, who run Hindmarch Garage in Stamford, Lincolnshire. It was undoubtedly one of the busiest weekends of their lives their daughter’s big day, the Diamond Jubilee, and their last weekend as Total dealers.
Reaching the church in the nick of time and, days later, undergoing a forecourt rebrand, marked the end of an unsettled couple of years for Andrew and Diane. They had happily traded with Total for 10 years until the oil company announced it was selling up. "There’s been a bit of uncertainty for two years," says Andrew. "There were so many rumours about who was going to buy Total the Russians, the Chinese. It was a concern because we didn’t know where we were going to go."
After speaking to every oil company and getting offers from most including BP, Texaco and Harvest Energy as well as considering the unbranded option, Andrew and Diane chose to stick with the subsequent new owners of Total’s distribution assets and signed to the Gulf brand. "It’s been quite pleasing to see GB Oils take shape," says Andrew.
"Dealers are at the mercy of the fuel companies as to whether they want you or not, and it was important to feel that our future supplier has a long-term commitment to petrol retailing in the UK.
"We had some concerns that we would lose volume when we moved from Total, which we considered to be the number-four brand, to Gulf (as an unknown brand in this area), but we haven’t. Gulf is more than able to hold its own in the industry the team is very good; the staff are very passionate. There was also a little bit of ’better the devil you know’ with Gulf because we kept the same personnel. Our dealer business manager, Tina Tweddle, was a big factor in the decision. And I liked what Ramsay MacDonald had to say. He’s very passionate about the industry and really knows where Gulf wants to go, which gave us confidence.
"We had the option to stay Total-branded until October 2014, but we didn’t want to stay with a dying brand as people jumped ship. We believed that Gulf would live up to what it said it was going to do, and I remember Gulf as a boy, with its motor racing heritage.
"There was a bit of a buzz around it coming back and reinventing itself. Plus, Diane liked the colours because they go well with the Peugeot dealership and Mace shop!"
Having always been on a margin deal, Andrew and Diane were apprehensive about Platts, but have plumped for a weekly Platts deal with Gulf. "We felt shy about Platts because we didn’t know what it was about, but it’s given us more flexibility to stay close to Morrisons, which is down the road. In a margin deal, you’re either there or you’re not. Daily Platts makes it too complicated it’s unnecessary on our volumes but I can pick the bones out of weekly.
"The Morrisons petrol station was already here when we took over the site 15 years ago. The bulk of the time we’re price matching or always within a penny. We won’t cut margin for the sake of being with Morrisons though. I won’t lose sleep if I’ve got to be 1p or 2p above, as long as we’re shifting the volume.
"We do compete quite well with Morrisons, but still we’ve got to be conscious of what the supermarkets are doing if they keep doing silly deals like 6ppl off it will start to get a lot more intense. We’re not big enough to compete with that. I think there are options to do things collectively with our oil company to combat those sort of promotions. Retailers generally are not doing enough together. We’re sitting back and letting the supermarkets walk all over us.
"We need to be careful not to shoot ourselves in the foot though," warns Andrew. "Supermarkets bring a lot of people to the area. If Morrisons wasn’t there, people would be going to Peterborough. Folk will drive 20 or 30 miles for a supermarket. We need them here to help the town’s economy."
Account customers are a significant contributor to Hindmarch’s bottom line with around 25% of the site’s volume coming from local accounts, which sets them apart from Morrisons.
"We try to stay loyal to local businesses if we can get a supplier locally we will," says Andrew. "We work with a local florist, pie maker, potato merchant and we get logs from the Burghley Estate. Our philosophy is if we can buy in Stamford, we will buy in Stamford. In return, those people have accounts with us the pie maker fills his vans with us and we buy pies from him."
Operating on the same site as their Peugeot main dealership, workshop and parts department, the Hindmarch’s forecourt has come into its own in recent years. "If we take the forecourt as a total package with the fuel, shop and other spin-offs, it gives us a good constant income and we wouldn’t want to be without it."
A turning point for the business was when Andrew and Diane developed the shop under the Mace brand, adding an off licence to the product mix. That saw shop turnover increase by 50%. "The shop has evolved we had to alter things and expand to make it more viable. If you improve the shop and facilities, people will buy fuel and get the kids’ lunch at the same time. Mace has given us an identity and the promotional background.
"Car sales haven’t necessarily got worse but the forecourt side of the business has got better. We’ve raised our game and it’s now become a more important part of the business. The car business has taken a hit because of the economic downturn. Folk aren’t buying cars but they’re spending more in the after-sales department."
While shop turnover has exceeded Andrew and Diane’s target, they are not sitting back on their laurels and plan to expand in the next couple of years. "We’d like to expand the frozen section, fresh produce, food to go, and put in a coffee shop so folk can sit down and use free wifi. We could move the office to another part of the building above the car showroom that will give us more room.
"We’ve just opened another Peugeot dealership in Grantham and that has proved that we can operate a business remotely, so I wouldn’t be put off by taking on another forecourt," adds Andrew. "If things are run properly and you’ve got the right backing with the right partners, there are real possibilities for expanding the forecourt side too."
Site: Hindmarch Garage, Stamford, Lincolnshire
Shop turnover: £50,000 a month
Services: Mace shop, off licence, food to go, hot coffee, Peugeot car sales and workshop
Staff: 43 in total, including six for the forecourt