There can’t be many service stations around nowadays that date back so far that they’ve gone from doling out hay and water to horses and carriages, right the way through to serving today’s fuel-thirsty vehicles and their demanding drivers/passengers. But that’s just what’s happened at Prestwick-based David Bryson & Son. It all began in 1902, when David Bryson started offering a service to the horses and carriages coming through the tolls. He had stables that fed and watered them.
Today Brysons is a third-generation family business. Founder David Bryson passed it onto Walter Bryson senior and his brother John Bryson, and now it’s managed by Walter junior and his cousin Peter Bryson, who both joined the family business straight out of school.
The business is based on offering as many motoring services as possible, so while Walter looks after the Londis shop, car sales and admin, Peter handles servicing, motor parts and after sales.
The site’s been with BP for 12 years. It’s currently doing 2.5mlpa five years ago that figure was 4.5mlpa. "Gradually the supermarkets moved in," explains Walter, "with Asda, Tesco and Morrisons all doing petrol. When Sainsbury’s joined them three years ago it prompted us to redevelop the site. Fuel sales have levelled out now, not just because of the supermarkets but because of the economic climate, people doing more car sharing, making shorter journeys and, of course, more fuel-efficient cars."
There is a not a lot of space for other forecourt services on the site. "We do have a jet wash, but it’s round the back. It’s taken a while to get going but we have promoted it with leaflets and that’s helped. We’re very tight for space so there’s no vacuum."
Walter says the servicing part of the business is steady but car sales are tough tougher even than fuel sales!
The shop is a relatively new addition. Walter explains: "Twenty years ago we did a knock-down-rebuild and added a small 300sq ft shop. We were an independent Shell site then, with a Shell Select shop. Twelve years ago we joined Londis and extended the shop to 900sq ft, then three years ago we extended it again, this time to 1,500sq ft. "We knew we wanted to join a symbol group because of the opportunities it would bring and because it would give us a better chance of developing a busy convenience store," he says. With Londis’ help that’s what Walter’s achieved, and the store is on target to reach a turnover of £1.25m this year (excluding VAT, Paypoint and National Lottery). Sales are currently running at 6-7% ahead of last year.
Centrally located in Prestwick on the main Ayr-to-Glasgow trunk road, Walter describes his store’s customer profile as being the "best of both worlds".
"We have the local trade from the housing estates and the school, plus we have the commuters going to Glasgow so we’ve got a good combination of all types of customers."
Since the extension to 1,500sq ft Walter has expanded the product range.
"We’ve a lot more local produce now from a local butcher and bakery.
"We also have a couple of farm shops nearby so we take their ready meals, steak pies and packaged cold meats. A lot of our customers want not just value for money, they want a premium range they’re prepared to pay a bit extra for quality products."
Value for money is covered well by Londis promotions, which Walter describes as "excellent". "We take their ’high convenience’ offers. They are very strong at the moment, particularly the wow deals one really good deal every three weeks. They’re good sharp prices that really get noticed."
The store also has a Pound Zone and Walter runs his own promotions: "We have bunkers outside the shop that are good for promoting water or six- or eight-packs of Coke."
The best-performing categories in the store are chilled and food-to-go these are the areas showing the strongest sales growth. But Walter says cigarettes are still an important footfall driver and alcohol is a strong seller. There is a car care section in the parts department so the shop just carries a basic emergency range.
Food-to-go is an area of the store that’s been expanded as part of Walter’s strategy of moving with the market. He admits that it’s been a learning curve for him going from a traditional forecourt shop to a modern c-store where food-to-go is expected as part of the deal.
"Londis personnel helped me with the layout and product range; they gave me a lot of assistance. We use Country Choice as well as local lines.
"To be honest we’re still at the early stages but we’re gradually building trade. Instead of coming in for pre-made sandwiches, customers are going for made-to-order ones, which is good."
The shop has a Malibu chip fryer for things like chicken nuggets and chips, which are very popular with the school kids. "The beauty of it is that it’s self-contained so there’s no smell or mess. You change the oil once a week or fortnight and the filter once every three months. Margins are very good on food-to-go, plus it helps us control wastage. Certain items from the chiller that haven’t sold can be used in food-to-go."
Walter’s latest addition is a serve-over ice cream counter: "We offer local ice cream and it’s selling really well as there are no cafés around here selling ice cream cones."
The shop is open 24-hours-a-day, 365-days-a-year and has an ’open door’ policy all through the night. "It brings us quite a bit of business with people buying Rollover hot dogs, coffee and Rustlers burgers. We’re not right in the centre of town so the business comes mostly from taxi drivers bringing people in on their way home from the pubs and clubs; there’s no walk-in trade. We don’t get any trouble. We sometimes get a wee bit of verbal but nothing worse if we did we’d stop doing it."
In all, the store has 15 full- and part-time staff to keep up with the store’s high standards standards which have led to it winning many major awards.
It was named overall Scottish Local Retailer of the Year in 2011 and has also been a forecourt category winner in the Scottish Local Retailer awards several times the latest of which was in June.
Walter believes entering awards is a good thing: "It’s a great way of comparing yourself with other stores. You can see how you fare against the competition. It gives you an idea of what you need to do and then you can develop your services accordingly.
"Awards are good for staff too, as they motivate them and are a ’thank you’ for their hard work. They’re good for our customers as well. We always make sure we promote and advertise our wins. Customers then realise what a good store they have that serves their community well.
"Retailing is all about customer service and store standards. We have a clean and tidy, well-presented shop with as good a product range as possible. We work hard to achieve this and adapt to keep up with customer demands so they keep coming to us rather than going elsewhere."