Last month the Top 50 Indie Dewsbury-based Brookfield Group, held a grand celebration to mark the opening of its new £2m forecourt development in Pocklington, East Yorkshire. The launch of the new-to-industry site was marked by a two-day event which included a visit from a Ferrari Formula 1 racing car, giveaways and a wide range of in-store offers.
The site was officially opened by PRA chairman Brian Madderson who cut the ribbon. He was accompanied during the opening ceremony by the local mayor, councillor, town crier and representatives from Shell. A good time was had by all.
"It was a great way to introduce ourselves to the community and show them what services and fantastic products we have to offer," said retail partner Raj Patel, who runs the family-owned Brookfield Group with his brother Aziz. "The open day was an outstanding success. Crowds of people attended to take advantage of the special offers which included a free Costa Coffee, face painting and a free Subway when a 99p drink was bought."
The site features a 3,000sq ft Nisa Local convenience store, liveried in Nisa’s new ’Store of the Future’ format; a Subway, Costa Coffee, the company’s own-label ’Fresh Bake’ bakery and a generally high standard of amenities and services including car wash and valeting, café area, Subway and extremely smart toilet facilities. Customers are a mix of commuters, residents from the town, and the 1,500 or so people working on the adjacent Pocklington industrial estate.
The site looks superb and is bristling with all the trappings of a modern-day forecourt, as well as hitting all its targets. But there is more to come, with a restaurant and drive-thru coffee offer due to open next summer.
Pocklington is a growing market town with a population of about 5,000. It is located on the A1079, the parallel road between Hull (12 miles away) and York (eight miles) to the M62.
"We came across this plot four years ago during one of our reviews to discover potential new-to-industry sites," explains Aziz. "At that point there was no roundabout here on the A1079. But when we inquired with the planners we found there were plans to put in a new bypass and roundabout. That was a catalyst to the purchase."
The Patel brothers did a deal with the owners of the 1.2 acre plot but didn’t go for planning until the roundabout was being developed two years ago. "East Riding council were very helpful with the planning," stresses Aziz. "They were keen for the development and so were Broadhelm, the developers we acquired the plot from, who own a lot of land locally. They saw the need for a large fuel and convenience operation, not just because of the local and commuter customer base, but also because it is quite a famous area. There is the nearby Pocklington airfield used during World War II; and politician William Wilberforce lived around here, so there’s a small element of tourism."
The brothers do a lot of their own legwork prior to purchasing a site. "We look at the quality of competition; traffic flows; location; accessibility; availability of shop goods and food items not just fuel," stresses Aziz. "We test out all the local competition by being customers ourselves, not just for one day, but for a fair period of time."
It is through such diligence that the Brookfield Group has grown a successful business which appeared at number 21 in the Forecourt Trader Top 50 Indies listing, with 12 sites, but now numbers eight operational and eight leasehold sites. But while the academic Patel family clearly has entrepreneurial blood running through their veins, their accomplishments in the fuel retailing sector might never have been achieved were it not for a chance reminder by Aziz’s wife of a meeting he was supposed to attend: "I was still a practising pharmacist and one day while doing the prescriptions, I filled in a coupon in the paper, applying to run a franchise with Conoco," explains Aziz. "I wanted to do something for myself, as opposed to working for someone else as a locum pharmacist. I got a reply inviting me to a conference in Leeds. One day my wife and I had been out together visiting a friend and on the way back, pondering what to do next, we stopped to refuel at a Mobil forecourt in Preston. My wife wound down the car window and said ’Don’t you have to be somewhere tonight?’. I had forgotten. I used the payphone on the forecourt to call and find out the details. By the time we got to Leeds the meeting was coming to an end, but the people there seemed to know who I was they still had my coupon. I didn’t even realise Jet was Conoco’s brand!" Eventually Conoco executives talked Aziz into running a site in Sheffield, which he took over in 1992 following a two-week ’Retail Charter’ training course. Older brother Raj who was already running a substantial clothing and commercial property business with brother Mebs came in to help. They were given two more sites to run; then Raj joined full time. Then they took on three more Jet sites and one Mobil. When they bought their first site in 1998, they named their company after it Brookfield. In 2003 they took advantage of the BP divestments and were successful bidders for three sites, including one called ’Tickled Trout’. Ironically it was the former Mobil site where Aziz had been reminded of the meeting that had such an impact on his life more than 10 years before, and where today the Brookfield Group runs another superb forecourt. "We brought our skills from the retail clothing and retail pharmacy sectors and used them in the forecourt business," says Raj.
"Key elements for us include high standards of customer service, merchandising and cleanliness; and competitive pricing. We are very hands on in the business we like to keep busy. In recent times our strategy has changed slightly to focus on new-to-industry sites and leasehold deals for third parties.
"We didn’t ever envisage owning a lot of forecourts, but the opportunities came and we took them."