There have been many petrol filling station knock-down-rebuilds which have transformed the existing site into a modern-day forecourt operation, but perhaps few have required quite such vision and creativity to maximise the opportunity, as the owner of Abbeyside Services in Selby, Nick Baker. He has built an imposing two-storey modern forecourt operation with a total of 4,000sq ft of floor space, on a tiny, crazily-shaped plot of less than half an acre a triangulated piece of land which tapers sharply at the back to a width of a couple of feet. Where there was once a small and dated forecourt with a tiny Mace shop, now stands a large glass-fronted building, high and proud on one of the main roads into the centre of town, attracting both commuters and local residents to its mesmerising array of offers.
It features a modern three-island forecourt with dual Jet/Spar branding; a 2,000sq ft Spar store with Subway; and on the upper floor another 2,000sq ft area featuring Nick’s own-brand Cheeky Café, with spacious seating. At the back of the site there are three jet washes, a Revolution Laundromat and Amazon lockers. "It is a tiny site and I’ve had to use every inch of it to create this operation," explains Nick, whose family wife Carrie, son Joe and daughter Hannah all work in the business, NJB Services, which owns five forecourts in the North East.
The £1.3m redevelopment is bristling with innovation and UK ’first’ achievements. Nick claims it is the first two-storey forecourt to be open to customers, made possible as he is the first to have a platform lift for customers in a non-residential property all done at a cost of £14k rather than the circa £40k he says it would have cost for a traditional lift. Nick says Abbeyside is the first service station to have self-service tills; and the first with prominent external digital temperature signage. He has also created his own van wash, by having a raised platform designed and built to his own specification, so that users can reach the top of their van with the wash nozzle. He has also created his own ’Cheeky’ coffee, and has had several bespoke hot drink machines built the latest one on his Selby site includes tea.
He is nothing if not dogged and determined, particularly during the redevelopment of Abbeyside, with the focus on deadlines, details and problem solving.
"It’s taken two years to develop,’ explains Nick. "We were supposed to be closed for 14 weeks but it turned into 24 weeks due to various problems. The building is so big it needed industrial piling reinforcing the spec added four weeks to the build. The beams also caused a six-week delay. I had to arm-wrestle every day with contractors, and I was the only one who stood firm throughout the whole thing to make sure we opened on a set day. Even so we had to open with no glazing for two weeks."
Aside from the actual construction, Nick had had long negotiations with his neighbour, the Ministry of Defence, which owns two industrial units next door.
"I’d been trying to buy the land for years, but they don’t need the money. I did a complicated transaction and agreed a long lease on a strip of land adjacent to the site, which provides access to the forecourt and the valeting facilities behind the main building. It was key to getting the development as it is. I have also had to rent adjacent land for 18 car parking spaces."
The new development officially opened on May 23 amid great razzmatazz with the local radio station, Monster FM, broadcasting on site; and countless promotions including free Subways and car washes.
Nick describes Abbeyside as his ’baby’ it was his first site, acquired on July 1, 2004. "The people selling it were worried because the Selby bypass was under way, and a new retail park next door was planned. But I saw those as opportunities.
"The site was originally built 25-30 years ago. It had a 400sq ft shop and sold mostly cigarettes. Over the years I expanded the shop to 600sq ft and grew the fuel volumes from 90k litres a week to 200k, and trebled the shop sales to up to £20k a week. I also went to 24-hour opening.
"Tesco came along and knocked the volumes back, but since the rebuild we’re on track to do 9mlpa within a year. It’s important to have a point of difference, to keep having new ideas to give customers more reasons to visit your site. All those individual visits add up to a great business."