It’s happy days for Mike Cheskin’s two Gulf-branded Gloucestershire forecourts as volumes and profits have increased by over 25% and his daughter Ruth demonstrates that you can teach an old dog new tricks.
Mike’s long career in petrol retailing began in 1968, working for the Alan Pond Group in East London. Fast forward almost half a century and he is now part of the fabric of Cotswold life, a member of the Parish Council, chair of the local Safer and Stronger Group and the operator of a successful rural filling station business. The pace and atmosphere for this 67-year-old dealer may now be far more congenial but the issues of the day are no less challenging.
His business comprises a leasehold site in the village of Charfield and a freehold forecourt, Cotswold Service Station, in Old Sodbury, a 15-minute drive away and situated on a busy commuter route. Both sites have a similar customer profile and each has seen an uplift in volumes since the move to Gulf in September 2014, after 16 years with Texaco. "I had always considered Texaco a much stronger brand than Gulf and when I was weighing up the various offers, this perception had pretty much ruled them out. Then my area manager invited me to an industry event, where I saw an impassioned presentation by Certas Energy director, Ramsay MacDonald. It made me realise that the brand had moved on considerably."
Mike’s sites’ rebranding, complete with a smiley face on the pole sign in Old Sodbury, had an immediate impact. Fuel sales began to rise and are now 32% higher than the cumulative total 12 months ago. It has created a ripple effect across other areas of the business with shop sales up 15% and fuel bunkering up 10%.
Sales at Charfield Service Station are up from 40,000 to 58,000 litres a week plus 20,000 bunkering, while Cotswold recorded its best-ever weekly total of 48,000; a far cry from just 12 months ago when volume fell to 25,000, casting a shadow over its future.
"It seems that the busier we become, the more others want to experience what we have to offer," continues Mike. "Our rapport with customers has always been one of our strengths and now with the new image and a more competitive price, it’s becoming busier on a daily basis. Ruth’s growing influence on the business is also helping to draw new custom to our shops. She has made several positive changes to our facilities including the addition of coffee facilities. I had fought against coffee in the shop for years. Now it accounts for £1,300 a month."
Mike believes that while petrol retailing will always have its ups and downs, there appears to be a change in fortunes for dealers, with supermarkets exerting less control and motorists more appreciative of small local businesses. "It couldn’t come at a better time and the move to Gulf has set things in the right direction."
A change from daily to weekly Platts, as part of the new fuel agreement, has enabled Mike to eliminate the stress of waking up every morning thinking of delivery juggling while the GemPAY system has opened up new promotional opportunities. It has also enabled him to dramatically reduce transaction times and halve bank costs by creating a more proactive approach to offering cashback to customers. "And if that’s not enough to be going on with," enthuses Mike, "we are now able to attract new customers from Certas Energy’s arrangement with BP and Shell to take their Fuel Cards." It seems the pole sign smiley face could be a reflection of the way Mike is feeling about the future prospects for this family business.