== All’s well that ends well ==
Here’s a piece of advice which surely falls into the commonsense category, but it’s surprising how many don’t check out the cancellation clauses in contracts they sign. Or, as in David Taylor Garage Group’s case, it was so long ago that it was forgotten.
Janine Sharpless, director of the Powys-based group, got in touch after a strop with Peninsula Business Services which specialises in keeping companies tooled up on day-to-day employment law and health and safety obligations.
The group had employed the services of Peninsula for some time. "We actually signed up in 1999 for three years," says Janine, "but then it just rolled over."
This suited them until this year, when the group decided to dispense with Peninsula’s services, and Janine wrote with what she believed to be the required six months’ notice. "But the wording actually says six months’ written notice from the renewal date (April), so it was really 18 months notice. We can understand that they require notice but we’ve given them 10 loyal years. Six months gives them time to replace the business, so let’s be fair on both sides."
The person she had been dealing with at the company wasn’t seeing it this way and pointed out the lettering of the contract. Janine forcefully insisted that this should have been pointed out verbally at the outset, not just ensconced in fine print, and wrote saying she would be fighting this every inch of the way and would be enlisting Forecourt Trader’s help.
It is sometimes surprising how quickly these matters can be solved. One phone call, one email and a response which went, in part: "We are extremely concerned to read that a long-standing client has given notice on their account and are of the belief that their requests to cancel are being ignored.
"It is not Peninsula’s intention to hold clients into contracts that they no longer require and the notice period offered by Mrs Sharpless is more than acceptable. It is unfortunate that our response did not reach her sooner as we were offering to release on the anniversary date or continue for a six month notice period in recognition of their loyal business.
"Our terms are clear and unambiguous and it is not uncommon for companies to use notice periods for renewal of services. Clients are afforded the benefit of cost savings - in this instance the premium is the same as 10 years ago and has not attracted our yearly price increases. Please offer our apologies that this matter was not reviewed in a timely manner and advise Mrs Sharpless that confirmation of the offer will be with her shortly".
== Makeover time ==
If you come across a seriously lacklustre shop with a couple of pumps outside on a busy main road that’s going for a song, you might think your boat has come in.
So it was for Abdul Hafeez in Nottingham. He is an experienced convenience store operator who has bought and sold a few shops in his time - pulling them up by their bootstraps en route and making a profit - so he readily recognised that the business, situated on the A606 between Nottingham and Leicester, had great potential.
"The shop is 600-700sq ft but it’s dingy, dark and disgusting," he told me. "The previous owner ran it into the ground. It’s a Murco site dating back to 1964 with a 1970 pole and it badly needs some TLC."
Well, it will be getting that. Abdul has great plans for the site. The store is due to undergo a massive refit but he has decided to stay independent rather than join a symbol group. He is about to sign with Texaco and will have a nicely rebranded front and Texaco, of course, will take care of all the cards, e-top-ups, debit and credit cards.
He rang Service Centre because he was looking for an epos/wetstock system that wouldn’t cost him £15,000 as he only has one till. He said he was steering clear of the biggies like Torex because he thought it would mean paying top dollar. I spoke first to Mark Bradshaw, who runs Garage Watch Value, and he suggested Indigo which also does pump maintenance. Rang Billy Tank, who runs Indigo, and he confirmed that a single-lane system starts at around £5,500.
As I like to give a choice, I rang a few other high-profile retailers, all of whom turned out to use Torex. Steve Dyer, who has two tills and nine pumps, has used the Torex Prism system since day one around 15 years ago.
"It does what you want - electronic ordering, controls the shop, the stock, the fuel. We’ve never come up with a reason to change. He should at least get a price."
And that is what Abdul is now in the process of doing.
== It’s growing season for bank charges ==
Tony Vann, who trades in Harrogate, had been paying 15p per thousand paid in cash to Barclays. It’s now gone up to 25p. This means £300 per quarter or £1,200 a year straight off his bottom line.
He still reckons there is money to be made in forecourts. "I’m just a one-man band and I can go to the test matches if I want, but there are very few independents left. If I was 20 years younger I think I would need a few forecourts these days."
There has been a similar refrain on bank charges from quite a few retailers. Shopping around works. I know of several who have got free banking by presenting themselves as new customers.