I’m talking Christmas trading here. In general it is meant to be busy but also prime time for shoplifters/drive-offs. There has also been a lot of talk about belt-tightening in response to the cost-of-living crisis, so I did a spot of canvassing to see what some of you had to say on the subject.
I also asked about suppliers: were they up-to-scratch or were you left wanting?
I spoke first to Huw Griffiths who has two sites in Wales.
Huw says: “Both stores were up for the Xmas week (seven days). Bridgend Store sales hit £46K, Llantwit store £154K which was up on last year. Most of our party food etc sold extremely well. Fuel sales were the same as a normal year. Actual drive-offs for us is not a big problem, but customers forgetting to pay for fuel is. We use the services of Forecourt Eye on a daily basis.
“Nisa/Co-op supplies into store were good, but I do believe that being among their bigger customers we do fare better than the corner store customers. Shoplifting is no worse than normal and our facial recognition cameras do help. Sometimes we have a problem with the odd item like Red Bull disappearing over several weeks, we then put that item on hourly stock checks to identify the thief. The Red Bull thief was quickly identified and reported to police, who wanted to just give him a warning. “With our zero tolerance policy we insisted that he was charged and prosecuted.”
I also spoke to Sebastian Nonis who runs Forfar Road Service Station in Dundee, who said: “Trading was good… as usual business was pretty good!”
He added that regarding drive-offs and no-means-of-payment (NMOP) he is using Forecourt Eye “as I have given up with police”.
He is pleased with Forecourt Eye. “You report to them and they go after them… most of the time for NMOP when you tell them that they are debt collectors – most of them don’t like that idea of it and tend to pay!
“Shoplifting I use the Facewatch app. Very interesting. I have managed to stop repeat shoplifting as Facewatch will recognise them and an alarm will go off on a phone with their face. So before they do a crime we will try and stop it or ask them nicely to leave the premises.”
He says that Jet as his fuel supplier has always been good and that, as a Booker Premier, he had no problems with deliveries.
But for Shamly Sud, director of Glasgow-based GHSL which owns the RaceTrack Pitstop chain, it was a difficult time. She said: “To answer your question the increase in sales has been outweighed by the amount of theft happening in stores. We have invested and put in face recognition in the majority of our stores so we are able to identify some thieves coming back. However this is not enough as either they hide their faces as they come in or they walk in behind someone, so it gets missed.”
She added that such thieves can skilfully swipe an entire shelf of Lurpak butter, for example and and then walk straight back out.
“Therefore if you don’t catch it the minute they walk in then you’ve missed it. Now we have to put one Lurpak out on display at a time.”
The solution to this dilemma, she says, would be to have someone at the door at all times which is an expense in itself and over and above the also very high general expenses in the business.
“We will put someone at the door and check receipts in particular busy periods only. Therefore it is an extremely difficult time for retailers.
“Furthermore there is very little help from the police. We can have recorded CCTV at the site waiting for over two to three months before it has been collected by police. A recent drive-off from November 9 has only been picked up today (December 28.)
“In one of our stores we have had a manager spat on by a thief as well as verbally abused. The police know who it is but nothing has been done.
“With regards to drive-offs again we have invested in this by having registration recognition so if it flashes red our staff won’t authorise until it has been investigated so that has helped.
“Therefore the main issue on sites is theft and the lack of help from police. We had an instance where someone stole all of our Yankee range. We even found him selling them online. Gave all these details to the police and basically to this day have heard nothing. One of the responses that we have had from police is that it isn’t high priority.”
For Danyal Shoaib, who runs Hylands Service Centre in Great Bookham, Surrey, it was “a bit of a mixed bag”. He says: “For the week leading up to and including Christmas Eve we had weekly sales this year of £17,635 at 29.29% GP; last year we hit £20,683 at 30.39% GP. So it was 15% down from the same period last year. Also there was a reduction in GP of 1.1%.
“We have had less supply issues but a date life issue, but some key Christmas lines that go well eg Jaffa Cakes Pole were pulled, which was rather annoying.
“What was surprising to us this year was Tesco decided to open on New Year’s Day, which historically it did not do. A Tesco Express has opened not too far from us so it is possible that some reduction is attributable to that.
“You may have seen my piece on the BBC regarding the Facewatch cameras not long ago,” (indeed I did see it) “unfortunately our focus has been less on shoplifting, although we know this is going on, but on staff abuse.
“Scissors were pulled out on one occasion when a staff member thought somebody was shoplifting and in another incident a group of boys/men were generally abusive to staff members and threw a bottle across the shop floor.
“We have seen an increase in cloned plates rather than the ‘classic’ drive-offs but not as many in number as in some years.”
And then, somewhere in the middle of the good, the bad and the ugly, there was Jon Brownsey from Fordingbridge Service Station in Hampshire. For him the season was more ‘meh’.
He says: “I can’t really think of anything that has stood out this year. Usual bugs and illness amongst the staff, no notable instances of theft, suppliers no worse than they usually are.
“Christmas Eve used to be one of our busiest days of the year, but ever since the Morrisons six miles away opened a petrol station at their store about 10 years ago, it has become more like a Sunday which, ironically, this year it was. Sorry I can’t offer anything interesting – I must try harder.”
Then he made my day for adding: “Thanks for everything you do for us retailers; we are generally unloved by the public (thanks, Simon Williams) despite working hours that the vast majority of the population would never entertain, but your page always helps to redress the imbalance to some small degree and lets us know that we are not alone.”
PS For anyone who doesn’t know, Simon Williams is the lead RAC spokesperson and is responsible for a lot of the unfavourable headlines of late about ‘greedy’ forecourt operators bumping up the price of petrol unnecessarily. Boo, hiss Mr Williams.
You can email your queries, news and views to Jac@roper-biz.co.uk or call 0208 8502 9775.