What a difference a day makes
We know that petrol prices go up and down like the proverbial, but when it costs you £500 plus VAT overnight, that is really painful.
Rachel King, who is the forecourt manager at John Stayte Services, got in touch, sending me her figures for a Friday delivery from BP Cheltenham-based East End Service Station, which totalled £34,532.96 plus VAT. But the delivery didn’t arrive until Saturday morning by which time the price had gone up to £35,014.12 plus VAT. As Rachel wrote in her complaint to BP, the total difference came to £481.16 plus VAT plus an additional cost for a member of staff to come in on their day off at overtime rates.
She says: "We are already miles off trying to compete with other fuel sites in the Cheltenham area. This price jump makes the situation even worse."
She got a sympathetic response which said it could have gone either way; sometimes gains, sometimes losses and BP asked for a breakdown. This was duly supplied but, two weeks later, as this is being written, no response. Rachel adds that she hasn’t noticed any gains.
Given that the fuel was likely loaded the night before anyway, Rachel believes they should have got the Friday prices.
Two of the company’s other sites are Platts-based on a weekly average and the third is supplied by Esso, which Rachel says is very competitive. The contract with BP is up in September and the new one will probably go to Texaco or Certas, which work on a weekly price based on the average of the previous week. Meanwhile, Rachel would like to know what others have experienced in terms of gains and losses.
Voice of frustration
Back in December Huw Griffiths, who runs a Nisa Extra at his Llantwit Main Service Station at Cross Inn near Pontyclun in Mid Glamorgan, posted the following on the Texaco Station Forum titled ’Gempay going into reboot’: "Two trolleys of grocery, £178, sent to Gempay, which then went into reboot. Same customer two weeks ago, two trolleys £180 of grocery sent to Gempay, which then went into reboot. Imagine going into Asda or Tesco and their EFT system crashing on a large spend. Not going to happen is it?
"Is any other large store and fuel site getting these problems, please let me know at email@example.com."
Now, just in case you are wondering why Forecourt Trader is publishing such old news, I can tell you that Huw has sent me an update.
"Six months on and it’s still happening. Gempay just went into reboot today (June 14) on two trolley loads of grocery totalling £163."
And he adds: "As I am only weeks away from opening a bigger forecourt store up from 3,000sq ft to 7,000sq ft, this problem is a big concern. Unfortunately I am stuck in the middle between HTEC, who supplied the POS, and Texaco, which supplied the HTEC Gempay credit card reader. As usual they both blame each other which does not help my situation."
Surely a case for the two to come together to solve the problem?
Fuel cards: the argument rumbles on
I’ve had a response to my last column over the cost of fuel cards. Ruth Kent, communications manager for Valero Energy, wrote: "In response to Paul Ghuman’s letter in your June column, we are more than a little shocked at the suggestion of collusion with our competitors, which is completely inaccurate.
"Fuel cards are a very competitive way of driving repeat business onto forecourts and our agreements to accept Euro Shell and BP cards on our forecourts has been welcomed by most of our retailers. In some cases, Valero is able to offer retailers the Shell CRT fuel card too and it is their decision whether they accept this or not. I would add that in relation to Mr Ghuman’s service station, sites located in industrial areas have a higher than average traffic of fuel card customers and this is an important part of their business.
"Cross-acceptance agreements are entirely legal and bring value to both the retailers and their customers, and have been a common practice in the UK for over 30 years. Whilst Valero can in some instances facilitate the acceptance of Key Fuels and other bunker cards, the decision to accept these cards is driven by the retailer and not Valero and is never a condition of signing a sales agreement with us."
I spoke to Paul again and he told me that he had asked his Texaco rep what the criteria was for applying for a fuel card. It is 500 litres a month.
"A window cleaner will use more than that," says Paul. "It should be 5,000 litres. It’s meant to be for fleets."
Since we first spoke Paul has, as I suggested, gone to see his MP, Nigel Mills, over the matter.
"He was interested in what seemed like anti-competitive stuff. He made notes."
He also said that he can see a future where the retailer will have to survive on shop sales. "They will be selling the fuel for nothing. Do the oil majors think we can carry on trading profitably on 1p per litre and be able to pay a decent wage, keep up the standards and comply with all the legal legislations?
"Oil majors and retailers need to think about this very seriously."