Knock-down prices: Nothing like a makeover to start the year. And if you want your place to look like a million dollars or should I say pounds, then you might have to spend that much.
In North London’s Enfield that’s about the amount Nailesh and Ajay Gokani spent on revamping their Empire Service Station. "We’ve been here 23 years, and apart from an odd lick of paint" says Nailesh. "The site was looking worn out. The workshop needed a big revamp, some of the pumps didn’t work, others had leaks, even the shop roof leaked!"
Obviously no one has that kind of money in their pocket so it was down to the bank for the finance. "We’ve been with NatWest for 15 years or so and had a good relationship with them we always stayed within our overdraft limits," he adds.
It helped too that they own the freehold and it was all paid up.
The knock-down rebuild, that Nailesh originally estimated would take just three months, took a total of seven months out of last year, with the brothers re-opening on December 12.
The pair remained with BP but switched their store fascia from Londis to Spar. As Nailesh points out, in his area Spar stores are few and far between, so this has made a point of difference (he is quite right about this. If I google my closest Spar stores, two notable ones pitch up among the closest three: one is the award-winning number in Walthamstow and the other is the Gokani brothers’ site in Enfield even though that is 5.5 miles away and, in London terms, not at all close!).
While their work progressed, they managed to find a small garage workshop up the road and so were able to keep that side of the business going with some of the staff deployed there. Others took voluntary redundancy.
There were other casualties: the car wash went to make space for the addition of an off licence in the store. Nailesh is pretty sure they’ll make more out of alcohol and their just-before Christmas timing was spot on.
The project was not without teething troubles. The ATM was late arriving and the MOT side is not up yet as this is being written in mid-January. So the opening was a rather low-key affair.
Nailesh reckons that 85% of his fuel customers are already back with him (four pump islands mean that eight cars can fill up all at once). That’s pretty good going given that there are two Tesco Express stores nearby, both with petrol stations (and so are unlikely to be among those that head office is threatening to axe).
"We’ve overcome the majority of the hiccups now," says Nailesh, "and we are concentrating on matching our fuel prices with the supermarkets."
On the day I spoke to Nailesh, he was selling at £104.9 per litre for unleaded.
How low can you go?
While the rest of the retailing world screams on about the contents/recipe of the Creme Egg, the price of petrol has been making national headlines.
I used to ask was it just me, but the price of petrol seemed to exercise the general public more than it was worth. I looked at it this way: 1p cheaper a litre on 30 litres (enough to keep my Smart car going for about a fortnight in its run-about-town capacity) = 30p. Ooh, I’m overcome. Others say they only got interested in the price when it went over a pound. And of course, anyone clocking up miles will be super interested. You should hear my local taxi driver on the subject.
Now prices have been plummeting and the whole country is interested. Happy customers; but there is a downside isn’t there? You have to drop the price when it goes public even if you paid more for it earlier in the week. As the Enfield retailer (mentioned previously) said to me: "Yeah, you take a hit. You can’t run on empty."
Not everyone drops that quickly. In the rarefied atmosphere of Shetland (more about which later), Scott Preston is selling petrol at his Tagon Stores for £1.18 and diesel at £1.28 and says the diesel will drop to £1.20 in a couple of days.
"Petrol locally is around £1.09 but I’m higher as I have old stock that is not selling because everywhere else is significantly cheaper the difficulty is who would want to sell anything at a loss? Your guy in Enfield shouldn’t try and compete on price supermarkets will always win on that front; he needs to look at product and service offerings where his margin can give him a competitive edge. I’m now convinced that if folk need fuel they don’t care about a difference of up to 5ppl. Within Lerwick (the main town here) there are four garages within a two mile radius serving a population of around 8,000 people. The prices today (at Jan 14) vary from £1.09.9 to £1.14.9 and they’re all doing well."
And Scott totally objects to those .9s. "I mean who has .9 or .7 of a penny?!"
Whenever I talk to Scott I ask him about the island’s weather and I’m surprised this didn’t make headlines. "The weather here is er... ’capricious’ which you won’t hear on the BBC weather forecast. We had winds on Saturday hitting 100mph-plus. One forecourt had its petrol pump blown off the plinth completely and into the building."
The house next door to Tagon Stores had six solar panels blown all over the road/gardens. "They were rescued by my lovely wife and two of my staff, and are now secured in my stockroom waiting for the weather to ease off and there’s worse to come tomorrow!"
So you can understand why he begs: "Bring on the tourist season!"