Choices, choices

If you have nine shops and you are in the Top 50 Indies you are already a success by anyone’s standards. But it never stops there you are always looking to improve. Intake Developments, an up-and-coming chain of forecourts, all Jet sites, has shops ranging in size from 500-1,850sq ft.

When John Campbell rang from his Sheffield-based family business six months ago, he was considering branding two or three of the larger sites and was looking for an opinion on symbol groups.

I sent him a list and it was pretty long including, as it did, (in alphabetical order) Best-one, Budgens, Costcutter, Go Local Extra, Lifestyle, Londis, Mace, Nisa, Premier and Spar along with a factoid on each. Given that most of these also have a variety of formats, the permutations, while not exactly endless, are certainly considerable. The Germans have a neat phrase for this: die Qual der Wahl the torture of choice.

I also suggested contacting as many as possible on the basis that a) they should all bite his arm off because of the potential and b) a rep’s visit can be as useful as a free consultation.

They will have seen more stores than they have had hot dinners and will make a lot of suggestions as to how their marriage in heaven might materialise. Obviously this would take time but, curious as to how the project was progressing, I rang up and spoke to John’s son Robert, who doubles as director and area manager.

The answer was it is down to two finalists, so the family is really doing its homework. Both finalists are broadly in the same league so I’ll be really keen to hear what the deciding factors were when the choice is made.

I wondered how the stores are branded at the moment. Robert says: "They just say things like Your Local Shop and Off Licence really whatever we inherited, what was over the door when we bought them." So one or two of the stores do have misleading symbol signage even though the Campbells have never been members. Therefore the insides of the stores don’t necessarily match the outsides.

Robert adds: "We often trade with lots of local suppliers at the best possible prices and we are trading well but looking to move the game on."

If they can get even better prices by choosing the right symbol group and then stick with a few local suppliers (always goes down well with shoppers) then they will have the best of both worlds and stay right up there in the Top 50.

I can’t resist saying it: watch this space.

Scotland has its secrets

I’ve been looking at a website called Secret Scotland which says it aims to provide a common resource where secret, hidden or otherwise notable points of interest around Scotland may be recorded and shared. It is modelled after the class-leading Wikipedia format.

The bit I was looking at showed a few ’lost’ petrol stations, long gone. It got me thinking about Scotland (again) and the subject of referendum. Soon, we (I mean the English, Welsh and Northern Irish) may ’lose’ all the remaining Scottish stations.

The last person to ring me on the subject didn’t want to be identified just like a lot of celebrities who say they fear a clobbering whether they say ’aye’ or ’nay’. But, like everyone else I’d spoken to on the subject, he had lots of questions: if they separate, what would happen with VAT? He buys from suppliers based in England. If charged, could he reclaim?

What about the postal service? It’s now universal but Alex Salmond says he will re-nationalise it. What about the National Lottery? What about trading standards?

Then I spoke to Craig Cunningham who, with his sister Abbie Houston, runs Abbiecraig Services in the market town of Cupar in Fife. Several months ago Craig had said there hadn’t been enough information on how a ’yes’ vote would affect businesses.

In June I checked back and he said there still wasn’t enough info. I asked him whether he had heard anything from his supplier (Mace). He had not. One should not be surprised by this. Mace is in very good company with almost all suppliers keeping shtum on the subject. However, Craig has made his mind up and isn’t afraid to say so. "I’m voting no." He reckons the outcome will be very close to 50/50. As I write this there are three months to go. Four million will get a vote on this Big Question, including 16 and 17 year olds. Normally teenagers are not known for rushing to the polls particularly when it concerns ’local’ elections.

I suspect in this case the opposite may happen. Without sounding patronising I also suspect their decisions will not be informed ones. They haven’t tried running a business yet.

No charge for the electrics?

I listened to a radio programme a few weeks ago where the future of electric cars and third-generation biofuels were being discussed. In the end it was thought that we will end up with a multiplicity of different fuels: horses for courses one for delivery vehicles, one for long distance, another for urban cars and so on.

Someone in Oslo was interviewed who only spends a few hundred a year running his car as the electricity is free. I didn’t hear anyone speculate how long that would last in this country if we all went over to electric cars. The BBC should interview the tax man and try to get a straight answer.