A remarriage of convenience

Once upon a time Mandeep Singh’s site, Hillcrest Filling Station in Huddersfield, had been a Londis store but they had parted company it was a sort of square peg in a round hole situation. When he first contacted me a year or so ago, he had been shopping around for a new supply partner. It was not going well.

After a redevelopment he had moved from using Batleys (which is part of Bestway) and turned to Bestway itself because he was contemplating putting up a Best One fascia. But he was very dissatisfied with the deliveries.

When he last called me, he was wondering whether to go ahead with the fascia he needed something because although the store looked great inside following the refit, the outside was letting it down.

He put up with the situation for around nine months but in the end he decided against it and rang Londis up again. He got a very favourable response.

He says: "Things are much better now. I am so relieved."

The site is a real family business with Mandeep running the store with his wife Jasmeen, his brother Jas and his sister-in-law. It is also a classic case of the convenience store being the most important element to the business. He says: "We are in the middle of a residential area so we are a store with a forecourt rather than a forecourt with a store."

Not only did Mandeep rejoin Londis but he also joined what Londis describes as a New Customer Journey Programme (NCJ). This involved a lot of discussion with a regional development manager to come up with a joint vision and various aims. It sounded like a plan.

The NCJ revamp was extensive with the whole store relaid starting from a clean slate. The result is more open space making the 750sq ft store seem larger than it is and a lot of new services and lines on offer including hot drinks-to-go with freshly ground coffee and a slush machine. And making a real point of difference: a milkshake machine called f’real.

There is a lot of jargon talked in the retail industry about ’customer experience’ and ’destination stores’ and suchlike but the Singhs’ store shows what really can be achieved when people put their heads together, listen to each other and come up with workable strategies.

Can downsizing be a good thing?

I spoke to two retailers recently who had two things in common. They both previously had two sites and were now down to one.

Some readers may remember Kumar Selvakumar’s saga a few years back, when his bit of Walthamstow in east London underwent huge upheaval, turning the road outside into a cycling lane that was dubbed ’mini Holland’. With the nearby Tube station shut for three weeks and Certas unable to get its artics onto the site, to say that business tanked is an understatement.

As he managed to sell to developers, he didn’t suffer a hit on the sale. Kumar is now concentrating on his other site in Birmingham.

Chris Toole also sold his forecourt site in Carlisle last summer and is now concentrating on his other business, a convenience store. "It was an offer I couldn’t refuse," he says. He sold it to David Penny whose rapidly growing Penny Petroleum chain now boasts 48 sites across the North and Scotland.

As the sale didn’t require any advertising or agent’s fees, everyone involved was happy with the outcome. Chris adds: "I didn’t realise how much fun life can be with only one store."

What these two stories show is that the feature in the last issue, on the rude good health of the property market for attractive forecourts and/or prime locations, holds true.

He’s gone... but he’ll be back

A lot of you know Steve Vaughan who ran Londis Handbridge in Chester. He sold his store in May. So many offers were coming in that he decided to put the business in the hands of Barber Wadlow, which sold it to a developer who works for the Co-op. He offers, as always, a good tip. "I had a great career with Londis and Esso but there are many pitfalls. Always go with a good professional like Barber Wadlow and my solicitors Hatchers in Shrewsbury. They saved my life a couple of times."

I am pretty certain we haven’t heard the last from Steve.