You need to treat your best asset in a very civil manner

I’m going to keep this anonymous because it has now been sorted and I really wouldn’t want to rock the boat further.

A member of staff at a service station in the Midlands was working on a Sunday.

A customer came in to check on their lottery ticket. "I hadn’t had the training so I said the machine wasn’t working," said the member of staff. He was overheard by the deputy premises supervisor (DPS), who called the customer back and proceeded to give him a good telling off in front of them.

The staff member had worked at the filling station for 15 years (and holds his own personal licence not that sales of alcohol were involved here). He was so ticked off at the telling off that he left the premises.

The next two days were his days off, but when he returned on Wednesday the DPS said: "Who called you? Go and see your solicitors," obviously implying some form of disciplinary action was being taken.

He rang me for advice adding that the DPS was married to the contract manager of the site.

I advised him to write to the contract manager who would have only heard one side of the story to explain that he had been humiliated in front of a customer through no fault of his own.

As I said it has now been sorted it all blew over and he has now been shown how to check whether a ticket is a winner or not.

No doubt some would argue that he should have told the customer that he had not had the training, but it’s still no excuse for a public dressing down.

A feud over a fuel deal

It can sometimes be a bumpy ride between supplier and customer. In this case add bitter to bumpy.

Doug Wardle, who runs Jack’s of Norton, Stoke-on-Trent, says he had a terrible time with NWF Fuels. The business was under contract with NWF for more than 15 years in total and this June finished its latest and last five-year contract. "They have robbed me to death and the trade needs to know," says Doug. The deal, signed in June 2011, was volume related. "After 18 months they said we had a volume shortfall. We had to sell one million litres per year. I explained that everyone’s got a shortfall. After the economic crisis, national sales fell by 25%. It was well publicised at the time. Their pricing structure was such that it was causing us to not be competitive at the pumps."

He said 0.9p plus VAT was added as a penalty, so the total price was 4.3p over Platts and that’s without making any profit.

He plodded on but asked if he could get out of the contract: "They wanted to charge for loss of profits. We paid £15k over three-and-a-half years. They said this wasn’t for shortfall, it was for loss of profits and costs. But they told me it was shortfall all along. They wanted another £13k for loss of profits and a further volume shortfall. This to-ing and fro-ing took over a year. NWF Fuels owed us £2k for Streamline charges. They won’t give it back. And they wanted another £1k to decommission." (This was paid to NWF in advance to dismantle the existing Murco signage, work that was subsequently carried out by professional contractors at Jack’s of Norton’s expense.) It cost £30k for Doug to get out plus the cost of solicitors. He feels blackmailed and destroyed (or, as he put it "robbed, shafted and s--t on...").

The business has now switched to another supplier and has had a massive refit with new pumps. He says that Jack’s of Norton is now more competitive than it has ever been. "We’ve been open 10 days under the Jet banner (as at Sept 28). Shop turnover is up by £3k and petrol has doubled in volume." You only have to look at the description of Jack’s of Norton to see its potential: the business comprises a forecourt, a large convenience store and a Post Office and, based on current performance, Doug expects business to double again in a few months. A survey showed that 14,000 vehicles passed by on a daily basis which emphasises what a trick NWF Fuels was missing. "They were more interested in selling to farmers than to us. It would have been cheaper to buy at Asda and resell!"

I put all of this to NWF Fuels and the comments that follow come from managing director Kevin Kennerley: "NWF Fuels is a leading oil distributor throughout England and Wales with circa 60,000 customers in the industrial, commercial, agricultural and domestic markets in addition to a dynamic network of branded retail dealers. Offering a flexible approach and the Texaco, Jet, Murco and Dragon brands, many dealers have re-signed Solus Agreements with us and have been loyal customers, some for over 20 years. NWF Fuels is part of the NWF Group plc with revenues over £300m."

Once the commercial was finished, he got down to the nitty-gritty. "Doug Wardle, Chris and initially Mark Wardle negotiated three five-year contacts with NWF Fuels and it was an interesting relationship with a canny operator over this period.

"The relationship soured when an investigation into volume shortfall found that the dealer site in Stoke-on-Trent had behaved contrary to its Solus Agreement and the site was de-branded and a settlement reached. We wish Doug and his family every success in the future with the Jet brand. Phillips 66 (Jet) are an excellent company with whom we have a very close relationship and they are one of NWF Fuels major business partners."