Turned upside down by Covid-19

Tom Dant, managing director of Lincolnshire-based Gill Marsh Forecourts, sent in the observation that everybody is finding that times are strange.

He says: "For us our best- performing site is now our worst- performing site, and our worst site is now the best!" Fuel sales are down by around 75% and the two transient stores’ shop sales are down by nearly 50% as well. "Our convenience stores on the other hand are up massively as is the trend."

He has managed the decline by cutting hours in the underperforming areas of the business (both closing times and staffing levels). "This has enabled us to keep trading while still making a small profit due to low overheads generally and owning the freeholds (I feel for the leasehold sites out there)."

Staff levels have suffered quite badly with staff members self-isolating and leaving due to the pandemic. "At its worst I think I had around 40% of my workforce off! Fortunately it’s at a time when the business is eerily quiet and did us a favour because of being able to reclaim the SSP for a change!"

He is now offering home delivery to around a 15-mile radius of his five stores. "We run it from one store and collate the orders, pick and take payment and then deliver from one central location. This went from idea to reality very quickly but is currently taking around £5-6K per week.

"I just need to say that our wholesaler AF Blakemore has been fantastic throughout the pandemic. We have far more stock than all of our local competitors, especially the Co-op stores. We have regular daily updates from them on stock availability issues and procedural changes. They have sourced us hand sanitiser, screens, face masks etc."

Natwest also comes in for praise. "Our bank has been brilliant and kept in constant communication. This is echoed by other retailers that I have talked to who use the same bank."

Still hanging on in Hampshire

Jon Brownsey, who runs Fordingbridge Service Station in Hampshire says he is still open seven days a week, albeit closing earlier. "I am down to half of my usual staff numbers as I had two signed off sick before any of this started, and while we are patching together the rota, there is no longer any slack in the system. Unfortunately we are slightly over the £51k rateable value so will not be eligible for the grants on offer which is frustrating. Londis have been pretty good overall.

"The supplier I have been most disappointed with is Warburtons. On one occasion we were delivered three yes, three loaves. Let’s you know where you are in the pecking order."

After lockdown they decided to close

Laurence Haring says staff welfare has always been a priority for him in the South West (Highbridge, Weston-super-Mare and Bath). He says: "Two members of staff have partners/husbands that were classed as vulnerable. My wife has had pneumonia three times and is classed as vulnerable so I always felt like a ticking time bomb coming home each day. This was our primary reason to close."

He adds that fuel sales were 80% down within two days. "With fuel suppliers not extending credit terms, fuel that would normally sell through in a week would take over a month and therefore you could see a cash- flow crunch down the line. Shop sales rocketed at first, but once supermarkets were able to replenish, they started dropping off. Additionally, with the government advising less journeys and many doing a ’once a week’ supermarket shop, I could only see this dropping further."

He says when you throw into the equation short-life perishables getting written off and staff absence he felt that, for the long-term longevity of the business, the best idea would be to close. "If you look at it on a profit and loss basis, and using the £10k SBBR fund, this would be enough to cover the closed expenses of insurance, a trickle of electric, phone and rent. With staff furloughed, the £10k is enough to cover this period, so why leave yourself and colleagues vulnerable? I do envisage we will re-open sometime in May as it seems lockdown will be relaxed slightly mid-month with schools perhaps re-opening."