Having a breakdown

When you buy the best your expectations are high. But high-profile retailer Jonathan James says it didn’t go that way and that he would like to share "the total nightmare" that he encountered having installed Tokheim Quantium 510 pumps to his brand new site at Littleport in Cambridgeshire.

His problems began 18 months ago when he opened his environmentally friendly site. Jonathan chose the Tokheim pumps as they offered state-of-the-art media screens that were the ’Rolls Royce’ of their kind. He hoped to use them to get various messages across on the pumps to customers.

"Sadly, due to numerous issues that resulted in the pumps shutting down, we have only recently been able to use the media displays. The pumps were installed in November 2010," he says.

"Within one month of installation, we were encountering various problems with the pumps randomly shutting down. Sometimes they would work and other times they wouldn’t and on many occasions we had only half the pumps on the forecourt operating. As a brand new site we were keen to encourage customers to use us but alas, the pumps had other ideas.

"Fairbanks attended the site after one month to set up their monitoring system and immediately found out that the brand new pumps were over-dispensing by £1,200 per month. Needless to say, cutbacks were made but it turned out that manufacturers often calibrate the pumps off-site to save installation down time.

"Thankfully Fairbanks sorted the problem quickly."

He adds: "The pumps have been nothing but a pain from day one, and I would not want any other retailer, or their customers, to have to go through the problems that we have had to endure."

Every shift brings problems and he says he has lost staff over the stress of it all. In the past 18 months, engineers have made over 50 visits and Jonathan has the job sheets to prove it.

When he contacted me on July 10, he added: "And that doesn’t reflect the hours of down time we have endured trying to reboot. Sadly, no one seems to be taking the fault seriously and we are still waiting for a promised ’fix’ for the latest set of problems over the Jubilee weekend."

When I spoke to Jonathan he had been unable to supply HGVs for four days, which cost him thousands of litres of lost sales as well as obviously driving away customers.

Other problems include the computer recording wrong litreage. For example, although pump and till agree a price of say £80, it gets recorded as a one-litre sale.

On interrogating the back-office system, Jonathan found that in 18 months he had had to do 78 full pump resets a staggering figure.

A Tokheim spokesman commented that Jonathan had purchased the dispensers at the Forecourt Show as a new and very innovative produce using brand new technology: "We were still in the process of doing on-site evaluations. Laboratory testing and pan-European site testing had already been completed with very good success. Other clients have this product on their sites in the UK and globally, and it is working as we would expect the clients are very happy with it."

He acknowledged that there had been problems on Jonathan’s site, possibly involving another supplier, but having installed diagnostics equipment, they are pretty sure they will have the issues pinpointed so they can work with the other supplier towards a solution.

"However, this is an analytical process and may take time," said the spokesman. "Nonetheless, our software design team is firmly focused on this and is working hard in the background. On average our service levels are higher than 90% (90%-plus of calls we close within the agreed timescales with clients).

"We have also offered Jonathan compensation for the inconvenience that this has caused. We have also offered Jonathan an opportunity to replace this product if he wishes, at our expense."

Is it worth stirring it up?

Regardless of your litreage and therefore your turnover, you probably regard yourself as a small/medium enterprise (even though the rates’ guys won’t see it that way) rather than a big business. Marketing gurus all say you can learn from the big guys and they don’t come much bigger than Sir Terry Leahy, former CEO of Tesco’s.

In his just-out book, Management in 10 Words, he says you must let the customer lead you.

Shortly after the launch of Clubcard, customers were asking if it could be used to pay for things at the checkout which effectively turned Tesco into a bank. Obviously listening to the customers has paid off handsomely.

In the independent sector this often translates as stocking unusual items on request.

It can, of course, backfire and you get stuck with stock you can’t shift. Welsh retailer Huw Evans emailed an example. A fairly regular customer, clearly keen on Chinese cooking had requested pak choi, bean sprouts and ginger, none of which was stocked where he lived.

It would be handy to pick up on the way home on a Friday night along with the petrol. Huw went out of his way (okay, into town to his local supermarket) to pick up the goods. Friday night came and went, and no customer.

Ginger lasts a long time and pak choi doesn’t go off that quick. Bean sprouts rot fast.I suggested that Huw has a stir fry one night.

He wasn’t keen (said he was more of a ’fry up’ man). But should he have bothered?