Always check out the label

’Freddie’ rang up. As you may have already sussed, that’s not his real name. He believes that a nearby competitor may be trying to stitch him up but didn’t want to ID anyone for obvious reasons.

A customer, whom he is fairly certain also shops regularly at said nearby competitor’s, came into his store and objected to him selling individual cans of Coke that had been split out of multipacks.

"She said ’That’s illegal, and I should report you to the council’."

This is an old chestnut and clearly a common misconception. Mr Coca-Cola might prefer you not to split the multipacks, but as long as you individually price them, it is alright to do so.

The last time I checked with a trading standards officer, he was amused to note that the can of Coke he had just nipped out to buy did not have a bar code and said ’multipack can’ around the rim.

Not a problem because all the rest of the required information was on the pack.

All your trading standards office demands is that the product carries the requisite info on it: its name and description (sparkling soft drink), its price, its contents, its origins, manufacturer, best-before date and any allergy warnings.

It must also be in the language of the country it is being sold in, so no Dutch Pepsi or Polish Coke (my files show a couple of retailers getting hefty fines for selling Coca-Cola from Poland after a complaint from a diabetic customer).

This is why (as I frequently point out in Forecourt Trader’s sister paper Convenience Store) you cannot split up the Mars bars multipacks.

The required label information isn’t on the individual bars it just says ’see label’ which, in this case, is the outer wrapping.

Crashes on the forecourt

Shall we all cross our fingers for Jon Brownsey and his new software, installed a week ago (as this is being written)?

Jon left a pained message on my answerphone just before Christmas, updating the situation with his Torex equipment at Fordingbridge Service Station in Hampshire.

"We thought we were out of the woods but not yet," he said.

"As I’m speaking to you now I have one till out of action, in fact tills have crashed four times in the past three days, and there’s no credit card facility." When I first wrote about Jon (Forecourt Trader, November 2012) his problems with the sotftware system went back at least a year.

Micros (Torex) certainly wasn’t ignoring him but, just when we thought it had all be solved, it went pear-shaped again. Christmas isn’t the best time to have tills down.

"On one recent occasion the customer put his PIN number in, the till crashed and when it came back up it asked for the number again. The customer said ’I’m not putting my PIN in again’. And you can understand it. Petrol stations don’t have the best reputation in that regard," says Jon. "You get fed up apologising for mistakes that aren’t your fault."

Now, fingers crossed again, the good news. A week ago Torex downloaded new software that the engineers told him had been developed for Texaco.

When I last spoke to Jon (on Jan 14) there had been no crashes, no failures and all is working well, just the way it’s supposed to.

Timely tax tip

No denying it, times are tough, so here’s a reminder/update. In the October issue, I featured Stephen Vaughan and his tax tip.

Stephen, who runs a Londis store and Esso Handbridge Services in Chester, recommended that all forecourt operators should look at specialist plant and machinery surveyors. He used Wilmslow Tax Solutions, a company which found him £66,000-worth of building work and equipment which qualified as capital allowances.

It saved him £13,000 in corporation tax.

Stephen was kind enough to get back in touch after my write-up praising its accuracy!

He added that Wilmslow, which works on a no-win, no-fee sort of basis, had been busy with referrals. That is good news all round.

Forgive the leaden irony

Forecourt crime is bound to be close up and personal for those who suffer it. But there is a bigger picture. Apparently, there has been a remarkable and steady decline in violence overall on this planet since caveman times. I know, it often doesn’t seem that way.

Another remarkable statistic: the only time this reduction in violence went into reverse was between 1960 and 1990, after which it reverted to steady decline again.

And I hate to tell you this, but it might be partly your fault for selling leaded petrol once upon a time as well as the fault of the rest of us for using lead paint. Not that any of us had a choice at the time. A slew of really bright ologists-of-some-sort-or-other think there is a direct link. Studies point to a perfect match between the rise and fall of lead in the environment and the rise and fall in crime (reports the Sunday Times) with a lag of about 20 years.

So those toddlers in the ’50s grew into the criminals of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s.

And it wasn’t just here studies show matches in America, Australia, Italy, France, Finland and Germany.

Lead is a neurotoxin but was it a ’cause’ of crime, or, like alcohol, a contributory factor?