In the past few days I’ve spoken to two people engaged in retailing with businesses which had each clocked up 40 years as petrol forecourts.
One, a youngish chap, had recently pulled out of petrol retailing completely to concentrate on convenience, investing a bomb, joining a symbol group and turning his showroom into a 2,000sq ft store. He is doing very nicely. The other, despite being 66, also invested a bomb, doubled the shop size and joined a symbol group, but kept the petrol.
It’s a new year (and I wish you a very prosperous one) so let’s concentrate on the positive.
Burton Brothers has been in business for more than 40 years at Ramsey in Cambridgeshire, with Anthony Burton at the helm and manager Chris Hempsted, who has been there for the past 13 years, responsible for the day-to-day running.
"There is no money in fuel with only 2p per litre profit so we needed something to keep going," says Chris. "The boss is a great believer in investing in the site which is great for us as we keep our jobs." The site employs 23 staff.
The forecourt, a Vauxhall/Shell dealership, previously only sold cars and petrol but in late 2005 the business joined Londis and was refitted to the group’s highest ’Genesis’ standard.
The store was doubled in size and the stock extended to include new chiller runs, more grocery (previously tins of beans summed it up) and alcohol. This resulted in a doubling of the turnover to £2,000-£2,500 per day just on food and drink.
The business has done its best to satisfy local customers although Chris says the Lottery represents a real missing link.
He wondered if I had any influence. None whatsoever. Camelot is a real monopoly and makes its own mind up. I have no idea why his business cannot get the Lottery.
I learnt a lesson some 10 years back when a retailer running a store in a remote village where there wasn’t a single Lottery outlet rang to say that he collected ticket money from the villagers and then travelled to the next town where he could fulfil their orders for them. I thought surely Camelot would be swayed by this one. Not a bit.
This practice apparently contravened the Gaming Act and the store which was providing the ’pirate’ tickets stood to lose his lottery terminal as a result.
Still, it’s good to know that Camelot too, must answer to someone and toe the line.
== Paper money ==
Over the course of the past three months I’ve had emails from a variety of owners/managers about the grief they’ve had at the hands of Paper Roll Logistics, a Canadian company with a sharp line in calculating cold-calling tactics. The telesales trick is to present an agreement-seeking proposal as in "that second delivery of till rolls is due". Staff might innocently agree to this and there you have it, done deal. And the till rolls are 10 times the normal price.
Maggie Allington was the most recent to email with her story. The manageress was on holiday at the time of the call and the staff had said "I suppose that’s okay," to a delivery advice call.
The Paper Roll Logistic pack arrived with an invoice for £209 and an interesting set of terms. These included: no products can be returned without prior authorisation; no returns accepted after 30 days; a service charge of 2% per month to all overdue accounts; 20% charges to all unauthorised returns; client responsible for verifying delivered products; and all claims must be done within two days of receipt.
She concerns herself with how this company got the name of her shop and telephone number. Could be Yellow Pages, could be bought lists. None of us is invisable these days.
== Life is unfair ==
I’ll keep this caller anonymous. His manager sacked a troublesome member of staff after a couple of verbal warnings, "a phone call on the day, then a follow-up letter". He is now being taken to a tribunal for unfair dismissal. He is worried that he might have missed some technicality in the firing process.
He does have an ace or two up his sleeve, possibly. The employee broke her three-year service with the business for three months. He took her back "on a trial basis" in November 2005. Of course it was a mistake to do so, but he believes he may have a technicality on his side there.
I believe he does as well as, at the point of sacking, she had been employed by him for less than one year. She was also abusive to customers and he can get proof of this in written form.
However, the red tape surrounding employment could hang anyone high, so his other mistake was to not consult the people at ACAS before the dismissal. They are the ones who will sit in judgement at any tribunal, so it is best to check the procedures with them first. Their helpline number is 0845 74 74 747.