Roger Westrope rang after he read our last issue. Roger, who runs North Street Garage at Haverhill in Suffolk, rightly guessed that the anonymous computer company that had caused an anonymous retailer such grief was YP Electronics. However, things are getting better, he promises.
"We are a guinea pig site," says Roger, "and we have had the latest upgrade which seems to have sorted most of the problems out. We have two sites and one has gone from a DOS-based system to Windows and the other one will shortly follow suit.
"I admit the system drove me potty at first and I gave them a few earfuls, but then I looked at other systems and they all had their problems.
"Now I can order online from Palmer & Harvey and get a rebate which can add up to £1,000 a year."
Roger says he would be happy to talk to any retailer having problems with their YP system.
A POSITIVE APPROACH
In a week where I’ve had two retailers tell me that they are giving up and going home it was good to talk to Brian Charlton, currently buoyantly trading from a forecourt and Portakabin, his original store having been totally destroyed by fire late last year.
He bought the place, Middleton Service Station, in Pickering, North Yorkshire, in 1997. At the time he ran a fairly large agricultural business and originally bought the place for the space. Then he thought, hang on, let’s have a go at that.
Business was fine until last November when a fire broke out at the back of the premises where he had rented some space to a lad who in turn rented out quad bikes to the local farming community. One of the bikes apparently blew up.
Rather than thinking "I’m doomed", he picked himself up, dusted himself down and got straight back in the saddle. He wants to publicly praise all the people who jumped into help. "We re-opened within 10 days and there must have been about 10 different companies there to help. Londis, which supplied the store, was there with spare bits of kit, odd bits of counter, and some racking. The Portakabin people were there, and the water and electrics - even BT was quick. And the staff were fantastic - up to their armpits in muck and rubbish."
The loss adjustors suggested that he should just start all over again. He has already updated the pumps and has a new Total pole sign. By December he will have a state-of-the-art Genesis store (the Londis latest) and expects to be doing well over £25,000 a week through the new store, which will be 500sq ft larger than the 1,000 sq ft fire-damaged unit. Overall takings were only down by around 25%, largely because he is forced to trade from a 40ft x 10ft Portakabin.
I don’t know the secret to his survival any more than does Brian. He is clearly in the right place although time is wrong at the moment. Customer loyalty is high although he has only been there nine years and didn’t open the store until 1999. When he joined the Londis group that same year, the store became the only one in the area, so it was hardly a well-known fascia.
A couple of things help. Location, location... not much else around but a few villages and he has parking for 40/50 cars - better than what’s available in the nearest village. The average spend in the shop is more than £3.50.
JOIN THE CLUB
’Synergy’ is one of those words much loved by people fluent in marketing speak. Nonetheless the group effect of people pulling the same way can be a very good thing. I was interested in a tale told to me by Jonathan James, award-winning forecourt operator with four sites. A friend of his asked if he would speak at a couple of travel agent conferences organised to tackle dwindling business as a result of the growing use of on-line direct bookings. The events coincided with Tesco’s announcing its link with lastminute.com. "Now that Tesco will be selling holidays too, the travel agents’ problems are about to get a whole lot worse," says Jonathan.
At first he wondered what he might say to groups of travel agents even though he is used to public speaking."What struck me in discussions with travel agents was how much we have in common, facing the cloning of the high streets and the power of the supermarkets. As the travel editor who invited me to talk put it: We sell dreams. You sell beans."
The delegates were presented with some ideas for promoting - and cross-promoting - their businesses with other retail outlets in their area, and went away with renewed heart and energy.
From what I hear - and I hear a lot from retailers - you don’t all get out that much. Hard to find the time. I bet if you do join some sort of group, a symbol group, the PRA, Garage Watch, the Association of Convenience Stores or your Chamber of Commerce, you will uncover some interesting links to strengthen your chain.