== Long may they serve ==

This helpline gets a lot of calls about staff - pulling sickies, pinching stock and generally swinging the lead. So it was a welcome change to get an email from Glenn Norris, general sales manager for forecourt consumables supplier RS Sales & Distribution,

praising staff.

The company has just implemented a long service initiative and held its inaugural awards ceremony to present five employees (22% of the workforce) with awards for five years or more service. Between them they have clocked up 35 years.

So, it’s nice to know who you are dealing with. As Glenn puts it: "I’m sure none of these fly-by-nights you have run pieces on for ripping off indies on till rolls etc will be able to boast such a wealth of experience." I sincerely hope not Glenn.

== A chilly relationship ==

For the past 10 years Tony Roper, (no relation so far as I know) who runs Glenfield Garage near Halifax, has had an on and off relationship with Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE). Tony says he agreed to take on a Coke-branded chiller on the understanding that he would initially stock it with only CCE products. "I agreed to a 12-month contract and even offered 18 months and the rep was happy with that," he says.

When the year was up he understood that he could put what he liked in the cooler. "The engineer used to come out for the first year but when the time was up he said ’That’s it mate, you’re on your own now’. It’s still in good condition as I maintain it regularly, vacuum it out and clean it properly."

From time to time reps have come and gone. Some have been okay with this arrangement, others not. "Four years ago they wanted us to sign a new contract for the fridge. I asked why and the rep stormed out."

However his latest rep is determined to make Tony toe what she sees as the line. "She came in last week and started moving all the non-Coca-Cola product out of the fridge. She said she had been on a course and consulted the legal department. She asked to see my contract and I told her to go and look it up at head office. I said I’d honoured my side of the bargain and she should honour hers." He showed her the door.

Meanwhile I had been consulting various CCE departments and they told me that head office was looking into the case. They also sent me the company policy on coolers. It states that CCE has three cooler options: purchase, rental and zero rental.

Purchase outright and you can stock what you like. If you rent you pay a fixed quarterly amount and must fill 80% of the cooler with CCE products.

Zero rental means stocking "exclusively with CCE products unless there is no other chilled beverage capacity in the outlet from which consumers can help themselves". If you do have just the one cooler then you are free to put 20% of other brands in it. This was agreed as part of a deal brokered by the European Union in 2004.

As far as Tony is concerned, he has always stocked CCE products and the cooler advertises Coca-Cola’s brands in his store. But the relationship remains frosty at the moment.

== One reg that isn’t a waste of time ==

While on the subject of refrigeration I’d like to draw your attention to the charmingly named WEEE regulations.

This acronym (which I’m always tempted to say in a high-pitched voice as though just being chugged to the top of a roller coaster and then chucked down the other side) stands for the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Regulations.

Not enough to go ’whee’ with excitement but interesting nonetheless because it means that businesses such as forecourts have the right to free collection and disposal of clapped-out fridges by the producer.

I raise this point because Dee Patel emailed from Mount Motors because he had seen an ad offering free disposal of old fridges for anyone buying a new one before June 1, when the new regs kicked in.

A helpful bloke at the DTI went away to interpret the new regs for me as they apply to commercial refrigeration - because this never gets a mention in DTI press releases - and came back to say that if a forecourt operator bought his old fridge after Aug 15, 2005, the responsible producer is whoever originally manufactured or imported it.

For products sold before that date, the producer of any replacement equipment is responsible.

My contact does point out though: "Producers may wish to raise the prices of their products to reflect the additional costs associated with disposal but this should be considered part of normal business negotiations rather than a separate legislative charge."

In other words we should expect the price of all fridges to go up.