== The price of power ==
Those who have been following the saga in this column of Jonathan James’ power struggle with his erstwhile energy supplier over three years’ worth of wrong meter readings and a backdated bill for £35,000, will be interested in the next exciting instalment. It’s now been on the telly. BBC1’s Look East programme has not only highlighted Jonathan’s fight with EON/Powergen but has also appealed for others in a similar situation to come forward.
The TV programme came about after Jonathan got a stroppy phone call from someone claiming to represent Powergen (although they were actually from the debt-collecting company) challenging Jonathan’s stance on insisting that he would see them in court before paying a bill he did not consider that he owed.
"Then 20 minutes later someone rang the site asking for James Craven (the company founder who died in 1908)," says Jonathan, "and luckily got my manager Paul - although it could have been a cashier. This person was saying that my company was insolvent and was going to be wound up."
This infuriated Jonathan. There were more angry exchanges. "They said they were instructing their barrister," says Jonathan. "I said I don’t care if you put it in the hands of the Queen. I paid the bills based on their direct debits. I am not insolvent. I can pay but I won’t pay. If it goes to court I will have £35,000 with me and if the judge instructs me to pay, then I will pay."
Actually it will now have to be something like £74,000 that Jonathan keeps in his car as, during the filming, the postman showed up with another demand for a further £39,000 for another of his Cambridgeshire stores that Powergen had also ’under-estimated’.
To illustrate the point the presenter was filmed buying a can of baked beans from Jonathan’s store and being told that the bill was actually £50 not 50p ’because we’ve been under-charging you for three years’. Jonathan is taking this stand and keeping it as high profile as possible because he believes there may be many others faced with huge bills due to their energy companies’ incompetence.
"They are bullies," he says. "Last year 280 petrol stations closed due to spiralling costs. This sort of thing could be the final nail in the coffin for some. And what about those retailers dealing in a second language or those who are just easily bullied? I want other people to say, he’s stood up to them, so will I."
Jonathan has now got his local MP, James Paice, involved who has agreed to take up the case with the regulator.
If any of you out there have had a similar problem and want to discuss the way forward with Jonathan, call him on his mobile: 07736 809882. You might let me know too - I’d be interested.
== Keep this on file ==
Out of more than 750 forecourt licensing applications, Chris Mitchener has had a personal success rate of over 99%. Chris knows about licensing (obviously) and he knows about running stores as he has run his own convenience store. Until the end of last year he worked for licensing specialist Lockett & Co but has since left to join forces with Retail Services and Design Group which was established in the early 1990s as a consultancy embracing all things retail - from property to planograms.
Chris is now heading up a new division of the group - Licensing Solutions - designed to offer a fresh approach. This runs the gamut from free advice over the phone to a virtual turnkey new application process - "where the only thing you have to sign is the cheque!" he says.
The group incorporates an advocacy team, licensing specialists all, who are available to deal with such problems as under-age sales. This is a field that is only going to get more difficult as time goes on, so it’s good to know that there are some people out there specialising in the forecourt/licensing sector.
The phone numbers to keep on file are 07831 19450 and 01489 83932.
== The local picture ==
It’s a current buzz word, ’local’, isn’t it? Not all stores can begin to do it, but it strikes me that forecourt stores, more edge-of-town than centre, are sometimes better placed. Tim Davies and his partner Gill, run Ystrad Aeran Garage in Felinfach, Ceredigian, on the west coast of Wales in a very rural location but on a busy ’A’ road between two towns and just a mile from the farm where Tim grew up and which he still manages for his mother.
The couple’s location and background mean that they see the local picture as well as anyone.
"We buy our meat from a local butcher who buys very locally. We don’t try to be the cheapest so there is no comeback on quality. We have also sourced beers from a brewer just four miles away and we sell local ice cream and organic fruit and veg. It’s a growing element," says Tim. "The local goods don’t account for a huge volume but they fill a corner."