== Get the timing right ==

I think the days of the photocopier as a must-have extra service in convenience stores are numbered. I’m not saying it won’t work for some, just that photocopiers have fallen largely into public ownership by virtue of home computers that come with printers and scanners that can often copy as well as send faxes. But if you do spot a local need, then a colour copier is probably what you want.

Carol Smith who trades at Bridge Garage near Stonehenge has, in fact, two photocopiers but could clearly get along with just the one. The TRM-supplied original black and white photocopier has been in her store for 11 years (she’s had two five-year contracts). It is now so shabby that you can’t even read the print on it and she has been trying to get shot of it for nearly two years. The machine is now owned by Digital 4 Convenience. She has not been very impressed with the service: "They were supposed to maintain it but I haven’t seen anyone since Digital took over. And they were supposed to provide promotional material which I’ve never seen."

She decided to get rid of it and upgrade to a colour copier from a company recommended by her wholesaler, Palmer & Harvey.

"So I wrote to Digital and said take it away. They wrote back and said there was eight months left to go on the contract." She thought ’well, I’ll leave it then’. When her automatic renewal date of August 12 drew near she assumed that the contract would be over.

"But now they say, because I didn’t give 90 days notice, they want £773."

Clever that. The company knew full well that she wanted to quit the contract although it now stipulates 90 days - not a day sooner and not a day later (although her original contract with TRM actually says 60 days).

Carol belongs to the National Federation of Retail Newsagents so I suggested she consult its free legal team. But unofficially, I’ll tell you what a lot of people might do.

You could be robust and threaten to put it out on the pavement. You might get threats yourself but companies will often try to negotiate knowing that, if push came to shove, the court might well consider it an unfair contract.

Or you could just ignore the thing. Cover it up and stick your special offers on top.

When the company rings for a meter reading, just explain sweetly that demand has dropped off.

Oh, and put that precise 90-day date in your diary.

== How not to pump up the profits ==

It might feel like you’re giving the stuff away - given its profit margins - but clearly you cannot afford to let the general public help themselves to fuel. We’re not talking drive-offs here, we are referring back to our August issue when I reported that one of Urfan Ahmed’s Gilbarco pumps at Bettws Service Station in Newport, south Wales, had been giving away free petrol. (He lost 450 litres in 40 minutes!)

I’m happy to report now that things are looking a bit sunnier for him and his brother. They have had, as you may imagine, a number of conversations and meetings with Gilbarco.

The company did point out to me that Urfan’s pumps were 30 years old but Urfan had previously pointed out that he had recently spent over £8,000 on installing a real-time monitoring gauge so he could match fuel levels to the till.

Following their last meeting Urfan and Gilbarco have come to a fairly amicable arrangement. He is investing in new pumps and Gilbarco has promised to beat everyone else’s price. Urfan is therefore now shopping around and is particularly keen to find ’smart’ pumps. "We want to make sure the pumps will either close down - or at least tell us - if they over-dispense." Gilbarco has not offered him any compensation but perhaps, one hopes, it might be reflected in the special prices they are promising for the new pumps.

== Another ’ouch factor’ of employment ==

I don’t like to scaremonger but here’s a reminder about unfair dismissal rules and how they might apply to someone you only hired last week. Most employers will put probationary periods in their employment contracts so they can get rid of unsuitable staff cheaply. But be warned that there is a 19-strong list of grounds that come under automatic unfair dismissal which can be claimed by employees from day one of starting their job. And any of these reasons could result in your former employee starting an automatic dismissal claim at tribunal, with a £25,000 maximum award. Acas has just launched a free guide, called Job Evaluation, to help you avoid costly tribunals which, according to Acas, have risen by 25%.

Visit [http://www.acas.org.uk] to download the guide.