== Following Tesco with off-the-peg premises ==

Eamonn Rankin took the unusual step - for an independent forecourt operator - of ordering his new store in kit form.

His Londis store trades at his Masonhill Service Station in Ayr and he had been pondering a refit for a couple of years.

When he bit the bullet he decided that what was good enough for Tesco Express would be good enough for him. He had noticed pictures in a trade magazine (very possibly this one) a few years ago of ready-made store modules being delivered to a forecourt to be assembled on site.

The crane in the pictures said ’Yorkon’ so he traced the company - an award-winning off-site construction specialist that is a subsidiary of Portakabin - went down to York to visit the factory, paid an unofficial visit to a Tesco Express and did the deal.

He’s had the site for 10 years, with its small 350sq ft kiosk that dated back to 1968 having grown very tired. His new store, at 1,000sq ft, is three times the size of the old one which is due for demolition in the New Year to make way for more parking and a car wash.

The new store came delivered on four lorries.

"We closed around 9.30 am, after the morning rush hour," says Eamonn, "and it was built by around 1pm."

The unit and the chillers and shelving to fill it came to around £320,000, which was only around half the cost quoted by a builder for a conventional bricks and mortar structure.

Eamonn rationalises his decision this way: "A conventional building will last 40-50 years by which time the business will have moved on so much. The lifespan of the construction I have now is probably 20 years, which I think is long enough."

He warns anybody else considering this route to remember that you need to prepare for the long lead times required by utilities and water suppliers.

And next time, he adds, he wouldn’t go for a pitched roof as it requires scaffolding to get it in place also resulting in a longer lead time. He notes that Tesco has already moved on from pitched roofs, using the fascia instead to conceal the roof behind.

Eamonn’s store trades on the edge of Ayr, a mile inside the ring road, and it is surrounded by chimney pots so he has a lot of residential trade as well as the passing-by variety stopping for his Jet petrol.

He is delighted with his ’pre-fab’ store and says: "Customer reaction is just fantastic, incredible.

My old store is still there and we can compare the two - it still looks like a bit of a war zone because we’re not taking the old store down until January."

The larger unit now means that he can stock a lot of goods he could only dream of with the kiosk. There are now chilled foods, alcohol and shortly, after the installation of an in-store bakery, there will be hot food to go. It is cheering to see, in these straitened times, such a positive approach.

== Here’s to you and your staff’s good health ==

The Health and Safety (Offences) Act comes into force on January 16. It ups the ante a bit when it comes to ensuring the safety of your workforce.

With such a volatile product on sale I’m sure all forecourt retailers have a mind about this - but do ensure you carry out suitable risk assessments.

Failure to do so could result in a fine of up to £20,000 in a magistrate’s court (or an unlimited amount in a Crown Court).

== How expensive is petrol, really? ==

Well, we all know it has come down dramatically in price (at least as this is being written - the oil industry is one big mercurial beast). We also all know how customers react to sudden price hikes.

So the following, that I got on email from somebody who appears to be on your side, puts things in perspective.

This is how a gallon of other liquids compare price-wise (I know I should be writing in litres but hey, this came from the States and it was hard enough translating the dollars):

Diet Snapple 16oz £1.29 = £10.32 per gallon; Lipton Ice Tea 16oz £1.19 = £9.52 per gallon; Ocean Spray 16oz £1.25 = £10 per gallon; brake fluid 12oz £3.15 = £33.60 per gallon; Pepto Bismol 4oz £3.85 = £123.20 per gallon (now that would give you indigestion).

And, saving the best for last, Evian water 9 oz £1.49 = £21.19 per gallon.

The writer of the email notes: "Evian spelled backwards is Naïve." And adds: "You don’t even want to compare petrol with perfume or aftershave."

So perhaps we should be dabbing it behind our ears as well.