Four years ago and at a time when they needed support, the owners of Pedestal Garage, High Wycombe, and Datchet Green Service Station, near Windsor were feeling under pressure from their bank, Barclays. It was the height of the recession, sales were suffering, the banks’ negativity was constant and life as a forecourt operator was losing its sparkle.
Experienced petrol retailers, Rana Ajaz and business partner, Lawrence Wells knew that their vision for the business was not shared by the bank. The situation was untenable and eventually they made the switch to HSBC.
“You have probably heard the joke about the bank giving you an umbrella when the sun is shining then demanding it back when the rain starts,” says Lawrence. “I’m pleased to say that our experience with HSBC has been very different. It is similar to when we signed up with Gulf and Certas Energy. Suddenly you are working alongside people who understand the business, care about it and are committed to its future success.”
The proof is in the pudding and when their Datchet site was badly affected by the floods (the site made national TV in February 2014 when Prince William and other members of the Household Cavalry Regiment arrived on the forecourt to shore up its defences against the rising Thames) HSBC responded with empathy.
“We could not trade and our cash flow collapsed,” continues Lawrence. “The bank, and in particular our excellent business manager, immediately marked up our overdraft limit and continued to help throughout that year.”
Once business was back on a firm footing, further investment followed including the installation of low energy LED canopy lighting.
“With electrical costs spiralling out of control, something had to be done,” continues Lawrence. “It was one of the best decisions we have made and is saving us several thousand pounds a year. Our site is still brightly illuminated even though wattage per unit has reduced from around 250 to 70. It has also improved our carbon footprint and, whilst we may still fear ice and snow as winter draws in, we no longer worry about switching our lights on!”
At Pedestal Garage, the latest initiative for this 1.4m litre site has been to revitalise the shop and introduce the Spar brand in an effort to achieve its full potential.
“We had been with Londis for 14 years but in recent times felt that we were under performing,” explains Rana. “The move to Spar has definitely enhanced the forecourt and made the shop more inviting. Passing trade is responding to the new look and sales are up on the forecourt and in the shop. When we moved to Gulf from Texaco in January, the new image and support of everyone associated with the brand enabled our business to take another positive step forward. It has been a similar experience with Spar, a willing partner, great back-up and with expert knowledge to drive new business. We know that working alongside strong brands with a proven commitment to the independent sector is the best way to protect our assets.”
Thankfully, the bright white image of Spar has served only to enhance the forecourt and its immediate surroundings. The only downside, according to Rana, is that with the forecourt now looking so pristine the pumps are letting the side down.
“Unfortunately no amount of polishing can bring them in line with the gleam across the rest of the site so it looks like a pump refurbishment will be next on our list.”