Indies are struggling to combat the mults’ loss-leading tactics on fuel. Francis Walker, who runs Jempson’s forecourt in Peasmarsh, explains how he’s fighting back

Q The multiples are increasingly using petrol as a loss leader to draw shoppers to their stores. How can independent forecourt operators compete?

The most important thing to do is start with a competitive fuel contract. We knocked our initial offer down significantly by shopping around, even though we eventually stayed with the same group. This allows you to stay sharper on price.

If you are not very competitive on price - or even if you are - you must give as many reasons to visit your store as possible. Implement footfall drivers that you think would be useful to your customers, or ask them if there’s anything missing from your store that they would like to see.

Customer service is a very important aspect of independent retailing. If you can convey the image of a pleasant local store with helpful staff to your customers, they will look forward to coming back to visit you instead of paying an uninspiring visit to a large multiple.

meet this month’s master

Francis Walker is forecourt manager of Jempson’s award-winning petrol filling station in Peasmarsh, East Sussex. Walker has been with the company for six years. The filling station boasts an on-site Jempson’s Express convenience store, which sells a wide range of fresh goods, alcohol, tobacco, fresh brewed coffee, and a wide selection of newspapers and magazines. In addition to the petrol filling station, Jempson’s operates four supermarkets and five cafés in East Sussex and Kent.

Q To what extent do you try to match the multiples on fuel prices and what other tactics have deployed to attract custom?

We do try to keep our prices as close as possible to the Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and Tescos in the nearby towns.

In addition to this, we offer customers Jempson’s loyalty card points on their fuel, which goes down very well, even with a relatively small redemption.

A lot of people come to us because we have the only PayPoint machine in the area. I would definitely recommend this service to any retailer looking to increase their footfall. We also have a larger than usual range of car care products, which helps to make us a destination for customers.

Q How does the loyalty card scheme work?

The Jempsons Savacard loyalty scheme earns customers one point for every £2 spent on fuel, or one point for every £1 spent on regular grocery goods in the shop. The points are tallied up and vouchers sent out to customers every quarter. One point is worth 1p.

The scheme works particularly well for us since Jempson’s has supermarkets as well as the forecourt, so I would definitely recommend it if any readers are in the same position. It could also be worthwhile for a forecourt-only business, but I think I would then only recommend it if the majority of customers are locals rather than passing trade.

Q What are the key factors that independent retailers need to consider when approaching merchandising, service and offer?

Your prices do not have to be as low as the local Tesco’s but you should always offer a number of well-priced promotional products. Your customers can then opt to pay a little bit more for a particular chocolate bar if they wish, but those expecting lower prices will not be disappointed.

Impulse is key in petrol station retailing. Many of your customers will enter the store with the sole purpose of paying for their fuel and no intention of buying anything else.

You must make eyecatching displays of aforementioned promotions or interesting/useful products to make as many sales between the front door and till point as possible.

Following the impulse theme, chiller space is something I have found lacking in some other forecourts I have visited. A customer will be far more likely to pick up a bottle of 500ml coke if it is chilled.