Many retailers will be considering cutting back on their staff to deal with the additional cost of paying the national living wage from next month.

But Tim Garner, who runs four petrol forecourts in and around Portsmouth, is thinking about increasing his staff numbers. “The major retailers are looking to reduce staffing levels. For me, the staff are vital – without them I’ve got no business,” he says.

“Customer service is key to us as well. One area where we can be better than the majors is to offer a better customer service. If possible, I would like to take more staff on.”

Nisa Local Portsbridge Service Station, Portsmouth
  • Hours: 6am – 11pm Mon-Sat, 7am-10pm Sun
  • Trading since: April 2014
  • Size: 2,200sq ft
  • Staff: 18 full time and part-time
  • Style: A petrol forecourt and convenience store next to a McDonald’s, with a high street and large Tesco 500 metres away.

In order to do that and afford paying the living wage, he says product prices will have to go up, but he’s confident it won’t just be independent convenience retailers that are hit by the rise in salary costs and prices will have to rise across the board.

“With rates the way they are, and all the other costs associated with our business – heat, light, power etc – it’s hard.

“It’s a tough business and in order to survive you’ve got to be competitive,” he says. “You have to be competitive enough to keep customers coming in, but you still have to make a profit at the end of the day.”

Tim explains that his shops are promotion-led as they drive people in store – it’s a strategy that has helped him achieve “noticeable” sales growth.

Although Tim has been a forecourt retailer for many years, he’s relatively new to convenience. Three years ago, the 300sq ft forecourt was transformed into a 2,200sq ft Nisa Store of the Future 2 format, and is now filled with fresh products – fruit, veg and meat – and caters for food to go shoppers with coffee, bakery pastries and hot dogs.

“Convenience was new to us and has been a learning curve, but with the support of Nisa, we’re doing well,” says Tim.

“If you look at the convenience sector, year on year it’s growing rapidly because we’re changing our habits. Customers are changing and eating food on the go and quick ready meals.”

He’s now looking at bringing a full convenience offer to his other sites as well as expanding. “It’s about whether we want to go to that full route to the convenience offer. The answer is almost certainly yes, but location is key. We’re always looking.”

shelf tagAs well as utilising Nisa’s knowledge on the convenience market, Tim has also got fully onboard with the company’s Making a Difference Locally charity scheme, using it to raise money for local causes.

“We have three local charities that we work with and with the products we sell through the shop, 2p goes to good causes. That’s built up now and we’re due to make some donations soon,” he says.

“Being able to target local charities rather than national is quite an important thing.”

Tim says working with the community is key. He donates to raffles and works with local schools and groups, and is considering sports club sponsorship. “Without customers we’re nothing,” he explains. “The more people we can get through the door by getting involved with the community, the more success we’ll have.”