Caltex Omahu | Service fuels success

At a time when retailing is moving towards self-service, it’s top-shelf team service that has Caltex Omahu in Hastings flying high.
Owners Jane and Grant Francis were “delighted” to win the Caltex Retailer of the Year award this year. It’s an award based on a range of metrics, including staff management, business performance, execution of Caltex standards and that all-important customer satisfaction.
“We [petrol stations] have all got the same products,” Jane says. “It’s the delivery of those products to customers that gives us the point of difference. Filling up your car is a grudge purchase. You spend $100 and you don’t come out with a gift bag to show for it! We have a great team and we really try to make that experience as good as it can be.”
The focus on customer service has translated to business success, Grant says. “We are one of Caltex’s largest throughput sites in the country.”
Building a rapport with customers is valuable not just to the business, Jane says. “We have a good following among the elderly, and I think it’s because we do take the time to chat and show an interest in them. For some of them it may be their only interaction with a person for the week.”
The couple says their respective strengths make them a great team. Jane handles the station’s “front of house”, shop and human resources. “Retail is detail and it really gets me fired up.”
“We take pride in running a well-stocked shop. If someone comes in for five items, we want them to walk out with five items. For the majority of items our prices are cheaper than those at normal convenience stores because of our overall group buying power.”
Grant manages administration and compliance matters, and also ran the station’s repair workshop until the business was sold and the premises leased in July.
The business has 15 staff, not including Grant and Jane, but counting their daughter Sarah – who is learning the management ropes. “That has allowed us to travel a bit and not take the business with us, it’s been fantastic.”
The couple purchased Caltex Omahu in 1996, and has seen many competitors come and go, particularly in the 2000s, when many smaller sites closed down due to low volumes and tight margins.
The industry remains intensely competitive – with supermarkets, independent operators and standalone sites joining the fray – but Jane and Grant are confident in their winning formula and their business advisors, Moore Markhams Hawkes Bay director Mark Knofflock and consultant Barry Rosenberg.
The business relationship is relatively new, with Grant and Jane signing on with Moore Markhams in April last year after their previous accountant retired.
Mark and Barry have been very proactive and brought a fresh set of eyes to the business, Grant says. “I have been really impressed with their general business knowledge and the parallels to our industry and the challenges we face.
“With the help of Mark and Barry and our new, in-house accountancy package, we have improved our reporting and we are getting more accurate information. We can drill down more to understand various parts of the business – we are getting great insight.”
“[Changing accountants] was quite daunting,” Jane says, “But right from the first meeting we had a really good feeling that we were in the right room with the right people. We’ve been in this business for 23 years and we have developed an intuition for what works.”
In a typically Kiwi touch, Grant and Barry first met over a beer at the Hastings Rugby and Sports Club, and it’s a tradition that’s continued, Grant says. “I can go along to watch a game of rugby and have a beer and a chat with a fellow club supporter who also happens to be my accountant, and that’s a fine thing.”
Photo caption: Jane and Grant say they are part of the team at Caltex Omahu. "We know our customers and we don't manage from afar."