There’s a van out there for everyone, but doing your homework to find the right one for you is essential to ensure it’s not a major money drain
Suppliers may well take the strain when it comes to daily deliveries, but the round-the-clock demands of convenience can often mean quitting the counter and jumping in the van.
Whether it’s last-minute dashes to the cash and carry, or carrying out home deliveries, you’ll need transport to suit. This makes choosing the right wheels essential and, as ever, making the correct choice is about matching the vehicle to the needs of your individual store.
For Gary Pilsworth, from Great Offley Stores and Post Office in Hertfordshire, this meant ditching his old estate car and instead investing in a Vauxhall Vivaro. He maintains that it’s a decision he should have made “years before”.
“Our old car served a purpose, but we were limited to what we could get in it because of the lack of space,” he says.
“So, for instance, today we’ve had some sun and I’ve been able to nip down the cash and carry and cram the back of the van with drinks. I really couldn’t have done that before. I’d have had to make three trips in the car to get the same amount of stock.
“Also, if there are any offers on at the cash and carry we can take full advantage of them. Before we’d never have got the amount of product we needed to make it worthwhile.”
As well as increased space in the back, Gary has maximised the vehicle’s impact by working with a “local whizz kid” who’s created a photo-montage for the side of the van, featuring local landmarks including the store. This helps win attention for the business when it’s out and about, as well as showcasing its links to the local community.
The Vivaro even doubles as a dog transporter. Gary says that it comes in very handy when the store’s lively guard dog needs to be taken out to stretch its legs.
Meanwhile, for c-store owners considering a new vehicle, one of the biggest decisions is whether to own or lease it.
For such a big-ticket item leasing can spread the cost throughout the year, but as Steve Ansell, owner of four Ansell Village Stores in Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire, explains, buying outright comes with its own unique advantages.
“I drive a Citroen Berlingo and one of the main reasons I got it was because it was cheap!” he laughs. “Here we tend to like to own things rather than lease. I think my philosophy is that just because it’s good today doesn’t mean it will be good tomorrow. Things can go wrong and wear out. If you’re fully committed with leases and things like that and have a bad couple of months then it doesn’t take long before your cash flow goes off a cliff.
“Plus, it’s good to have some assets outright for the store.”
Potential owners also have to consider the day-to-day costs of running a commercial vehicle. Steve says that as well as ensuring the vehicle isn’t a fuel-guzzler, it pays to look at how much parts and maintenance will cost further down the line.
He warns that although some vans can look like economical runabouts on paper, when they go wrong they can cost a small fortune to fix, which can seriously upset your balance sheet.
Popular vans on the market
In gear with the Vauxhall Vivaro
Need to get a couple of pallets-worth of stock across town fast? The Vauxhall Vivaro was built with load-bearing ability in mind, and specially designed to accommodate up to three Euro-size pallets, even on lower-spec models. Retailers who want to back British firms will be pleased to hear that it’s built at Vauxhall’s Luton plant and 40% of parts are sourced from the UK.
Get a smoother ride with the Volkswagen Transporter
Can a commercial van ever really handle like a car? Volkswagen claims its stock-lugging commercial favourite can. It also reckons that it’s one of the most customisable cars on the road. You can choose between two wheelbases, three roof heights and four vehicle weights to create the ideal van for your store, whatever use you put it to.
Weigh in with the Ford Transit
Once memorably advertised as “the Backbone of Britain”, the Ford Transit is a robust and versatile drive that aims to be both practical and reliable whatever you throw at it. The biggest Transit Jumbo can carry a maximum weight of 15.1 cubic metres, so you can drive plenty of stock to your destination with the minimum of faff.
Twice as good
Rather than using one vehicle for everything, it could be a smart move to use different tools for different jobs. For example, at Croft Stores in Silverstone, Northamptonshire, Matt Croft uses both a Volkswagen Transporter and a Fiesta estate car to provide the everyday versatility he needs for the business.
He says that the Fiesta was often used for customer deliveries, although that’s tailed off a little now that the big supermarkets have got in on the home delivery action.
“The Fiesta doesn’t look too commercial, which I like, and it’s useful for getting to things like meetings and business seminars in different areas – as well as topping-up stock at the cash and carry,” he says.
However, for more heavy duty tasks his Volkswagen Transporter comes into its own. “I think that it was a good buy simply because there’s three seats behind the driver which means lots of space for stock – which pays dividends. It has a dual purpose, too, because I’ve got three boys and if I do get a day off we can take the bikes out and go cycling. Then it’s back to business use the next day.
“I think that overall the size and reliability makes it a real asset.”
Whatever vehicle you choose, all the retailers agree that it should never be a snap decision. Work might be hectic, but it’s still essential to shop around and test drive some of your favourites to get a feel for different vehicles, as Gary explains. “I spent a lot of time looking around the local area, and on the internet, until I found a small company in Stevenage that I was really impressed with,” he says.
“Their service was excellent, and I got the chance to test-drive a few vans until I found the one that was perfect for me.
“I haven’t looked back since, it was a really good move.”
Facts from the RAC
Around one in ten of all vehicles is now a van.
Van traffic will almost double in the UK by 2040
For company-owned vans, most travelling is spent collecting or delivering goods (35%).
99% of privately owned vans are owned by men