With delivery services being offered in increasing numbers to retailers, has the retailer van had its day? Not likely…

Like most retailers, Mayur Patel of Saxon Fields Stores, Andover, likes a bargain. And he particularly likes hunting out bargains for himself at his local cash and carries. Of course, he gets most of his stock delivered direct to his store, but he is still a big cash and carry fan. “I need to be in touch with the products I need to know what is up and coming. Reading about them in the magazines is good, but I like to see them, too. It’s also great to catch up with people while I’m there,” he says.

Mayur has a Toyota Rav as a family car, which he also uses for business, but finds a van more practical when he’s hunting down the special deals. He’s not really in a position to buy a van at the moment so instead he says he’s supporting his local van hire company by striking a deal with them.

Mayur explains: “If the van company has a van sitting on their forecourt over a weekend I offer to take it off their hands for a reduced rate. It’s a win-win. I get a van for a Sunday and they get a bit of revenue, rather than none at all.

Best-selling vans 2011

1 Ford Transit

2 Mercedes Sprinter

3 Vauxhall Vivaro

4 Volkswagen Transporter

5 Vauxhall Combo

Source: SMMT

“If the normal rental would be £100, I offer £40 and they usually accept it. I’ve been doing this for the past quarter and it’s working well. It means I can go off round the cash and carries, hunting out the bargains of the week. It’s also less stressful doing this on a Sunday when there is usually less traffic on the roads.”

All mine

However, some retailers prefer to own their own van and tell the world about it. For Dennis Williams of Premier Broadway Convenience Store in Edinburgh, his van is a good form of advertising. He has had his bright yellow Renault Trafic signwritten with the store name, address and phone numbers as well as the Premier logo and a ‘Free Local Delivery’ message. He plans to add his web and email addresses.

“Advertising your business is so important and if you’ve got a van, you should put who you are on it,” he maintains.

“We’ve had the van for four years and we got it through Booker. They were doing a deal so we leased it and then we bought it. I knew all about its history as I had run it, so it made sense to buy it.”

Again, Dennis gets most of his stock delivered, but says he uses the van to pick up fresh and chilled items, and for deliveries - approximately 20 home deliveries a week. “They are mostly to elderly people. But I must admit because of rising fuel costs, we sometimes deliver on foot now,” he says.

The van runs on diesel and whereas Dennis remembers once being able to fill it up for £50 that figure has increased to an eye-watering £120. “We’ve definitely cut back on our journeys. This means we can go about three-and-a-half weeks on one tank.”

Showing off

Phil and Shellie Critchley of Croscombe Village Stores, Somerset, have Glastonbury Festival founder Michael Eavis to thank for their Citroën Berlingo van. He attended the store’s opening and gave the Critchleys money from the Festival’s charity fund to buy a vehicle. The van is used not only to collect stock, but also to ma ke deliveries. “We deliver newspapers every day and with those papers customers can request items such as milk or bread. We do other deliveries, too, plus we use the van as a mobile shop once a week on a Thursday,” says Phil.

“We do a lot of deliveries, but not an awful lot of mileage as most places are quite close together. It’s well worth having.”

The van is signwritten and Phil says this has helped them pick up extra business. “I’ve been out delivering and people have asked ‘Will you deliver to us?’ People know us from our van. When we were filling up in the local garage the lady serving us recognised us from the van and said she’d heard all about us and the shop.”

Keeping it going

Reliability is important in a van, especially if you are using it four times a week to go to the cash and carry. And that’s what Mohammad and Tasnim Aslam, who run Right Price in Newcastle, do.

“We don’t get anything delivered Mohammad likes to go to the depot and see for himself what’s available,” says Tasnim. “We’ve got a Ford Transit which we’ve had for about three years. It suits our needs perfectly, and it’s reliable. It’s got a high roof which means a pallet of beer goes straight in.”

Finally, perhaps the most unusual of vans used for home deliveries from a c-store is a bright red 1953 Reliant Regent van called Rosie. She’s owned by Roger Metcalf from St Mawgan Village Stores in Pydar, Newquay in Cornwall.

“A Reliant Regent was the first vehicle I drove as a 17-year-old,” says Roger. “I saw one up for sale and my wife bought her for my birthday.”

Rosie is a three-wheeler with one seat, but has plenty of room in the back for home deliveries. Unfortunately, she is not really practical for the rugged countryside where Roger lives. He is down in the valley and the only way out is uphill. Reluctantly, Roger has put Rosie up for sale. Interested parties should contact C-Store.

On the road

• Vauxhall’s New Combo is available in two gross vehicle weights (2,000kg and 2,300kg), two trim levels (Combo and Sportive) and four engine choices, from the 1.3 CDTi (90PS) to the 2.0 CDTi. It boasts the longest wheelbase in its segment (3,105mm) biggest payload in its segment up to one tonne (including driver) class-leading load capacity with up to 4.2m3 biggest rear axle load in segment with 1,450kg long maximum load length (2,170mm) and class leading load height (1,550mm).

Another feature of the Combo is the ease of access to the load area. The loading height is just 545mm which makes the loading process easier, as do the asymmetrical back doors. Prices start at £14,708.33 on the road (excluding VAT) for the L1H1 2000 1.3CDTi 16v (90PS) model.

• The new Ford Transit Custom recently made its global debut at the Birmingham CV Show it will go on sale later this year. Ford says it has a “bold new design, car-like interior and outstanding driving dynamics”. Chief designer at Ford of Europe, Paul Campbell, says: “We have given the vehicle a stylish, modern appearance which will be appreciated by businesses of all sizes. It’s still a Transit, so the superbly practical load space is a given, but with its sportier stance and bold rising shoulder line, the Transit Custom makes a powerful new impact.”

It comes in either a short wheelbase (overall length 4.97m) or long wheelbase (5.34m) version.

Minimising overall cost-of-ownership was a high priority for the new van so key features include minimised maintenance and repair times, a 12-year anti-perforation warranty, and the longest service intervals in its class - at two years/50,000 km/30,000 miles.

• Coming soon from Mercedes is the Citan, described as a ‘truly professional urban delivery van’. Based on a panel van, it is available in three different lengths: compact long and extra-long. There is a choice of engines: three high-torque, turbo diesel direct-injection engines with outputs from 75hp to 110hp and a nippy, supercharged petrol engine. The petrol-engined Citan comes with a BlueEfficiency package as standard, which is optional for the diesel versions.

The Mercedes-Benz Citan will be unveiled to the public for the first time at the IAA Commercial Vehicle Show in Hanover in September.

Get it covered

Getting the right insurance for your van is vital, especially as there have been incidents where retailers’ vans have been broken into at cash and carry car parks. One such case was covered in Dear Jac in January (C-Store, January 20, 2012) where thieves caused £250-worth of damage to a retailer’s van and stole goods he had just bought worth £900.

However the retailer’s problems were made worse when he found that his insurance did not cover his loss because he had not been in the vehicle at the time of the incident and had not tried to ward the thieves off.

Obviously, you have to read the small print of your insurance cover carefully!

Convenience Store’s insurance package does cover theft from an unattended vehicle, as long as the vehicle has all its doors and windows locked and the keys removed and any protective devices in operation. (If the vehicle contains target stock with a value above £2,500, it must be fitted with an immobiliser approved by the insurer).

For more information and to get a quote, go to www.cstore-insurance.co.uk.

Cash handout

The government’s Plug-in Van Grant gives van buyers 20% - up to £8,000 - off the cost of an eco-friendly van. The first seven vehicles that are eligible for the grants are: Azure Dynamics - Transit Connect Electric Daimler Mercedes-Benz - Vito E-Cell Faam - Ecomile Faam - Jolly 2000 Mia-electric - Mia U Renault - Kangoo ZE variants (Van ZE, Van Maxi ZE and Van Maxi Crew ZE) and Smith Electric - Smith Edison variants SE2 and SE3.

The Plug-In Van Grant has been designed to help make the whole-life costs of a qualifying van more comparable with its petrol or diesel equivalents.

Buying a van?

If you’re thinking about buying a new van then it’s worth checking out the finance deals on the manufacturers’ websites. For example, Vauxhall’s 4x4 offer gives customers four years’ 0% APR finance, four years’ free insurance, a four-year warranty and four years’ breakdown cover. Log on to www.vauxhall.co.uk for more details. And Renault is including four years’ warranty, roadside cover and servicing in its finance packages. With the warranty, the first two years are unlimited mileage, followed by a further two years cover of up to 100,000 miles (www.renault.co.uk/vans).

Ford is currently giving three years’ servicing on all Fiesta vans, Transit Connect and selected Ford Transit vans when financed through its Ford Lease scheme (www.ford.co.uk).

If you’d rather go down the used van route, What Van? magazine’s website (www.whatvan.co.uk) includes helpful buyer’s guides to used vans, where you can download a detailed model-specific guide which explains what to look out for when buying a particular van.