Alex Sinnott, 12 March 2016

SERVICE with a smile and a good deal cheaper to boot, John Couman wants to shine a spotlight on how big supermarkets are squeezing family businesses.

His service station, John Couman Motors in Bell Park, sold unleaded for 98 cents on Friday to highlight how Coles and Woolworths are setting petrol prices arbitrarily following a region-wide price hike this week.

Most petrol stations across Geelong sold unleaded for $1.18 a litre this week but the Ballarat Rd outlet undercut the petrol Goliaths by 20 cents.

“Having it at 98 cents is really at cost price but it goes to show what the supermarkets are up to — they set the prices,” Mr Couman said.

“Most of the petrol stations across Geelong had unleaded at less than a dollar less than a week ago and then there was that 20-cent price rise out of the blue.

“We’ve kept it at the same price and we’ll leave it for a few days more but it’ll go up or down in line with the wholesale price. It’s just that we’re the only ones to keep it at the old price for a few days longer.”

Petrol runs through Mr Couman’s veins with his father John Couman Senior operating a service station along Melbourne Rd from the mid-1950s.

“It was at the corner of Refinery Rd and Melbourne Rd when Melbourne Rd was only a single highway,” the second-generation businessman said.

“Mum and Dad ran the service station and restaurant in the days when there were quite a few of those type of outlets around.”

Mr Couman has maintained his father’s commitment to old-fashioned service with many motorists travelling from across Geelong to top at their fuel at the Bell Park outlet.

“We have a lot of customers who are elderly or with disabilities because they can fill up their fuel tank without having to leave the driver’s seat,” he said.

“People appreciate that personal connection and that we go the extra mile for our customers.”

Mr Couman said independent operators started to disappear from the late 1990s as Coles and Woolworths introduced petrol discount shopper dockets.

“There were some service station operators that committed suicide over the petrol discounting wars,” Mr Couman said.

“They just couldn’t compete. So many family-run businesses went to the wall and now we have hardly any independent operators left. That’s why it’s important to support the independents such as Peter Anderson at Apco and servos like mine.”

Extracted in full from the Geelong Advertiser.