Sunday March 26 is Mother's Day or Mothering Sunday. I always take my mum out for Sunday lunch but many families celebrate by eating in, together at home.
Our industry has once again moved into a whole new era, with Tesco taking ownership of Booker and its forecourt brands and the demonisation of diesel as a road fuel.
The anti-diesel bandwagon is rolling. It was tax incentives in 2001 that encouraged both private drivers and businesses to buy diesel engine cars. The justification related to climate change and lower carbon dioxide emissions. The issues of toxic nitrogen oxide and higher levels of particulate matter were known but downplayed. From just 10% of new car registrations in 2000, sales accelerated rapidly such that the car parc was over 50% diesel by 2010. This growth continued and by mid-2015 retail sales of diesel overtook petrol for the first time.
The frustration is palpable as the realisation of the impact of changes to business rates being implemented in April is realised in companies big and small across the nation. Media headlines have yelled at every opportunity about the smaller retailers that appear to be being taxed out of business.
The momentum around automotive fuels, and what kind of motor vehicles we'll be driving in the future seems to be really building into something more tangible than previously seen. Last month came the news that a global initiative to drive use of hydrogen (see News page 4), had been agreed at the World Economic Forum in Davos. There has been much talk about the merits of hydrogen as an energy resource for a long time, but there have always been many technical issues to be resolved. Clearly much progress in hydrogen and fuel-cell technology is being made, to the point that a group of energy, transport and industry companies aka 'the Hydrogen Council' have pledged to put hydrogen among the key solutions of the energy transition.
I've written about this before and I'm sure I'll write about it again. It's to do with today's all-singing, all-dancing service stations. It's not a complaint: I love them. I wish I had more near where I live or at least one decent one near where I live.
Just take a look at any magazine or web page and ask yourself what do you see: home automation. There are many, many devices to control home peripherals as well as home applications such as cameras and recording devices, smoke and humidity detectors. But what's new in the forecourt retail world of automation? What might be seen this year in our business? The showcase, as ever, will be the National Convenience Show and The Forecourt Show, at the NEC from April 24-26.
'May you live in interesting times' is actually purported to be a Chinese curse 2016 was certainly interesting for society in general and our industry in particular. Whether it was cursed remains to be seen.
Happy New Year to you all. Let's hope it's going to be a good one. After all the surprises of 2016, you can't help but wonder what's in store and I'm going to take that quite literally and have a look at the new products we might get to see in 2017.
Police forces across the country are under pressure and forecourt retailers have a responsibility to help the police to use their limited resources effectively.
As we build up to the new financial year starting in April when businesses in England and Wales will start paying rates based on the latest revaluation, there's been a lot in the papers about business rates. While a lot of the media coverage talks about the pounds and pence increases, the underlying issue remains that two years ago, the government committed to undertaking a fundamental review of business rates and we're yet to see a clear conclusion to it.
Happy New Year to you all I hope trading was bouyant over the festive season. But while I had intended to continue in positive fashion, I am sorry to hear that it wasn't a very good start to the New Year for Top 50 Indie, High Noon Stores, which went into administration on December 30 (see News page 4). Scant information is currently available, but I hope the difficulties can be resolved. If not, it would be the first Top 50 Indie to hit the buffers since 2012, when Scottish independent Calanike which had 19 sites ceased trading.
I must say that I'm feeling a little bit smug and that's because all of my Christmas shopping is virtually done.
When I look back over the past 20 years trading as a convenience petrol retailer, the change has been enormous. At the start when the oil company logo was above the door, we were viewed with the suspicion that everything we sold would somehow be smeared with oil or smell of petrol. Nowadays, the retail excellence from all sites really sets the standard of convenience retail in the UK. Over 50% of sites now boast a symbol brand above the door. There were always good sites throughout that time and the difficulty now is that most sites are great sites.
For several months, the PRA has been lobbying ministers to introduce a fuel duty cut with 3ppl recommended for both grades. The Chancellor invited PRA earlier this month to meet senior officials at HM Treasury and HM Revenue & Customs to present their case.
It's not so long ago that you would have recoiled to think that supermarkets and independent retailers could work together on any kind of project, the former having kicked the 'proverbials' out of the latters' livelihoods for many years. Now we have two Top 50 groups Rontec and MFG (see News page 5) working with Morrisons in store trials (not to mention Euro Garages and Sainsbury's). Do you think they ever dare to mention fuel prices?
The time when we used to say to each other 'There are only so many shopping days until Christmas' are rather redundant as shopping is more or less a 24/7 activity thanks to the internet. There's no doubt that the internet, as well as all of the discounters, are taking a big chunk of Christmas cash but luckily there seems to be quite a lot of that cash to go round.
This past couple of months have seen a new iPhone (the 7), new IOS 10 and not much else. IOS 10 is said to provide much better connection (untested by me) for home connectable appliances there is even a home app button on the main screen.
As we move toward Autumn, Brexit and its implications are becoming a reality, at least in terms of the 'pre-fight build-up'. Our Prime Minister, Theresa May, has insisted "Brexit means Brexit" and "the decision of the British public will be respected".
Well that was a bit of a shocker the government consulting on plans to force larger service stations, supermarket forecourts and motorway service areas to provide hydrogen refuelling facilities and charging points for electric vehicles (see News Extra on page 10). The measures are included in a consultation document for the Modern Transport Bill, due in Parliament next year, and interested parties only have until November 23 to submit their views.
I have a confession I love Nutella. I have to avoid buying it because I can eat so much of it. A while back I bought the teensiest of jars the glass one with the white lid and sat and ate it all with a teaspoon. Then, feeling more than a little guilty, studied the jar and discovered that I had just consumed 15 servings but boy was it good. I love the Nutella&Go! product but obviously the bread sticks-to-spread ratio is not right for me.
Technology plays a big part in our campaign to reduce forecourt crime by speeding up communications and the processing of large amounts of information. More efficient ways of working are absolutely necessary when you consider that approximately 900,000 times a year drivers either drive-off from a forecourt without paying for fuel or they draw fuel and then claim that they have no means to pay and don't return to pay. It's a problem that costs forecourt retailers on average £3,000 every year.
Wow what a night! Many congratulations to Patrick Sewell and his team at Sewell on the go South Cave for becoming our latest Forecourt Trader of the Year winner. It's a second time around for him he last won in 2009.
I hope you've had a good summer and your fair share of the gorgeous weather.
Most people would agree that the changing face of UK car washing over the past decade or so has been caused by the influx of migrants from the EU the best estimates put the figure at 2.2 million.
Post-Brexit there's been understandable concern that the predicted drop in the value of sterling versus the US dollar would immediately force Platts' wholesale costs upwards. While there has been devaluation of sterling, the pessimists in the City predicting lows of $1.20 or even $1.10 have so far proved well wide of the mark. Instead we have seen a fall of around 10%, from $1.46 down to $1.32. This level has now remained fairly constant since the referendum decision.
I hope you've all had a good summer - yes it eventually arrived, encouraging people to get out and about and make the most of the warm temperatures by driving to the beach, shopping for barbecues, or generally travelling around the country as they took in the sights on their 'staycations'
A colleague asked me the other day if I was some sort of brand ambassador for Coke. His reasoning was my knowledge of the brand and the different sub-brands. Unfortunately, I'm not, but I'm a massive Diet Coke fan and drink far too much of the lovely bubbly stuff. As I write this, I have a fridge filled with cans under my desk.
This month I'd like to cover self checkouts. There are basically three types. Card only, as the name suggests, is a unit that only accepts debit and credit cards. These units can be pole-mounted or shelf-mounted. They're a much lower cost unit than a traditional self checkout as seen in the likes of Tesco and Sainsbury's.
The implications and effects of the nation's decision to leave the European Union will take some time to unravel, and for the UK's negotiations over 'Brexit' to begin.
Something of a blow for those pursuing the case for duty deferment, is last month's overturning of a landmark tax verdict that could have brought a significant cashflow boost to many retailers (see News page 4, and News Extra, page 10).
We now know where we stand with Europe, while the performance of the home nations in the Euro football championship has kept us all on a knife edge. And we're delighted to have recovered a massive £500,000 for forecourt retailers during the first six months of 2016.
I have a confession. Despite being a middle-aged woman, I really like McCoy's. I know they're principally aimed at men but just as I love action films made for men, so do I like McCoy's. It's the flavours they're so strong. No subtle 'hints of', just full-on flavour. That said, I was a bit skeptical when the launch of McCoy's Thick Cut was announced. Why mess with something that works so well, I thought. However, since trying the BBQ Chicken flavour, I've realised I'm wrong and am now a Thick Cut convert.
Over recent years, the forecourt and convenience sectors have been merging closer together, with more stores now considering themselves to be 'convenience plus fuel' rather than primarily traditional fuel retailers. This has led to the emergence of hundreds of fantastic new store formats that often lead the rest of the convenience sector in growing categories like food to-go, in-store bakeries and top quality coffee. As a result, the forecourt convenience sector (without including the value of fuel sales) is now worth over £4bn to the UK economy. For the first time this year, we have produced a forecourt report looking specifically at the makeup of these stores.
Whoever said a week is a long time in politics (prime minister Harold Wilson in 1964 apparently), could not have coined a more apt phrase for what's happened in the past seven days (writing on July 1). Chaos and skullduggery appears to be the order of the day as the so-called ruling classes are too busy indulging in a right old battle of their own, to actually rule the country. And those that put them there us can only look on in sheer horror and amazement. Just who are these people with their ideologies, giant egos and personal agendas, and will we ever believe what any of them say again? It's like one of the more outrageous episodes of Yes, Prime Minister. But 'twas ever thus.
The EU referendum vote looms large this month, and despite all the talk, nobody seems any the wiser about the outcome. Even the forecourt sector seems to be as evenly divided and undecided on the matter as the rest of the nation (see News Extra page 10). But one thing is for sure, this time next month it will be behind us.
I love a limited edition and they always catch my eye in the shops. But I have to wonder how you retailers make room for them. If they're small and a real impulse buy, then they might fit by the till, but if they aren't you've got to find space for them elsewhere, and given the number of limited editions available now, that could be a problem.
Over the past decade, the Car Wash Association has made huge inroads into regulating the hand washes that continue to blight our environment, fail to contribute to the country and bring car washing into disrepute. While there have been some success stories, generally the lack of regulatory pressure has allowed huge growth.
As I travel around the UK meeting and talking to independent forecourt retailers, I have been struck by their enthusiasm to embrace the shopping revolution which has seen increasing demand for 'top-up' visits to good, local convenience stores. Fortunately this enthusiasm has been matched by symbol groups willing to improve their offer.
We all understand standards within the technological arena change, sometimes so quickly that it is difficult to keep pace. This is a pre-warning that things may again be set to change.
The days of heading to the supermarket are over for some Brits, as they trade trolleys for home delivery. That was the opening sentence on a press release from Mintel about its online shopping report.
The competitiveness of oil refining and other energy intensive industries is under threat. The current crisis facing UK steelmaking is symptomatic of a much wider malaise, mirrored across the whole major industrial manufacturing infrastructure. In exploring the challenges facing oil refining and wider industry in the UK, UKPIA has produced a report entitled Crisis What Crisis? This communication not only provides a wide-angle overview of why the manufacturing industry matters but, through a refining sector case study, sets out the pressures undermining its competitiveness. In summary, the report shows that our energy intensive industries, such as refining, play a significant role in the economy but are at a critical stage and face a number of significant challenges, the outcome of which will have a profound impact on long-term economic growth and the nation's resilience.
When Booker acquired Musgrave Retail Partners GB last summer, it said it had a track record of turning around 'challenged businesses'. Its extremely accomplished CEO Charles Wilson said Booker, Londis and Budgens were joining forces to help independent retailers prosper.
The March 2016 Budget is likely to be remembered by the general public for what ended up not happening, notably the review of benefits to the disabled. It may also be remembered for the announcement of the levy on companies selling sugary drinks.
So oil prices are slowly rising again currency fluctuations and an anticipated production freeze contributing to the joyfully complex formula that dictates what motorists pay at the pump. Like sailing away from a sunny holiday destination, we seem to be leaving the £1-a-litre prices behind shame, I quite liked matching up the pounds with the litres!
Another successful Top 50 Indies dinner took place last month, and as we reach a milestone 10 years of the report, I thought it would be interesting to look back at the launch of the listing, which was first published in 2006.
The 2016 rates valuation is something the whole industry is worried about, but not, it seems, the hand car washers. Yet again so many of them will not be listed or if they are, no proper investigation will have taken place to ensure that they pay their correct rates. It's terribly frustrating as the CWA has provided much of the data necessary for the job to be done properly.
I love chocolate as much as the next person actually probably more so, and my absolute favourite is Cadbury Dairy Milk. However, I am not a big fan of what they are doing to it ie launching more and more obscure varieties. They must have done their research but even so... First up, let's look at Medley, two 93g bars which say on the wrapper 'A delightful Medley of' and that's either dark chocolate chips, biscuit and fudge pieces or dark chocolate chips, carmelised hazelnuts and raspberry pieces.
I would not place a bet on the next movement of Brent Crude having listened to many hours of detailed presentations from some of the most experienced analysts in the industry during International Petroleum Week there are just too many variables. What is irrefutable is that OECD stocks have risen by 15% to more than 3bn barrels since early 2014 producing a record overhang.
Big news that the owners of MRH have sold the business to US private equity company Lone Star (see News page 4).