Fears of a return to the fuel crisis of 2000 are plaguing the petrol retailing fraternity as rising prices, threats of demonstrations, and uncertainty in the Middle East have made dramatic news headlines in the national press.
The Regent name – a familiar sight on petrol pumps until the late 60s – is set to return to UK forecourts with the launch of a new proposition for independent retailers, available from Texaco’s network of equity distributors.

11 sites for Somerfield

01 June, 2004
Somerfield has announced the acquisition of 11 forecourt convenience stores in Scotland for £2.6 million from the receiver of Osprey Forecourts Ltd. The company said it will retain and develop five prime sites which are currently closed – in Abercraig; Hawthorn Street, Glasgow; Scone; Carnoustie; and Northern Lights, Aberdeen – with the six remaining sites having been sold on as part of the deal for development.
The Londis sale saga has continued this month with news of a rival bid from a management team led by former executives from convenience chain T&S Stores (acquired two years ago by Tesco).
Convenience shopping is a more complex business than ever before, with shoppers viewing it as six different formats, according to new research by Masterfoods. The £750,000 research showed the forecourt retailer is now firmly recognised as a convenience store – under the grouping ‘transient petrol’ – along with the other formats: city centre; neighbourhood; local shop; high street stop off; and specialist; and shoppers treat them all differently.
Shop sales in the forecourt sector are now worth £3.6bn, according to new figures from the Institute of Grocery Distribution.
The big four multiple grocers have been excluded from membership of the Association of Convenience Stores following a vote at an extraordinary general meeting held during its Blackpool conference last month.

ACS focus on crime

01 June, 2004
Forecourt Trader Award-winning retailer Jonathan James gave an entertaining speech at the ACS Conference about how he was attacking crime proactively in his stores, so he is not seen as a ‘soft target’ by criminals. He was asked to do the presentation on a newly introduced ‘Independents Day’ – separate to the main two-day conference, designed to give retailers advice and tips for their businesses.
RoadChef, the third largest motorway services area operator in the UK, has awarded Key Lekkerland a multi-million pound contract for the next three years to supply its retail outlets and forecourt sites.

Tensions build

01 June, 2004
Petrol retailers are being advised to “behave normally”, in the face of rising fuel prices and bad press caused by the extortionate pricing of a handful of forecourts.

News in brief

01 June, 2004
Forecourt retailers were named best in class for a number of product
GENERAL APPEARANCE: Looks hopeful on approach – it’s a big forecourt, with a big shop. However disappointment begins to dawn as you drive onto the forecourt, with signs that it is in need of a lot of loving care and attention.

Pump price problems

01 June, 2004
As this is being written, crude oil prices hover around the $40 per barrel mark, compared to around $25 at this time last year. Pump prices on some forecourts have already gone past 85p a litre and we’re starting to hear the sort of grumbling that preceded the UK’s fuel crisis of 2000, especially since the Duty increases announced in the 2004 Budget have yet to come into effect on September 1. However unreasonable the tax burden attached to road fuel in the UK, there are a number of international factors over which no single government has much influence that are responsible for the current trend in prices. Energy industry commentators have pointed to such causes as instability in major producing countries such as Saudi Arabia (including terrorist attacks on refineries and pipelines); reduction in worldwide refining capacity following industry consolidation; build-up of strategic oil stocks by the USA; and unprecedented demand from China (estimated as 15 per cent up from last year, and with little sign of slowing).

The hottest new scam

01 June, 2004
News comes from the Federation of Small Businesses of fraudsters claiming to regulate Health and Safety legislation. A swathe of official-looking letters have gone out to small businesses demanding registration payments of up to £249. The conmen are using the titles Health and Safety Enforcement Agency, Health and Safety Registration Enforcement Division and Health and Safety Compliance Agency. They have threatened thousands of unsuspecting businesses with fines and imprisonment for non-payment. The advice is, don’t answer the letters and report them to your local HSE office or ring its info-line on 08701 545500.

A result

01 June, 2004
I’ve had some satisfying feedback from Dave Moss in Devon on his quest for business rates relief. For those who missed the last issue, Dave, who runs Alfington Stores and Service Station, was horrified when his business rates demand arrived this year in all its crippling glory and with no mention of the 100 per cent relief he had wrestled out of the council in previous years. My bit of research revealed that he was certainly entitled to 50 per cent mandatory relief but might have to battle it out for the other, discretionary, half. So Dave sharpened up his pens, and wrote strong letters to his council. He emailed me the upshot: “I’ve had a four line letter from East Devon District Council signed by Assistant Treasurer – Revenues, Economy Directorate, a Mr M W Vickery,” says Dave. The letter said: “The Resources Portfolio Holder has agreed to award 50 per cent discretionary relief in addition to the 50 per cent mandatory rural settlement rate relief until the end of the 2005/2006 financial year. Accordingly there will be no non-domestic rates to pay until notified otherwise.” Says Dave: “I think we can count that as a result – and it’s probably worth a mention in your column that the best policy if smaller, rural business owners find rates are excessive, is to shout loud and create a fuss. The relief is out there, you just have to chase it hard.” He also points out that the council appears to have the discretion to award whatever relief it does decide upon for more than just the current financial year. “I certainly hadn’t dreamed that might be possible. In fact, by doing so they could effectively be committing a different council to provide continuing relief on a business whose trading conditions might change dramatically in the intervening period. So you are then forced to ponder just what rules they work under in the case of rural business rate relief – and for how long can they actually award relief if they really want to?”

In for a penny...

01 June, 2004
Can I pay someone off in pennies asked a bitter retailer who is facing a nightmarish £50K bill involving a sub-lease/tenant legal wrangle. It started out at a lot less than £50K but barristers got involved along the way. The retailer, who doesn’t want any publicity, had some sublet property ‘on the side’ just sort of ticking over. As he will regret for the rest of his life, he didn’t pay close enough attention to the wording of the lease and he got well and truly taken to the cleaners by his tenant, a South American lady who took extended holidays back to Brazil while sub-sub-letting to a succession of gentlemen, sometimes several at a time. He evicted her. Wrong. You really don’t want to get on the wrong side of any issue that comes with compensation such as unfair dismissal, or in this case, eviction. The details, although fascinating, don’t really have anything to do with petrol retailing (though thankfully that side of his business is doing fairly well). But I was intrigued by his query and rang the Bank of England to find out if he could get a little of his own back by delivering several tonnes of coins. According to a spokesman both parties are free to agree any form of payment whether legal tender or otherwise. She and her lawyers would have to agree. “Even if it were agreed, you’d need to hire a big lorry,” said the helpful bloke at the Bank. “What about one pound coins?” I asked, picturing wheelbarrows and local press coverage. “What about security?” he countered. He then sent me a fact sheet with a breakdown of which monetary permutations are permitted, so if you are thinking of paying someone off in this fashion – you can only pay in pennies for an amount not exceeding 20p (unless otherwise agreed). For fivepenny payoffs, the amount shouldn’t exceed a fiver and even 50p pieces cannot be used for payments over £10. If nothing else, it may be useful for pub quiz night!

Jagged edge

01 June, 2004
Drive-offs cost the petrol retailing sector nearly £12 million pounds a year. However the personal cost in terms of frustration at the lack of being able to do anything about a crime that can wreak havoc on your business is not so easy to quantify.

Space station

01 June, 2004
It’s not often you get to liken a service station to a time travelling device from a TV science fiction series, but that’s the reaction of customers – including me – when stepping into the forecourt shop at Bellini’s in Ilkeston, Derbyshire.

Welsh flare

01 June, 2004
As the majors continue to pull out of Wales, so a revitalised brand comes onto the scene offering rural Welsh retailers a fuel supply and support whatever their volume.

The fag trade

01 June, 2004
If forecourt retailers want to improve their cigarette sales they must make sure their gantries are fully stocked at all times, especially in the evenings and at weekends. So says Tom Fender, managing director of Harris International Marketing (HIM).

Lunch bunch

01 June, 2004
You’re on your way to work, you’ve a busy day ahead and won’t get time to stop for lunch. You stop at the garage en route for the office, fill up with petrol and at the same time grab something for lunch. Sound familiar? It might not be for you personally but it will be for many of your customers. Busy lifestyles leave little time for lunch, which means many consumers will take advantage of a well-stocked chiller full of lunch solutions. They’ll buy their sandwich and their drink and eat it at their desk later.

Londis calls for hush

01 June, 2004
Symbol group Londis has put the HCPS unit from Hubbard Commercial Refrigeration at the heart of its forecourt store refrigeration systems.
Verco has supplied seven Cambridge refrigerated cabinets to an Esso forecourt in Cannonmills, Edinburgh.
Mono Equipment has launched a hot mini donut vending machine that serves eight or nine freshly cooked mini donuts in 45 seconds.

Interactive learning

01 June, 2004
A new interactive CD-based training course has been introduced by The Society of Food Hygiene Technology. The e-training course, Hygiene Awareness – Principles and Practice, is designed to enable food businesses to comply with legal obligations in providing relevant food safety and hygiene training for food handlers as required by the Food Safety Act.

Low-carb option

01 June, 2004
Nestlé Rowntree has become the first major UK confectionery company to introduce low carb versions of two of its best-selling chocolate brands – KitKat and Rolo – targeting the three million British people following a low-carb lifestyle.
Patak’s has undergone an extensive programme of new product development in a bid to bring fresh inspiration to the Indian foods category and bring the sector back to double-digit growth.

£6m Tango splash

01 June, 2004
Ready for the start of Euro 2004, Britvic Soft Drinks is splashing out £6m on a summer campaign for Tango.

Bottoms up for pickle

01 June, 2004
Premier Foods is hoping to drive usage of sweet pickles with the launch of Branston Squeezy, a range of pickle products in convenient plastic bottom-up bottles.

Pork snack unveiled

01 June, 2004
Chilled savoury snacks brand Pork Farms has introduced a new snack bar exclusive to the independent and convenience store sectors.
Kellogg’s is giving the booming cereal bar sector a boost with the launch of Crunchy Nut bar, Nutri-Grain Yoghurty, and Special K Apple & Pear bar.
A promotion of the Turtle Wax Extreme range – aimed at the affluent, younger motorist – is being supported by sole Turtle Wax distributor, Saxon Industries.
SO OK, THE BANKS FINALLY got fed up of losing a fortune on their credit cards through fraud. Fair enough. Surprisingly (perhaps?), I’m not one of those who delights in their misfortunes – experience has taught me that eventually it’s Mr & Mrs Average who end up paying the bill. And while it would be a cheap shot to suggest ‘Serves them right for dishing the plastic out like confetti’ there is no doubt that they have contributed to their own predicament. The irony, of course, is that it was the pursuit of increased efficiency (or, in everyday English, saving money and boosting profits) that really opened up Pandora’s box for the fraudsters. If the banks hadn’t pushed out the old manual vouchers in favour of EFT, the skimming industry would never have started. By the same token, we’d probably by now have exhausted 62 rain forests and stood the risk of being sued by our managers due to prolonged skin contact with carbon paper or coating, so I’m not suggesting being a luddite either.

Fuel Prices June 2004

01 June, 2004
Data supplied by Catalist Ltd

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About the Forecourt Trader Group
Forecourt Trader continues to maintain its market-leading position as the major source of information for the petrol-retailing sector.

Targeted at independent retailers, all those connected to the industry seek out Forecourt Trader (magazine and website) for its strong mix of news, industry and retailer profiles, as well as scheduled features that cover all categories of a service station operation at length, on both the forecourt and shop side of the business. ...more »

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