While details about the deal were scarce as we went to press, it's an amazing story for the owners, particularly Graham Peacock and Susan Tobell, who were part of a team that got together in 1997 and formed Malthurst from what remained of the petrol retailing company they'd both been working for that had hit the buffers. "We started off with £1,000 and the benefit of a huge amount of experience," Graham commented in later years.
There have been many chapters since then. But with a lot of hard work, determination, and a great team, the company grew into the biggest independent service station operator in the UK, with 452 forecourts collectively selling 2.43 billion litres of fuel a year at the last count. That's some achievement.
I can't imagine such colourful characters riding off into the sunset never to be seen haggling over a forecourt again. But if they do, they can be happy knowing they've certainly made their mark in the industry and they will be missed.
But how times change. It doesn't seem that many years ago when all the talk was about how difficult it was for forecourt owners to get the attention of their local bank, let alone a multinational private equity company money, be it trying to source funding for a new acquisition or just extending an overdraft facility.
But now it appears that the forecourt businesses are flavour of the month. Steve Rodell of Christie & Co, says financial institutions are keen to invest their money in the forecourt sector because it produces "pretty decent trading returns". Part of the appeal is because forecourts are asset-backed businesses freehold properties with land in a market driven by the buoyant convenience retailing sector (see News page 7). He says there are likely to be more such deals with private equity funds so keep working hard!