With a packed programme targeting both forecourt and convenience retailers, highlights included the presentation by Markus Hoffmann, global category manager for food and coffee at Shell, who provided practical hints and tips to help retailers get closer to their customers.
He said quality of the offer was really important, but it was also key to listen to customers, not just about what they liked, but more crucially, discover what the barriers might be to them choosing your forecourt. He said meaningful differentiation providing a product or service that is important to your customer and not just something that is different for the sake of it is a good way of attracting business and should be communicated well.
Speed of service is of number one importance to the typical forecourt shopper, according to Blake Gladman, a director at shopper research consultancy HIM, who revealed the latest research on understanding why shoppers go to forecourts and what attracts them to the forecourt environment, having spoken to around 4,000 shoppers in forecourts this year. "The forecourt shopper is most likely to be male, middle-aged and from the ABC1 demographic, living in a busy household, and working full time.
"After speed, staff friendliness scores highly in what a shopper is looking for, and this starts to touch on the idea that forecourts are community shops like local convenience stores, where offering good customer service is a key aspect of competing with supermarkets. Another interesting statistic is that 13% of forecourt shoppers don't even own a car."
As was evident by the buoyant mood of the show, the forecourt sector is in pretty good shape, Arthur Renshaw, UK and Ireland manager of Experian Catalist told the audience in the Retailer Hub. "After many years of declining numbers, we have seen the rate of closures in the forecourt sector shrink to very small numbers, if not quite stop.
"Last year we saw the number of independent dealers go up, and we're going to see that rise continue this year with the changes going on at the moment ie the sale of the Shell and Esso sites to the major independents. Our latest figures show there are 8,460 open forecourts about 100 down on last year but considering we went below 10,000 sites around 10 years ago, the rate of decline has slowed dramatically.
"The other reason I can say the forecourt sector is in pretty good shape is the amount of private equity coming in to the market, which we've not really seen until fairly recently. There's no shortage of money in the industry. People who want to buy sites will probably find there is a queue for them, and a lot of money is being invested in them."
PRA chairman Brian Madderson said the dramatic collapse of world oil prices had been the key factor affecting the trade over the past 12 months. "To go from $115 dollars a barrel down to below $50 a barrel in six months, is almost unprecedented. Where are we going for the future? Each of you would probably have a different answer."
Kevin Eastwood, executive director of BOSS, and a strong line-up including BOSS forecourt crime analyst Alison Green; BOSS debt recovery services executive Carole Hughes; and Chris Hearn from ACPO Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service, discussed ways of tackling crime on the forecourt, particularly in light of the new crime figures (see news story page 4), which reveal that fuel theft costs the average UK service station £3,600 a year.
Elsewhere the show was busy as oil companies and forecourt equipment and services companies shared their expertise with visitors.
Pete George, managing director of Phillips 66 UK and Ireland marketing, said: "The Forecourt Show 2015 proved to be a very valuable event to be part of. From Jet's perspective, the show is a key date in the industry's calendar and enables us to meet face-to-face with dealers, suppliers and industry partners under one roof.
"This year we decided to use the show as our platform to announce our new convenience initiative in partnership with Spar, as well as some other exciting developments, which certainly attracted a lot of interest from dealers visiting our stand. Once again the show's organisers have attracted some of the biggest names in forecourt retailing and strong visitor numbers, making The Forecourt Show one of the best networking events the industry has to offer."
A hub of activity
Award-winning retailers were out in force at the Retailer Hub (pictured above) to share their experience and insight into what it takes to create a forecourt of the future. Retailers (top to bottom) included Simon Mackay from the Carsley Group; Clive Sheppard from the Chartman Group; Mike Garner from the Garner Group, whose Portsbridge Service Station won Forecourt Trader of the Year 2014; and David Charman from Parkfoot Garage.
Pictured below (l-r): Brian Madderson (PRA); Blake Gladman (HIM); and Arthur Renshaw (Experian Catalist).