Total retail fuel volumes show a continuing trend of decline, PRA chairman Brian Madderson told an audience of forecourt and convenience retailers and suppliers at last month’s Forecourt Forum at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry.

Madderson said he had been working more closely with the Oil & Gas Statistics section at the Department of Energy and Climate Change since mid-2013, when it was discovered that one of the ’big four’ supermarkets had been incorrectly completing fuel volume return, which meant market share of the supermarkets had been consistently understated.

The latest figures for UK retail fuel volumes (Q1/14) show a year-on-year decrease of 1.4% (123 million litres), with petrol down 4.1% (176m/l) and diesel up by 1.3% (53m/l). Total retail fuel volumes are 8.36bn/l.

The top four supermarkets share increased to 43% (3.60bn/l) but despite deep discounting and low prices, their overall volumes actually dropped by 0.9% - to around 33 million litres down, with petrol accounting for a loss of 4% (76m/l), and diesel up 2.5% (43m/l).

Madderson said commercial fuels (diesel only) reflected the improving economic activity with volumes up by 6.0% (including bunker fuels as well as own storage etc).

"All road fuel, helped by the commercial sector, has shown steady recovery from the recession such that the total for Q1/14 reflected a small increase of 0.1% - the first positive report for some years," said Madderson.

"Clearly the improving engine performance of both diesel and petrol engines is having an impact on volumes as is the trend to switch to diesel vehicles for better mileage and lower taxation."

David Pitron, offer development manager at BP UK, spoke about the company strategy designed to improve its offer to customers. He revealed that while total BP com-owned store numbers have stayed roughly the same, there had been an increase in M&S Simply Food partnership store numbers over the years, and that this would be the strategy for the future: "We are currently on an active programme to acquire sites that can take an M&S offer, as it is the most successful partnership we’re offering. We are converting existing sites and moving away from the standard BP Connect format," he said. "Our strategy is straightforward we would estimate that all of our company operations, will be in partnership with M&S by 2016/17."

Pitron said the BP network had been enjoying good sales growth from October/November last year when the economy started to pick up again. "We can see underlying growth of about 3-3.5%, year-to-date, getting new customers into the store, and encouragingly we are starting to increase our conversion rate customers who buy in the shop as well as fuel. About one quarter of our shoppers just buy fuel, a quarter buy fuel and shop; and just over 50% are shop-only customers. Basket size is rising up by 5.7%."

Pitron said the change to the M&S format from BP Connect reveals a complete reverse in the breakdown of shoppers with 60/40 female to male in M&S, compared with 40/60 at BP Connect stores.

In the past 18 months the company has tried to understand the shopper mission in more detail, and has also launched two programmes one to achieve a more service-oriented approach to its stores and features helpers on the forecourt; and the updating of the Wild Bean Café offer, which was originally launched in 2003, and in need of a refresh.

Other speakers at the event, which was jointly hosted by the PRA and the Association of Convenience Stores, included Shane Brennan, ACS public affairs director who provided and update on the latest ACS research and advice. David Chairman, Parkfoot Garage, Convenience Retailer of the Year 2014 and Nick Lloyd, managing director of Symonds Forecourts both former Forecourt Traders of the Year provided interesting accounts of the best practices which have contributed to their success. Gordon Balmer, from Fuel Card Insights, covered the EU proposals for capping interchange fees, and discussed the prospects for change. Phil Prow from Vianet Fuel Solutions, and Jeremy Blackburn from JTI also gave presentations. The event was chaired by Mark Selby visiting Professor at the University of Surrey and a London School of Economics’ Network Economy Forum member.

Ramsay MacDonald, certas energy

A philosophy of "putting our money where our mouth is" and "using our experience to help our customers", was how Certas Energy retail director, Ramsay MacDonald, described his company’s approach to business, during his presentation at last month’s ACS/RMI Forecourt Seminar at the Ricoh Arena, Coventry.
MacDonald shared the experiences of Certas Energy, the largest fuel supplier to the UK independent sector, and more recently the owner of a small network of filling stations, acquired within the past two years, within Scotland’s highly competitive central belt.
He said the sites had become a test bed for innovation and the development of anything from forecourt promotions and shop brands to HSE issues. Once assessed, advice is made readily available to Certas Energy dealers including its Gulf and Pace-branded networks.
"It brings into stark focus the challenges facing the independent operator and has given us a chance to see if the mantras we preach actually stand up to the test," said MacDonald. "From tank linings and shop development to latest EU legislation and back office systems, we can share our experiences with our dealers on almost any aspect of petrol retailing." MacDonald used the example of eight sites, all operating on the same margins previously supplied by the major brands, and now rebranded to Gulf. "We had to ensure that the assets were sustainable and tackle a number of legal issues, undertake risk assessments and compliance checks, install remote wet-stock monitoring and implement an audit programme coupled with staff training. The tanks were old and had to be double-skin lined or replaced. We introduced Londis to make the change from garage forecourt to credible convenience store and made sure that the sites were all bright and clean."
More recent activity has included the introduction of the HTEC/Gempay card payment terminal, allowing Shell Fuel Card acceptance across all sites as well as the introduction of Costa Coffee and several off licences. Staff communication has also been overhauled.
"It’s an ongoing challenge but we are delighted with the initial results," enthused MacDonald. "Fuel sales are up 26%, shop turnover 17%, lubricant volumes have doubled and coffee sales trebled. Unlike others, we see our company business as serving to deepen our dealer offer and we will pass on any tips or learnings to our customers. We also extend a warm Scottish welcome to anyone who wants to visit the sites."