The specialist construction companies involved in the forecourt sector have all been experiencing a surge in business in the past year. The majority of the projects have been knock-down-rebuilds (KDRBs), with many dealers looking to expand the retail side of their businesses and revamping the look of their forecourts, but there has also been an increase in a much rarer beast, the new-to-industry site.
One of the companies making a major contribution to the new-to-industry tally is Peregrine Retail, which has no fewer than five such sites ready to commence over the next two years. John Mason, managing director of Peregrine Retail, says each of the sites will be closely based on the design of its Wellington scheme, which won the Forecourt Trader Development and Design Award last October. This new-to-industry scheme, which opened in 2015, was itself a near copy of the design of Peregrine’s Bridgwater site, which was developed five years earlier.
Mason says that when Bridgwater was designed, the company was looking to produce something that was welcoming for customers, but also provided a striking building that would still look good well into the future. He says: "Bridgwater is six years old now yet it looks as good as Wellington does with Wellington only being 18 months old. The design and building is still going to look good in 10 or 20 years’ time.
"It’s something that is striking and a bit different. We’ve tried to find a design that is welcoming. It’s light and airy."
A lot of forecourts, particularly if you have a canopy that’s connected to the building, can, even with the appropriate lighting, feel quite dark. Peregrine has overcome this problem with a sloping canopy rising to about six metres at the tip, combined with a glass shop front which goes up to about four metres.
Mason says: "The feedback we’ve had from customers is that it is very light, bright and they feel very safe in that environment because you can see the whole of the forecourt inside and out. Generally people feel it is more welcoming and a safer environment because of the high level of visibility." The convenience of 25 parking spaces just outside, with views into the 2,500sq ft Budgens store, adds to the welcoming feel, as does a Subway with seating for 30 customers.
Mason says: "When we designed Bridgwater there was resistance from the architect because it was quite a departure from a traditional forecourt where you have a flat canopy, They felt it was out of the ordinary, it was going to be quite big and quite expensive. As it turned out it was a little more than a traditional site, but we’ve done a cost analysis and the difference isn’t that much and the overall effect is very different." Mason stood his ground over the design brief and says: "We were paying the fees and this was what I wanted. We could have ended up with something where it hadn’t worked and didn’t look very nice, but we ended up with the opposite and the architect saying ’what a good idea that was’."
Five years on there were no such qualms over the Wellington scheme or over the design for the five new sites.
Mason says the quality of the design has helped to open doors for some of the new developments. He explains: "A couple of sites we have secured recently have been adjacent to fairly sizeable business parks and what we are going to build is going to be a gateway to the development and the landowners want it to look good. We’ve shown them Bridgwater and Wellington and demonstrated we want to build something that’s modern and fresh and will still look good in several years time and not just after it has been built."
From the construction side of the business Steve Devine, installations and projects manager at Tokheim Solutions, confirms the market is buoyant. "We are being asked to look at a lot more schemes and they are tending to be more ambitious." Building and extending forecourt c-stores is the biggest area, often as part of a KDRB involving re-tanking and re pumping, but there has also been an increase in the number of sites switching to unmanned operation.
A number of dealers are also seeking to be more eco-friendly and to reduce their carbon footprint. Devine says some want to put solar panels on canopies and roofs so they can generate electricity, and are also looking for other measures such as harvesting rainwater to be used in car washes. More unusual projects have involved a "living wall" with ivy growing up it and even a building set into a hillside with a grass roof, which meant sheep were able to graze on it.
Devine says forecourt redevelopments generally come in at between £800,000 and £1.5m depending on what is required. He says £800,000 would be a relatively small filling station, and could involve taking the existing tanks out of the ground, making sure it’s clean, then installing new tanks in the ground, and putting up a reasonable size c-store for a small filling station. Greater size and complexity adds to the cost and he says some clients want offices and accommodation above, which then means different fire protection and electrical conditions are involved.
When it comes to designing a scheme, Devine says Tokheim can either provide designs to a client’s brief, or will recommend a designer and quote for the work. Once the design is settled Tokheim will deal with the planning authorities and agencies involved in getting the go-ahead for a scheme.
When permission is granted he says Tokheim’s preference is to complete an entire job without anybody else being involved, adding that this provides clients with added assurance. "We have our own pipe fitters, our own electricians and our own construction workers. With Tokheim you get a complete turnkey operation and then it’s covered by a Tokheim warranty. If there are any teething problems, there’s no argument between different contractors about who is responsible. Tokheim is in the game for the long haul because we want the maintenance that goes with the project in 20 years time. We won’t walk away from anything. That is quite attractive to prospective clients, because lots of people will do a bit of installation or construction work but they don’t hold the whole job from start to finish."
An exception to this is where concessions such as Subway are involved, and sometimes will have their own specialist contractors. In this case a concrete base is provided together with the services and the other contractor lowers a shell into place.
Martin Steggles, managing director of Global MSI, agrees there is a growing amount of investment in forecourts. "It’s mainly KDRBs, but I don’t remember being involved with so many new-to-industry sites. We’ve done three or four in the past year whereas in the years before that there were very few. The independents are very actively looking for plots of land where they can build new forecourts."
He says most KDRBs involve building larger convenience stores and making them as big as the site will allow. With a lot of sites being constrained by their size, many walls are coming almost up to the boundary to maximise retail space.
Global-MSI is involved in supplying forecourt canopies and the sales buildings. Steggles says: "The structural steelwork and cladding and glazing for the convenience stores is a large part of what we do." He says the use of steelwork and cladding is a particularly efficient construction method and is becoming more widespread. "The insulated panels we put on the buildings are quick to install and their installation doesn’t get affected by the weather in the way other trades are. Brickwork and blockwork can be stopped by the winter weather whereas the panels can be installed at any temperature."
Another trend he highlights is the use of more glass or polycarbonate on the forecourt canopies. He says dealers are looking to get natural daylight onto the forecourt, and particularly the part of the canopy that links the petrol pumps to the shop building.
Steggles says the combination of Global-MSI and its sister company Petrol Sign is working well. MS International plc parent company of Global-MSI acquired Petrol Sign in 2015, and its UK base is now in an adjoining building to Global-MSI’s in Doncaster. Steggles says: "Jointly we provide a one-stop shop for canopies now so, for example, if a canopy is impacted by a high-sided vehicle, a customer no longer has to get a signage contractor in and a canopy contractor in, because MS International will do both through the two divisions. The customer doesn’t have to worry about getting two companies in, and not only that but we are both specialists so there’s a specialist signage contractor and a specialist canopy contractor involved."
He says it’s a similar story with re-branding where, at the same time, the customer may want to change their lights, have new undersheeting, or have a leak fixed. He explains: "Again we can offer the complete package. All the work can be carried out at the same time, keeping disruption to a minimum."
When it comes to new stuctures, Steggles says the combination of the two companies can save clients money in other ways: "We can make sure the design of the branding will match the design of the canopy.
"What can happen is you get a fascia put onto a canopy that already has a fascia, so there’s ways of streamlining the work and cutting out duplication and cost. So the combination of the two divisions works on a number of levels with refurbishment, repair and new build."
Steve Evans, managing director of the construction division of The Premier Group says there is significant investment in the dealer market, and his company is working on projects for smaller dealers as well as the larger players. He adds: "I think there is a confidence to invest across all levels of dealers."
He says many of the projects involve increasing a site’s retail space and the best construction method for this kind of scheme is often a steel frame and cladded building.
He explains: "This method is quick and cost-effective and can offer the best retail space due to the open areas that can be created by using steel."
Most recently the company has just completed two new Asda filling stations in South Wales. The Asda Llanelli and Tonypandy sites are the second and third projects that The Premier Group has completed for the supermarket giant.
The scope of the works involved installation of two 75,000-litre fuel storage tanks, a car park and road entrance works at both sites. The Llanelli site included an automated petrol filling station comprising of four x four pumps, while at Tonypandy it was an automated petrol filling station comprising of three x four pumps. Steve Evans says: "Collaborating with Asda has enabled us to enhance The Premier Group’s reputation of working with major supermarket chains to provide specialist construction and branding work.
"As this project was for new sites, we were able to showcase our ability to solve problems, offering improvements while maintaining the highest standards of health and safety."