As I travel around the UK meeting and talking to independent forecourt retailers, I have been struck by their enthusiasm to embrace the shopping revolution which has seen increasing demand for ’top-up’ visits to good, local convenience stores. Fortunately this enthusiasm has been matched by symbol groups willing to improve their offer.
Today, over 2,500 (45%) of independent retailers work with one of the major symbol brands with Spar maintaining its lead after recently rolling out its 1,041st branded forecourt store. However, Booker Retail Partners’ acquisition last year of Londis and Budgens on the mainland has provided opportunity to propel them ahead of Palmer & Harvey into second place, with over 800 forecourt stores. This startling climb has been achieved with two notable ’wins’. Motor Fuel Group (MFG) announced that it would be moving some 320 sites from P&H’s Costcutter brand to a combination of Londis and Budgens from July. And now Hilco has acquired 36 forecourts from the Co-op, which will be re-branded under the Budgens label.
P&H has been relegated to third position, for probably the first time, with less than 500 forecourt stores from mid-year. But Nisa is moving steadily up the ladder as is Bestway.
And all around there is still plenty of innovation. One has only to visit some of the superb forecourt shops in Northern Ireland to see what is possible and it is exciting to report that there are now many examples of similar or better developments on the mainland. Westmorland Group (Forecourt Trader of the Year in 2015 for its M5 sites) is possibly leading the way, but others on a lesser scale might include Parkfoot Garage in Kent with not only a full butchers’ offer but now also with a fresh fish counter supplied daily from Hastings and other local fishing ports. Nick Baker, NJB Services, has five forecourts in the north and has just launched Cheeky Café at the large Newton Park site adjacent to the A1(M) in County Durham. This is based around a special coffee blended for him in York and tea supplied by Taylor’s of Harrogate.
Good luck to all the entrepreneurs in our exciting industry. With the EU Referendum vote to come and fuel margins once again tightening as wholesale costs rise, a secure margin from shop activity will be essential.