Extraordinary times we’re living in, with the whole world adjusting to much-changed circumstances, and not much of a clue as to when things will return to anything that resembles ’normal’. For the forecourt sector it’s been a period of peaks and troughs as the panic-buying hordes loaded their cars with loo rolls, pasta and all things ’anti-bacterial’ and initially filled their tanks to the brim with fuel.
But as forecourt shop sales rose 20-30%, fuel sales started to slump by 70-80%. PRA chairman Brian Madderson has warned of forecourt closures where volumes have fallen to a trickle - particularly in rural areas, making businesses unviable. Staffing is also becoming a problem, due to self-isolation. Also not helping is the fact oil prices fell to their lowest level in 18 years, followed as a consequence by dramatic falls in forecourt prices, leading to fuel price competition from the hypers. Morrisons, for example, announced a 12ppl cut in petrol unprecedented even by supermarket standards. Many fuel retailers have been left with tanks full of fuel paid for at the higher prices. They’ve also faced lack of flexibility on delivery loads and credit terms by some fuel suppliers. The PRA is on the case, calling on the government to get fuel suppliers to give 60-day credit terms.
Meanwhile other weirdness has seen drive-offs surge 20% one weekend, then fall by 31% the next. We’ve had over-zealous policemen trying to stop people buying Easter eggs in convenience stores - where were they when people weren’t paying for things? Then BP announced it wouldn’t make anyone redundant for three months. We’ve also learnt how disgustingly germy fuel pump nozzles are - well done GripHero for stepping into the breach with free hand-protection dispensers.
It’s all very unsettling, but despite all the turmoil, as an officially designated ’essential’ service, the forecourt sector has been proving exactly what it can do for the nation. It has shown that it can operate safely, and offer a much-needed lifeline to its customers. Because when this is all over, they will hopefully remember who was there for them. Stay safe everyone.