There are plenty of positives for petrol retailers to focus on – despite the recession – when considering prospects

for the coming year, Tom Fender, sales and marketing director at shopper research specialist HIM, informed guests at the Top Indies dinner in Birmingham this week.

He told the elite gathering of the biggest independent operators in the UK, that when you’re looking for doom and gloom, it’s easy to find. "Car sales are down – particularly 4x4s," he said. "Evans reports that bicycle sales are 200% up. Some suppliers have put a ban on conferences. There are more ’webinars’ and conference calls so business mileage is reduced; plus white van man is travelling less."

But in fact, he stressed, many people are actually better off. "As interest rates have come down, so have mortgage repayments; fuel prices have also come down. Foreign holidays are said to be in decline, but this is good news as more people will stay at home and take their holidays in the UK. In terms of leisure, the on-trade is suffering, people are cutting back on eating out. That means more people buying food and drink to dine and entertain at home. Also, you have a captive market - you have fuel. People need it in their daily lives.

"In a recession there are always winners and losers. Yes, cut costs, but keep some slack. Yes, business models need to change. Everything may have to change because shoppers’ habits are changing. You all just need to keep abreast of them, and you will continue to survive and grow."


The Top Indies dinner celebrates the publication of the Top 50 Indies listing - a league table of the biggest independent petrol retail groups - that was published in the March 2009 issue of Forecourt Trader. The event was held during the International Forecourt & Fuel Exhibition and Convenience Retailing Show held at the NEC in Birmingham.