Forecourt Trader - 30 years at the heart of the fuel retailing community

Merril Boulton: Exciting times

As some of you will know, this is my last issue of Forecourt Trader as a full-time employee, so I thought it would be appropriate to reflect on the industry that I've been reporting on for many years.

This past year has shaped up to be particularly exciting. A merry-go-round of property deals looks to be ever-spinning, with the Total/Rontec deal in particular resulting in an abundance of opportunities for independents. Already the Top 50 Indies 2013 list is looking set for some big changes, although it is sad to see groups like Harry Tuffins and Calanike disappear from the indie network.

Yes, it is tough out there there are lots of struggling sites but it's also reassuring to see so much investment in the sector. Ambitious independents are putting up a fight, and when I think back to the forecourts I visited at the start of my first stint on the magazine in 2002, the jump in quality and diversity has been remarkable.

The indies definitely showed their fighting spirit last month. The Office of Fair Trading has been showered with responses to its call for information. It's a long road ahead before we potentially see any change, but the optimist inside of me will hope for a fairer future for the indie petrol retailer. I will eagerly await the outcome of this first stage of the journey, hopefully, to a full market study that could put paid to the subsidised promotions from hypers and two-tier pricing of certain oil companies.

Of course, the OFT's remit comes down to whether the interests of consumers are being harmed, so it could find that the intensely competitive marketplace is to the consumers' advantage if it results in driving down the price of fuel. But at the same time, further closures of forecourts have a detrimental impact on motorists. I know what it's like to drive on near-empty anxiously longing for a forecourt to appear!

I will still be contributing to Forecourt Trader so I look forward to keeping alive the great contacts I've made and building new ones in the future. See you around!

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As the smaller/family owned independent forecourt businesses continue to be acquired by the big operators, do you think now could be the right time for you to sell up?