Following a roller coaster year, the petrol retailing sector is trying to look for the positives as 2009 gets under way. Retailer Jonathan James, of James Graven & Sons, said he was feeling more confident than a few months ago, and this was largely due to

falling oil prices.

He said: "We’ve definitely lost some fuel trade in the past few months but I think the fall in the price of fuel will probably conteract that. And hopefully we will see fuel volumes come back. However, I think in 2009 we will see people being far more price conscious than they have been.

"There will have to be much more interaction between retailer and customer to provide the offer they actually need rather than what we or they think they need. For us this means more promotions and discounts."

David Charman, who runs the Parkfoot Garage group in Kent, said it had been the best December ever for his car wash business - with sales up 10% on the previous year. He added: "The business is still there if the weather is right and the correct investment is in place. Fuel volumes have started poorly this year due to a combination of the cold weather and very strange pricing. But pricing aside, things are looking good."

Usman Patel, director of Mabco Petroleum, which has three Texaco sites in the north west, said: "This year is going to be tight because of the credit crunch and the banks. Oil companies will cut back on expenditure as well. But towards the end of the year I believe things will look better because the banks will get bailed out once more and will have further reassurance to start lending again, and that will pull us through - but I’m an eternal optimist.

"As far as my business is concerned, since joining Londis more than two years ago, I’ve seen month on month increases. I’m still benefiting from the brand and the promotions we run."

Meanwhile, Keith Jewers, director of Gulf Retail, said: "Volumes are down - depending on the region -between 15% and 20%.

"In 2009 I see no change to our customers’ buying habits, and this year I think the economic cliamte will worsen. Factors such as rising unemployment, the slowdown in the housing market and caustion about disposable income will be behind the reasons why fuel sales will be down.

"Conversely, it’s a well-accepted fact that when people have less money in their pockets they tend to live for today with regard to shop purchases, so we’ll probably see less impact in forecourt stores. If your c-store represents good value with the correct range there could even growth."

Meanwhile BP said customer loyalty would continue to be a key priority in 2009 hence it has revised its customer service programme and enhanced its loyalty programme with Nectar. BP’s UK fuels manager Janet Ashdown said: "We’re fully committed to strengthening our UK dealer business and our dealer relationships."