There are important regulatory challenges that forecourt retailers face that other convenience stores don’t have to deal with.
One is in alcohol licensing. Forecourt retailers have to jump through hoops to both attain and keep a licence. And in Scotland the legal changes have made it pretty much impossible for forecourt retailers to add alcohol to their stores. I have never heard a convincing argument for why forecourts should be discriminated against in this way.
My fear is that with more changes ahead, forecourt retailers are going to have to work harder than ever to get and keep a licence.
Some people are arguing that the more off licences you have, the greater the likelihood that people will abuse alcohol. There is no evidence for this, and the customers who would lose out most would be moderate drinkers who want the convenience of buying alcohol at stores close to where they live or those on their way home from work.
The retailers who could suffer most might be forecourts. Those without licences may find it harder to get one, and if there is community pressure to reduce the number of licences in an area, you can imagine the forecourt being one of the first licence-holders brought into question.
This is why the government’s Alcohol Strategy is so important, and why it’s such a big focus for ACS.
The second concern surrounds business rates. It is acutely unfair that a forecourt convenience store’s rates are calculated on turnover, and a standalone’s on size and location. This means that two shops in the same street, which have the same size shop, selling the same things, have two completely different rates bills with the forecourt retailer paying significantly more than the other. It’s an unfairness that needs to be eradicated and we are working with RMI Petrol to achieve this in the 2015 settlement.
Meanwhile, we have set up an event where forecourt retailers and suppliers can come together and learn from each other and discuss our specific challenges.
The ACS Forecourt Seminar on July 5 at the King Power Stadium in Leicester is free to both ACS and RMI Petrol members. A full list of speakers and more information about the event is available on our website. I look forward to seeing you there.