Despite the continuing drip-drip news of site closures that continues to make headlines, and the ever-present concerns of mainstream retailers in regard to the seemingly suicidal antics of the hypermarkets, there is some comfort in the Database figures.

Take May, for example. For the first time ever our ‘average site’ shop turnover for the month broke through the £50,000 barrier. Just 12 months ago the figure was under £45,000, and as recently as the year 2000 the average turnover for the equivalent month was below £40,000 – and those improvements haven’t come at the expense of margins, since both this year and last have been at 20 per cent, while 2000’s was only 19.5 per cent gross profit. One reason our margin has improved is that the proportion of lottery sales has decreased over the last few years. There is some general inflation in these figures, of course, but if your shop sales have jumped 12.5 per cent in a year when inflation was at three per cent, that’s real sales growth.

Looking at a longer time line, and comparing our ‘petrol retail shop sales’ against ‘all retail sales’, growth over the 17 full years from 1986 through 2002 confirms how well forecourt shops have progressed. The Office for National Statistics publishes an index of ‘all retail sales’ for each year. It sets its base year as 1996, but we’ve re-stated it to give a value of ‘100’ for 1986. We’ve then taken our shop sales figures and indexed those, again taking our 1986 value as ‘100’. By calculating the values for each subsequent year for both indices, we can compare the growth in shop sales against that of ‘all retail’ sales – the trend can be seen in the accom-panying graph. In essence, while general retail sales have risen 133 per cent since ’86, our forecourt shop sales have risen 366 per cent over the same period. Something to celebrate, surely?

For those who always see the glass as half-empty, well, performing a similar exercise using our ‘average’ fuel volumes against overall site numbers, the picture admittedly isn’t quite as rosy. True enough, our recorded volumes for May 2003 are the highest ever at over 410,000 litres for the month (excluding LPG) – but while UK total active forecourt numbers have dropped 45 per cent since 1986, our average volume has only increased 20 per cent. Obviously total demand for fuel hasn’t fallen over that time. The ‘gap’ is due to the fact that we don’t include hypermarket volumes in our Database. The hypers have taken a large chunk of the volume that now-defunct sites used to pump.

Hopefully the unusually clement weather will push sales even higher. So smile, make hay while the sun shines. Perhaps this will be a summer to remember!