TO SELL OR NOT TO SELL, that is the question. Whether ’tis better to suffer the slings and arrows of dealing with Joe Public and make a living for now or take the dosh while it’s on offer and put your feet up.
WE LIVE IN WHAT APPEAR to be strange times. Texaco and BP have bailed out of the market as they reckon there’s no money left in it. Sites are closing left, right and centre under the triple onslaught of the hypers decimating margin; the need for ever-increasing capital investment; and the government-sponsored busy-bodies finding even more ways to strangle any signs of entrepreneurship with miles of red tape. Chuck in a liberal dose of Aunt Prudence’s increasing tax burden (why is it that tax gathering seems to be the only branch of government that ever shows any evidence of innovative thinking?), and you have as an unappetising a brew as ever the Three Witches could have concocted.
AND YET CAPITAL VALUES have soared past even the previous dizzy heights of the early 1980s when we were all making a very nice living, thank you very much. So what’s going on? Okay, we know that there’s been a housing boom to help ratchet up development values. Yes, even commercial property has recovered to give an extra twist to the equation, although not many of us have sites big enough for office blocks or shops. But the really surprising driving force behind the rising market is other petrol retailers.
IN DEFIANCE OF ALL the factors I’ve already outlined, there are people out there who appear so determined to build mini empires that all usual financial logic appears to have flown out the window. Now I can understand that there are benefits of scale to be enjoyed when you reach a certain size, but I wonder if some of these site acquisitors fully appreciate that there are drawbacks as well. Our industry is littered with examples of retailers who grew too large too quickly. To be a successful multiple retailer requires a whole raft of skills over and above those that are required when running half a dozen outlets.
STILL, IF YOU’RE TEMPTED to bail out that’s not your concern. Once you’ve got your money you can’t allow yourself to worry about what you’ve left behind. That patch of land with a canopy, pumps and a shop may have been your whole life before but that was then, not now. If the buyer makes a success of it then good luck to him. If he falls flat on his face then it only goes to show how right you were to sell.
OF COURSE THE PROBLEM with selling up is what do you live on? With interest rates of 4.5% before tax, you need a pretty hefty wedge to produce enough income to pay for life’s little essentials, and that’s without all those little perks there are from having your own business. And then there’s the problem of what do you do with your time. The thought of spending 24/7 with her indoors might not be the most persuasive factor in deciding whether to sell.
AND THERE, AS UNCLE WILLIAM would have said, is the rub. There might be stormy times ahead; there might be occasions when we despair at the stupidity of our staff or customers; and there will certainly be times when we wonder whether our suppliers could organise the proverbial p*** up in a brewery, but... most of us seem to belong to the school of masochists who couldn’t survive without our daily dose of aggravation. Once a petrol retailer, always a petrol retailer. I wonder?
FINALLY, BRAND DEVALUATION is a major concern for most multi-nationals. It would appear that product devaluation doesn’t bother them quite as much.
An Easter egg was once something special, a little luxury to fork out for once a year. This year’s ’£3.50’ offerings must surely have buried that concept forever. And for their part in favouring the hypers and ignoring us lesser mortals I can only say, serves them right.