SO FAREWELL, THEN, Kuwait – or not as the case may be! After months of speculation over whether it would be BP or Total, now we know – it’s neither. The curious outcome to the Kuwait (Dutch?) auction is perhaps a fitting end to the curious saga of one of the world’s richest oil producing states attempting to retail in the UK, where it had no resources of its own. Now I can only assume that the Sheikhs had some lucrative swap deal in place in another part of the globe, otherwise there appears little logic in their original decision to be a player in a very mature market.

IT IS ALSO A LITTLE PUZZLING to fully understand the motives of the new consortium of owners of Kuwait (GB) Ltd. The opportunity for Malthurst to acquire a large number of company owned sites in one fell swoop is understandable. The attractiveness of an office block in the south east to commercial property investors is also self-evident. The bit that doesn’t seem to add up is all the rest of the Kuwait operation, and why anybody would want it.

THE HISTORY OF COMPANIES in the UK attempting to be product wholesalers while relying purely on supply agreements with the majors has been a disaster since the days of Burmah. So the new owners’ announcement that they were retaining all the previous staff, and that they would honour all dealers’ contracts, was a very (pleasant) surprise to all those who were bracing themselves for the chop. I can only assume that a very keen supply deal has been arranged with a Major that just couldn’t resist such a large chunk of volume. And let’s face it, with Sainsbury’s, Asda et al (and let’s not forget those other desperadoes, Shell,) retailing unleaded at 79.9p/litre there really is blood out there on the streets, however keen the supply deal.

THE ANNOUNCEMENT THAT MCDONALDS is to roll out café sections to its restaurants, selling coffee, cakes and sandwiches, is a reminder that nothing stays the same forever. The king of fast food has discovered that losing focus on your customers’ changing tastes is a dangerously bad habit to acquire. But I do wonder whether the king has become a victim of ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ syndrome in retailing, where everybody chases the same new golden idea until someone is brave enough to own up that the true returns really aren’t that great. If one wanted to be cynical one could say that the fact that Marks and Spencer have rolled out Café Revivals in so many of its stores is a good reason not to follow suit!! Meanwhile, as if to underline how far companies can stray from their original core activities if they are not careful, we have BP spending fortunes on radio advertising for its Wild Bean Cafes. There are more than a few dealers out there who would prefer that the ‘sunflower’ devote some resources to solving the ever-so tricky problem of delivering petrol on time!!

THEY SAY THERE’S A SILVER LINING to every cloud, and the Government’s ban on cigarette advertising in our shops from the end of November could prove very lucrative to us all. When you can only display one A5 poster at a gantry, the only other way for the manufacturers to influence their customers is through the pack facings themselves. Early indications are that the amount of funds available to retailers for listings bonuses etc is rising substantially. Meanwhile Imperial must be laughing its socks off at Gallaghers, who will have to modify all those expensive Asda gantries.

AS OUR WAGE COST CONTINUES TO RISE, any extra source of revenue is very welcome, and at times I seem to be spending as much effort on these ‘extra-curricular’ activities as on my basic retailing. Which does lead me to one beef. I pay a fortune in charges to Arval PHH for the ‘privilege’ of allowing its customers to shop at my site, and it makes a very lucrative sideline out of selling my pump price information to all and sundry. Now I don’t remember anybody asking my permission to publish this information – anybody fancy financing a lawsuit for some compensation?