Independent fuel retailers are fighting back against the hypers – after two decades of the toughest possible conditions to survive in business, said Ramsay MacDonald, retail director at Certas Energy, at this week’s Indie 5000 dinner, organised by Forecourt Trader magazine.

Editor Merril Boulton launched the latest annual Fuel Market Review, compiled in conjunction with Experian Catalist, which showed that the number of dealer sites has grown for the second year in a row, while oil company sites reduced by 321 and supermarket volumes declined for the first time.

Guest speaker MacDonald emphasised the importance of investing now, in both forecourt and shop, to protect future margins: “Changing consumer behaviour also means that more and more people recognise the value of independent retailers within their communities. While always a low margin, high-cost business, retail margins are holding up, which is good news and an ideal time to invest in the forecourt and shop to protect margins going forward.”

He also called upon the UK‘s fuel suppliers to follow the lead of Certas Energy and become much more transparent in their invoicing.

“It’s unrealistic to talk about long-term relationships and at the same time present petrol retailers with hidden costs which, from some suppliers, are not highlighted during contract negotiations. We’ve seen examples where dealers have been charged up to £20,000 more than they expected over the course of a year. We urge all dealers to check out their invoice price, before they commit. Our pledge is that we are happy to show our price whatever the outcome and would urge other suppliers to be as frank.”

Guests at the Indie 5000 dinner, held at the Hilton Birmingham Metropole, included a broad spectrum of independent retailers from the largest operators such as Rontec, to those with a handful of sites or less; as well as key suppliers to the sector, including sponsors Jet, Londis, Washtec, Fast Trak and Tchibo. After dinner speaker was David Bryon, founder and former managing director of low-cost airline BMIBaby. The event preceded the ACS/PRA Forecourt Forum, held in the same venue the following day.