Retailers have been mixed in their reaction to Total’s announcement last week that it is undertaking a strategic review of its UK downstream operations. As part of this review it is considering the sale of its marketing assets in the UK.
Susie Hawkins, director of Top 50 Indie, the Simon Smith Group, said:
“I feel as though I should care but I’m not sure if I do. It was no surprise to me – it’s a trend among a lot of the oil companies. It doesn’t terrify me.
“For a long time we have realised that we’re going to have to look at other options for fuel supply. We’ve been thinking about having our own brand of fuel and this might just prompt us to do it earlier.
“We have three Total sites and whoever buys Total will buy the dealer network, too. We’ve been with Total for a long time and have a good relationship with them and we like working with them. I am sad if that will change but I’m philosophical about it. It could give us the kick in the pants we need to do something different. We have three years to go on our deal but we had been thinking about next time. Other retailers have been thinking the same as us – own brand or shop brand on the forecourt. This makes that more of an option. A lot of people are thinking about going down a wholesale route as opposed to a tie with an oil company.”
“It’s a sign that the market is very tough in retail for oil companies and independents. I have no idea if it will be sold as a whole or broken up. I think they want to sell it as a whole but it all depends who wants to buy it."
Peter Hockenhull, managing director of Hockenhull Garages, the UK’s eighth largest independent operator, said: “I’m disappointed because I feel that the organisation in Total is very good and I hope that whoever does come along to buy it will retain that structure. We’re waiting to hear if it will be sold as a whole or if it will be broken up. I feel they will sell as a whole because it’ll be worth more as a larger operation.
“It’s a sad thing but I think it will be happening to the other major companies as well. I’m disappointed but I have been in the industry since 1964 so I’ve seen a tremendous amount of change – this is just more change.
“The biggest contenders will come from Russia and China, but possibly India, and I wouldn’t discount one of the Arabian countries.
“Over the years various companies have tried to come into the UK. Years ago a Russian company called Nafta tried; Burmah tried and Kuwait tried. They proved that you can’t just put a pole sign up and have success. Now, someone could invest in a network that’s established with a good company-owned site operation."