Paul Hagon, national accounts director for P&H, says: “Historically forecourts have been very important to P&H. It went through its biggest growth spurt as forecourts got into selling snacks and tobacco so both have developed together. We’re now seeing oil companies concentrating on bigger, but fewer sites, so the independents’ share is going up and we’re seeing a movement towards multi-site operation. We now believe that 90% of the business sits with 100 companies.”
To survive and thrive going forward, retailers want more control centrally, a delivered service, more business advice, and possibly a symbol fascia, says Hagon. “Multi-site operators want to become better retailers but probably want a different solution in different sites, so they need to be working with someone who can give them a one-stop shop.”
The company’s new Multiple Development Team is looking after customers that are operating 20 sites or more. It has already signed up Snax 24, among others, and Hagon reveals that P&H has won £40-45m worth of business this year by having that team in place. “We’re heavily targeting multi-site operators,” he says. “It’s the biggest drive for us at the moment, but that doesn’t mean we’re ignoring the four or five site people; we still have our standard independent force.”
Opting for a symbol fascia has been the popular route to survival for many forecourts, and as such, P&H Symbol is growing by 12% a year, and has more than 200 Mace Express or Mace-branded forecourt shops. And since buying Aberness in Scotland, P&H offers Mace throughout the whole of the UK. “Our 2005 forecast is for the whole forecourt business to grow by 7%, the independent sector by 7%, and symbols by 12% and we’re on track to achieve this,” says Hagon. “A symbol isn’t right for every site, it depends on the space and catchment area. We’ve got to make their business jump – they’ve got to see a change in margin.”
But while retailers are transforming themselves into c-stores, Hagon says all too often they are over-stocking grocery products. “They are over-facing grocery big style,” he says. “The reason for this is because, historically, retailers looked at Tesco Express and thought that’s what we need to be a good c-store. BP and Esso have it right with Connect and On the Run, focusing on fast-selling lines.
“Forecourts need to be meeting the need state, which is ‘I fancy that; I’m peckish’,” adds Hagon, “so sandwiches are one of the most important categories to get right. Some retailers don’t want the wastage but they need some over-spacing to show customers they’re in it. Retailers can also see a jump in sales by getting sandwiches in the night before to serve customers who buy sandwiches in the mornings.”
Retailers are also missing the mark with promotions, says Hagon. Only 15-30% of its retailers currently feature them. “There is still a price perception about forecourts but promotions will help to overcome that, as well as drive up the value of sales,” he says. But Hagon adds that the best retailers are the ones that have a passion for retailing.
“The ones that make a difference are the ones that have a real passion, so many ideas, really care and are sure about what they’re doing. They know their wastage and how to overcome it, and they sell the sizzle.”