Most of the biggest petrol retailing independents still have their eye on expansion, despite the curent economic climate, according to the data gathered in our latest Top 50 Indies listing, published as a supplement within this



Companies such as MRH (GB), Park Garage Group, MPK Garages and Hockenhull Garages all said they have the means and the inclination to expand - but only if the right opportunities came along.

Most of the companies who supplied data said they wouldn’t let the recession deter them from investing in more sites. The overriding feeling was one of anticipated growth in their businesses in the year ahead.

This included the majority of retailers in the top 10, who said they were interested in buying new smaller groups or individual sites.

Some of these were also quite bullish about their ability to finance such deals, with Lancashire-based Euro Garages - at number four on this year’s list - stating it had "substantial committed bank facilities" with which to do so.

Aleef Garages, which has moved down the list from number eight to ten, revealed it had sufficient funds for expansion following the recent offloading of its company-owned sites - five Shell coco sites and 11 cogop sites with Total. Aleef is particularly interested in buying small groups of sites.

Many other retailers were also actively looking to expand in 2009, although some, like Brobot Petroleum director Eddie Bright, felt forecourt property values were too inflated and that prices should fall in the next 12 months.

The companies on the 2009 listing account for 1,160 sites in the UK. MRH (GB) remains top of the list but many others have changed position in the past year. Some have disappeared from the list, such as Petrol Express - number six on the 2008 list - which was sold by parent company GNE Group to Murco last year following an offer the company couldn’t refuse. In a recent interview GNE also expressed interest in buying more forecourts.

There are four new entries on the list this year - Golden Cross Group, Irish company Petrogas, DK Forecourts and Symonds Forecourts.

This year’s Top 50 Indies dinner takes place on March 2 at the Hilton Metropole, coinciding with the IFFE and CRS shows being held at the Birmingham NEC, from March 1-3.