There’s a definite chill in the air and I don’t just mean the weather. Up and down the land there’s a distinct lack of warmth as people moan about their prospects (see News Extra page 10). The Spending Review has covered the nation’s spirits like a thick frost. The talk is of tax, tax and more tax, whether it’s VAT, fuel duty, national insurance take your pick. The cost of living is rising, pay packets aren’t unless you’re a city banker that is. Anxiety over job security in both the public and private sectors is forcing people to put a freeze on spending. Even house prices which not long ago provided both reassurance as well as a financial resource as they rose to unrealistic levels are on a slippery slope.
The north wind is blowing and fuel retailers in that neck of the woods are certainly feeling it. Even those that consider themselves as leaders in their field are expressing concern at diminishing volumes and margins; and at their lack of competitiveness compared with oil company managed sites and we’re not just talking a few pence a litre here.
They grumble, but these retailers have seen it all before. They have been constantly challenged in business and have ultimately thrived because they found other ways of doing things. Former Forecourt Trader of the Year Graham Kennedy is the focus of our Day in the Life feature (a great read on page 50). His tip for business success is innovation. He makes his sites stand out with the Star Wars theme. He was on TV recently with his car wash offer.
Over the years fuel retailers have turned themselves into leading edge convenience retailers. At the NACS show in Atlanta (page 22), Joseph Bona, a retail branding and design specialist, president of CBX USA, said retailers should think about what they want to be famous for. It’s not about being all things to all people, he said, but finding the one or two things that you do really well and then just doing them a lot better than anyone else. Could be one way of hotting things up!