The total number of sites run by the Top 50 Indies has surged by more than 300 compared with last year, boosted by MFG’s acquisition of more than 220 sites from Murco, and the continuing sell-off of sites by other oil companies.

Between them the Top 50 companies account for 1,762 sites, compared with 1,458 last year, and last year’s figure was an additional 155 compared with the previous year, demonstrating the growth of the dealer sector within the road fuels market.

MRH comfortably held onto the number one spot with a total of 385 sites, just four more than it had last year, but its previous lead of 170 sites over its nearest rival is down to just less than 100 after MFG’s dramatic acquisition of Murco’s estate.

This meant that MFG leapt up from fourth place to second, with its increase from 60 sites to 288. Meanwhile its two nearest rivals, Rontec/Snax 24 and Euro Garages, added just two sites and three sites respectively, reaching 210 and 182, as they digested the packages of sites they had previously acquired from Esso.

Behind the four biggest players Petrogas UK, with its Applegreen brand, followed up its rapid growth of the previous year by adding another 12 sites and leap-frogging Park Garage Group into fifth position with 54 sites.

Were it not for the Murco deal, Penny Petroleum would have a strong claim for the most exceptional growth in this year’s listing, having increased the number of its sites by 50%, from 20 to 30. During last year it picked up former Top 50 Indie Three Mile Garages’ five forecourts, leased three sites from Certas, bought two independent sites, and still found time to pick up two Forecourt Trader awards (Best Site in Scotland up to 2.5mlpa and Best Site with a Licence to Sell Alcohol).

Raiscorp was the other major climber but this was due to under-reporting of site numbers in previous years.

There were two new entries into the Top 50, with Pricewatch the highest placed with 12 sites in 26th position, and AKV Garages ranked 41st with nine sites.

Pricewatch, which trades as Local Fuels and is based near Lewes in East Sussex, claims its group is unique in being able to offer diesel and unleaded fuels that are guaranteed free of bio product. It is supplied by its sister company’s oil import terminal in Brighton, which imports bio-free fuels refined to UK specification.

Two companies slipped out of the Top 50: Rusdene, which was 50th last year, and 44th placed Alfred Jones. The Warrington-based Alfred Jones group, which owns both standalone convenience stores and forecourts, has slimmed down considerably over the past two years from 18 forecourts which earned it 14th position in 2013, down to eight last year and six this year.

Managing director Tom Calderbank comments: "The past year we have sold a number of convenience stores and forecourts. We very much see ourselves as a smaller regional operation in the future using the monies received to upgrade the remaining sites. We have significantly reduced our head office functions and are therefore better equipped to deal with future competition. We are adding a further two post offices to our forecourts and a further three into our convenience stores."

Intense competition

Overall there were just 11 climbers compared with 33 slipping down in the rankings and four non movers. But three times as many fallers as risers is not an indication that the majority of Top 50 Indies were struggling, just that there is intense competition for sites and even companies making multiple acquisitions were not guaranteed to rise. For instance, Kay Group has three more sites than last year, but remained in 16th place, and Thames Petroleum and Platinum Retail both have two more sites than last year and yet they slipped three places to 17th and 18th respectively.

Top 50 Indies are not only investing in acquisitions but also in upgrading their retail offer on existing sites and developing top class facilities, packed with retail features, on their new-to-industry sites.

Examples include Euro Garages’ £2.3m Markham Vale development on a new-to-industry site in Derbyshire, which won the Midlands 2.5mlpa Plus category in last year’s Forecourt Trader Awards, and Brookfield Group’s £2m development on another new-to-industry site at Pocklington in East Yorkshire, which will no doubt be a contender in next year’s awards.

Markham Vale features a Spar store, Starbucks drive-thru, and Greggs, while Pocklington features Nisa and Costa Coffee, and they both have a Subway and plenty of parking, which seems almost standard now in any Top 50 refit.

Top 50 Indies number one: MRH (GB) LTD

MRH achieved a strong volumetric and financial performance in 2014. It continued to grow its UK network to 385 trading sites while selling off a limited number of non-core locations.
The company also deployed several new added-value initiatives to the network to depress costs or boost revenues, including the launch of its own card processing platform.
More than 100 Hursts store refurbishments were completed during the year, with a further 60 expected to be completed by the end of 2015. MRH now has 11 Subway directly managed franchises. A further nine Subway outlets will open in early 2015.
This year MRH will deploy a significant network investment programme, it will renew agreements with its fuel suppliers at more than 100 sites and it remains able and willing to make sizeable acquisitions.