FORECOURT operators could be suggesting their fuel customers put a Nisa, a Best-one, a Premier, or a Spar in their tanks as some of the biggest names in fuel disappear from filling stations across Britain to be replaced by the names and logos of the country’s fast-growing symbol-store chains.
Fuel supply has gone through, and is continuing to go through, remarkable change. Where not so long ago giant oil brands had refining operations in the UK and chains of managed or franchised petrol stations now there are new fuel suppliers ready to do deals with retailers of all shapes and sizes.
At the same time life on the fuel retailing side of the forecourts business is becoming ever tougher, with fuel margins pared to the bone, and pressured still further by supermarket promotions on fuel and by price and tax volatility that makes it difficult to forecast and manage an independent fuel business.
However, it’s an ill wind that blows no-one any good and filling station and forecourt closures, especially those in rural areas do present opportunities for those businesses that survive.
Put all that together and you have a situation that is crying out for a good c-store operation, especially one that’s big enough, well-organised enough and competitive enough to make the combined shop and filling station a destination retail outlet, attracting customers from a wide area.
That, in turn, is a scenario tailor-made for the symbol groups. Several are now actively targeting forecourt sites and are offering special packages to forecourt operators.
At Nisa, for example, retail development director Raj Krishan, said the symbol group sees the forecourt sector as an area of great opportunity.
Earlier this year the fascia organisation became able to offer a Nisa-branded fuel service, after it reached an agreement with fuel supplier Greenergy.
The symbol store group says the deal means it can provide its members with a transparent, competitive fuel offer that lets them compete in a very price-conscious market.
The firm says it has also carried out research to understand forecourt shopping patterns and has updated its service to suit. The Nisa approach highlights three types of forecourt shopper – transient users ( who shop for fuel and perhaps for food to go), convenience shoppers (for whom the store is the main attraction), and those the firm refers to as ‘essentials’ (shoppers for both fuel and c-store goods).
The firm says it can offer forecourt stores an extensive range of products, regular promotions, in-store marketing and POS material and a large support team to assist with training and give advice.
And Spar is another symbol group that’s branching into fuel branding.
In April Spar UK and Harvest Energy launched a new forecourt service which they said was designed to help convenience retailers stand up to the multiples and compete against the oil companies.
The collaboration gives independent retailers the option to run a petrol filling station that’s entirely Spar-branded.
The partners said their new alliance has benefits both for retailers and consumers.
Cross-promotions linking shop purchases to money-off fuel are also available.
The Spar brand features prominently across sites, on the canopy, pumps, pole sign and shop fascia.
Mark Steven, Spar UK business development controller, said the service to retailers would be flexible and would reflect the type and size of each site and the social and demographic nature of its catchment area.
“We want independent dealers to have the most competitive fuel supply deal combined with a great shop offer maximising the power of the Spar brand” he said. “It’s imperative that fuel retailers maximise all sales opportunities and cross-promotions certainly provide this, linking fuel directly to shop purchases.
“SPAR is the UK’s largest symbol forecourt brand with almost 700 forecourt sites. We are very confident that the marriage of expertise between SPAR and Harvest Energy, the UK’s fastest growing fuel brand, will be a great success.”
Best-one, the symbol group of the Bestway Group, which includes wholesaler Batleys, is another fascia operation that’s actively targeting forecourts as new recruits in the coming year.
The group director of symbol at Bestway James Hall says forecourts are actually in a very strong position to serve today’s time-poor consumers. But they suffer from a reputation as poor value outlets for a main shop or major top-up.
But that can all change with the right symbol supplier, he argues. Now more than ever it’s important to study and understand a store’s special circumstances and come up with a package that will ensure it suits its local consumers.
The Best-one deal offers all the aspects of the main Best-one deal including a wide range of fresh and chilled foods, merchandising support and promotional programmes but also includes tailored ranging for forecourts.
The intention is to change fuel-only customers into regular fuel and c-store customers, it says.
Last Autumn the wholesale giant Booker launched a special forecourt push for its symbol group Premier – the country’s largest fascia operation.
Premier Food & Fuel was rolled out after a two-month trial on a site near Birmingham.
With fuel margins getting tougher retailers were struggling to make profit from fuel and were looking much more to their shops as a profit source, the firm said.
But, like Best-one, Premier said that there was a public view that forecourt shops were expensive.
But Premier Food & Fuel outlets would be designed to carry competitively priced goods and would highlight offers, including Booker Mega deals, designed to give good value.
Traditional forecourt areas of strength such as food to go would also be highlighted.
Mace has traditionally had a very visible position in forecourts and Costcutter had also been developing a forecourt presence. With the deal that would take Mace into the Costcutter stores set-up now being considered by competition authorities it remains to be seen what the effects might be on forecourts.
But it’s becoming clearer that into 2014 and beyond the symbol store groups, including in some cases their branding, will see forecourts, petrol pumps and all as an area ripe to be developed.