Forecourt retail ‘flourishing in face of adversity’

Petrol Retailers Association boss assesses state of sector

Gordon Balmer says PRA and its members have drive to succeed

Many forecourt operators have been investing to ensure their businesses thrive.
Many forecourt operators have been investing to ensure their businesses thrive.

THE forecourt retail sector is thriving and is a vital part of the convenience channel, despite rising costs.

That’s the message from Petrol Retailers Association (PRA) executive director Gordon Balmer, who said members were investing to ensure the continuing success of their businesses.

He highlighted innovations independent forecourt operators were making to create or revamp food-to-go propositions – which are a growing part of the forecourt retail landscape.

Meanwhile, others were putting an emphasis on fresh produce – doing deals with nearby farmers to get locally sourced fruit and veg as well as butchery, he said.

And with evidence that many people find forecourts more viable for top-up missions and convenient dinner options, Balmer said PRA retailers were also seeking to provide quality ready-meal solutions.

Meeting the demand of such consumer trends is ensuring that the forecourts sector remains in positive sales growth.

Lumina Intelligence data from early 2022 to earlier this year shows that the average spend on shop items in forecourts, while more volatile, is always above the total convenience market – often by significant amounts.

Meanwhile, figures revealing that 28% of forecourt store customers arrive on foot also indicated that PRA members were meeting consumer demands, Balmer said.

Nonetheless, he also pointed out that one of the benefits of running a forecourt store was that drivers enjoyed free parking while they both refuelled their cars and did their shopping just yards away.

Further adding to the convenience for consumers, the PRA boss pointed out that many operators were investing in technology such as self-scan tills – which also had the benefit of either requiring fewer staff on the checkouts or freeing up their time to carry out other tasks.

PRA executive director Gordon Balmer highlighted positive progress.
PRA executive director Gordon Balmer highlighted positive progress.

Indeed, Balmer has been busy setting the record straight on media accusations of overpricing at the pumps.

He has made a number of appearances on TV news bulletins and has continued to work closely with ministers and the Competition and Markets Authority.

The PRA has been collaborating with the Government on the development of a fuel price transparency scheme aimed at helping motorists find the cheapest fuel in their area.

Balmer said: “Retailers are grappling with unprecedented levels of theft, along with significant increases in business rates, energy costs and the National Minimum Wage. These factors inevitably impact the final price at the pump.”

He also pointed out that a large number of diesel sales were made using fuel cards that operate on vastly lower margins and this fact was contributing to the higher prices seen by consumers.

Balmer added: “Despite the challenges posed by increased operational costs, our members remain dedicated to providing fair and competitive prices.

“The PRA encourages motorists to use resources such as to find the best deals available.”

Supporting the PRA chief’s claims over crime, the latest data from fuel loss recovery company Forecourt Eye has revealed a 16% increase in drive-offs in the latest quarter compared with the last three months of 2024.

And “no means of payment” incidents for the first quarter of 2024 were up 24%.

Helping members cope with the challenges they are facing, the PRA has partnered with BEN, the Motor and Allied Trades Benevolent Fund, which provides a free and confidential support service.

The PRA also supports its members to tackle crime and provides other benefits such as online training, banking and utility offers, technical support and HR resources.

It also represents members’ interests in the media and by liaising with policy makers.

Among many events, the PRA Scottish Roadshow will be taking place at the Radstone Hotel, Larkhall, on 24 October.