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Merrril Boulton: Indies in overdrive
Published:  13 May, 2015

Yet another month of intense activity in the sector, and I don't just mean all the trade exhibitions that were held last month including our own very successful Forecourt Show at the NEC. The head offices of MFG and Euro Garages must have been and will continue to be operating in overdrive as they go through the purchase of yet more swathes of sites, this time from Shell (see News Extra page 10).

The pressure on their internal infrastructures and the challenge to maintain high standards of operation while the transition is completed will be enormous. But when two major oil companies decide to sell their networks, and your goal is to be the biggest and the best, even though the timing might not be great well, these opportunities don't come along everyday. It seems like the growth of these 'super groups' has become exponential the bigger they've grown, the quicker they've grown, particularly in the past couple of years. They are beginning to own strategic chunks of the forecourt network 'Monopoly' board, giving them significant sway in the market. The top four independent groups all have more than 200 sites, the latest acquisitions putting MFG with more than 370 sites as the second biggest behind MRH (463 sites). Not far behind is Euro Garages with 350 sites, and then Rontec with around 210 sites. Such numbers would have been unheard of not so many years ago. This is clearly the age of the independent fuel retailer, with developments and innovation taking place at every level, as the forecourt sector has put itself at the leading edge of convenience. Interestingly Zuber Issa of Euro Garages confirmed that he would be removing the off licences from all his newly acquired sites, in line with the policy throughout the group. He says sales have risen where this has happened, as they have replaced the category with more fresh produce.

Talking of great retailers, don't forget to enter the awards. Deadline May 15.