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Review of Retail’s Best: “The British forecourt industry is vibrant”

British fuel and convenience retailers met at the Retail’s Best event on March 22 in Worcestershire to discuss the state of industry and key challenges such as the electric mobility revolution.

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In a scenic chateau found among the green fields of Worcestershire, some 200 retailers and forecourt operators representing around 3,000 British petrol stations got together for breakout sessions, drinks, dinner and a small exhibition at Retail's Best Forecourt & Convenience Partners – an event “by retailers, for retailers” celebrating its fifth edition.  

Moiz Vas, an independent forecourt retailer and creator of the Retail’s Best events, believes the unique format of the event serves as a perfect platform for dealers and operators to interact and learn about the latest innovations. The event works by invitation only.

“This edition really shows how the format has developed. I’m very pleased with the turnout and the energy, but mostly with how the team has been able to cherry pick a really good group of suppliers that best represent our sector at this time. At this exhibition we see key categories from our sector showing some real innovation, technology and how to do things a little different,” said Moiz Vas at the exhibition.

The evening event started with a series of breakout sessions that included a debate on electric mobility that tried to answer key questions: Is it a good time to install EV chargers at forecourts? What are the biggest challenges facing mass electrification? Is the proposed ban on diesel cars realistic?  To that end, Retail’s Best assembled a panel of speakers formed by Michael O'Loughlin (MFG), Erik Fairbairn (POD Point), David Wilson (MRH) and Steve Rodell (Christie & CO). 

O'Loughlin and Wilson casted doubts over the profitability of installing charging infrastructure at UK sites when technology continues to evolve so rapidly, and parking spaces are essential to attracting customers to their cafés, stores and restaurants. By 2030 around 90% of cars will be electric, said Fairbairn, which is why retailers should start investing now.

Taking a look at the exhibition

After the drinks reception and dinner, a ‘smart exhibition’ opened its doors where sixteen exhibitors as well as four main partners (Bestway, EdgePos, Greenergy and Philip Morris) showcased their newest products and services.

“It is about us having some one-on-one time with our key convenience and forecourt partners and talking to them about the transformation of our business,” said Amy Whitaker-Tharby, from Philip Morris International.

The British car wash industry has long suffered from illegal hand car wash sites that in many cases offer slave-like conditions to its workers.

“The car wash sector has been severely depressed in the past due to hand car wash and no legislation control. There is now a drive to control hand car wash through the management of immigration as well as legislation for chemicals and water, and we are genuinely seeing an uplift in people that want to invest in quality equipment such as our brand,” said Paul Brooks, who was at the event as an exhibitor promoting Kärcher car wash equipment.

For many retailers in the UK this was a chance to mingle with partners and competitors as well as discovering new products. According to Khaled Mohamed, an operator from north England with two sites, the good thing about the event is that you get everyone under one roof.

“We want to make sure that the offering we are putting out there for the accessory industry is right for our customer base. Retail’s Best is a great place to launch new items and get some feedback,” commented Michael Dorsh, Managing Director at FIFO, one of the exhibiting companies.

Last year saw the British fuel industry consolidate with a number of dealers acquiring vast numbers of sites. By the end of 2017, there were 8,407 petrol stations in UK territory with BP (1,287), ESSO (1,083) and Shell (1,028) the biggest brands by some distance. Hypermarkets now own more sites than oil companies and boast the strongest numbers in average fuel sales, more than doubling those of the major brands with Sainsbury’s ahead of the pack, according to the Petrol Retailers Association (PRA).

“Youngsters backed by their families are doing very interesting things in terms of food-to-go and other services. It’s remarkable. Fuel is no longer our only business. We are so much more than that. How do I feel about the sector? Looking around, it doesn’t look like a sector that is on decline. It looks like a sector that is vibrant and entrepreneurial,” concluded Moiz Vas at the end of night.

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