Well, as years go, 2020 will be remembered by the forecourt sector as one of the strangest on record. We had the backdrop of a world pandemic, combined with national lockdowns where fuel volumes fluctuated from normal levels to minus 70%. On the other hand, fuel margins saved the day, delivering record levels never seen before. In the retail shops volumes spiked at a 100% increase on normal levels, with high sales of alcohol and significant reversals of years of decline in tobacco lines.
The forecourt community was also recognised as essential workers and embraced by their local communities for their efforts. With the backdrop of 2030 still occupying operators’ minds, the sector yet again proved its resilience in the face of adversity. This was, of course, not reflected in other areas of retail with many blighted by the effects of lockdown and government emergency legislation.
Having visited many operators during this period most are seeing increased levels of crime and harassment of their staff at a time when they are trying to maintain the safety of their colleagues. The sector has been challenged with policing their customers to wear masks, maintaining minimum numbers within the shop building and encouraging social distancing.
If there was a positive message, 2020 gave operators time to reflect on the shape of their business and its suitability for the years ahead. Without exception, all the business leaders I meet are now questioning their current model. Is my shop large enough? Do I have the correct partners to deliver for my customers? Am I too convenience focused with not enough grocery? Many others were looking to increase valeting or even increase their network!
With the majority of operators likely to report a record profit year I would suggest that investment in 2021 and beyond will be of record levels and targeted at decreasing their current dependency on fuel margins.
Although with many accepting that in recent years there was a lack of investment in fuelling infrastructure this will of course need to be addressed, that is if they are planning to stay for the long haul!