Petrol trade runs dry for independents
Filling stations shut as supermarkets supplying fuel increase
Ulster's independent filling stations are being driven out of business by the growing number of supermarket giants supplying petrol.
That's according to forecourt markets specialist Catalist, whose figures confirm that the future of small retailers hangs in the balance.
Last year, 38 petrol stations closed in Northern Ireland, leaving just 555 sites open at the end of 2006 - a drop of more than 40% in a decade.
And, in just five years, the total number of petrol stations in the province has dropped by a drastic 17.8%, from 659 to 542.
But, while 125 of those forced to close were owned and operated by companies and dealers, the number of supermarkets supplying petrol rose by a staggering 44% (from 18 to 26).
And, according to industry experts, with Asda, Sainsbury and Tesco compounding their position in the market, this trend is set to continue.
The Petrol Retail Association's regional manager Noel Smyth said the situation is not specific to Northern Ireland.
"We are witnessing the changing face of the filling station," he said. "I see more and more sites closing down. The number of filling stations in the whole of the UK has dropped from 30,000 to 9,000 in the last decade.
"There will be fewer stations in future and the ones that are left will do more business. It's like the corner shop that has disappeared."
Mr Smyth added that multinational retailers - whose main line of business is consumer goods - have the advantage.
"Bigger stations with greater storage capacity can work for 24 hours. The smaller retailers can't compete with that," he said.
Mr Smyth said that the decline is also due, in part, to site owners who have been happy to sell their land to developers prepared to pay premium prices.
"Most filling stations have closed with their owners pleased to have made money," he said.
"There is no profit in selling petrol. It's pure economics. You have to have a large forecourt and a good shop, so many owners are happy to sell to developers."
Mr Smyth added that the number of supermarket sites is not likely to increase substantially in years to come, but the customer base will.