When we set about compiling our Top 50 listing of most exciting independent retail operators, we spotted a handful of smaller chains that we felt were growing at such a pace they would make it onto next year's rankings. Margram is one of them. Admittedly, this forecourt operator isn't a household name, but with aggressive expansion plans ­ and ambitious partnerships with names such as McDonald's in the bag ­ we predict that will soon change. Margram was founded 25 years ago by chairman David Davis as a vehicle for developing forecourt sites. He was joined in 1987 by former Heron board member John Bryant and together they built up the business by opening petrol stations that they would then lease to the oil companies. But in the mid-1990s the two men realised a new strategy was needed to cope with the country's changing demographics and competition from superstores. Davis explains: "We could see where the market was going in terms of there being more single households looking for convenient, clean and fresh stores where they could pick up items to and from their way to work." The 3,000 sq ft shops that Margram is creating under the Supermart branding are designed to be destination food centres in their own right. On the grocery side, the company offers more than 5,000 lines, including off- licence, chilled and fresh produce. Its Supermarts also have Cuisine de France-branded bakeries, and many offer Costa Coffee bars and the ubiquitous ATM. In addition, the stores are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. And as a member of Nisa, the stores also benefit from being able to run a strong promotional package. Add to this the fact that Margram has forged partnerships with the likes of McDonald's, Harry Ramsden's, Little Chef and Travelodge to develop on the sites and its ambition becomes clear. Big names clearly help drive traffic to the sites. But Davis says the success of the Supermart format is also down to having a winning combination of a strong food offer, petrol and car wash centre ­ all of which feed off each other. And what's really important, insists Davies, is the amount of traffic going past each store, not the number of nearby households. He says that for its bigger sites Margram looks for a flow of 25,000 cars. "Forecourts generate cars," he explains. "Cars bring customers who are food shoppers, who become petrol shoppers when they want to and will use the other services." That thinking is borne out by the figures, says Davis, with the average Supermart store doing 14,000 transactions a week, of which 65% will be non-petrol. Impressive when you consider average store sales are £33,000 a week. The figures in our Top 50 show it with non-petrol turnover of £9.47m, and 18 stores either open or in development. This year turn-over is set to rocket to £200m as it looks to have 30 stores either open or under development. Of that £200m, more than £40m will be accounted for by grocery sales. Some of the stores coming on stream are a package of outlets leased to Total in the 1990s which have been taken back and refurbished. This means Margram stores can be found all over the country, from motorway service stations to rural A roads. Looking to future expansion, Davis admits sites are at a premium: "If money was unlimited we could open 20 a year at the same quality as we have already opened." Nevertheless, he says that he and Bryant have a "database of knowledge" when it comes to site selection. And the company has a two-year landbank ­ "that is what it takes from identifying a site to getting planning consent". It looks like Margram is set to not only to enter our Top 50 next year, but stay there as well. n {{FEATURES }}