The German fuel station market has undergone significant changes in the last 20 years, and it constantly makes new demands on the owners and operators.
Competition has become much fiercer through the appearance of new market actors and the expansion of the fuel station network, in particular around the German federal highway network (the German Autobahns). The five oligopolists dominating the German market, namely ARAL (BP), SHELL, ESSO, TOTAL and JET (Conoco), use the German market as a testing ground for new distribution strategies. The strategies thus tested range from the employment of traditional sales representatives (Handelsvertretung) to franchise-like arrangements (such as Snack & Shop, Café bonjour, Petit Bistro, System Plus, SPAR express) and own establishments operated by the oil company itself.
All models share the same goal: While the oil company’s risk shall be minimized, the earnings and profit prospects in the follow-on business (Shops) shall be exploitet to the maximum extent. In order to attain these objectives, the oil companies prescribe make detailed prescriptions to the owners and operators of the gas stations in regard to the line of products and the placement of the merchandise (planograms), sometimes stretching the limits of what is admissible under antitrust law. The owners and operators of the gas stations find their entrepreneurial freedom severely curtailed by a closely regulated body of terms and conditions, manuals, directives etc.
The companies drive a hard bargain to push their economic interests through, and they rarely take the fuel station owners’ and operators’ concerns into account. Consequently, the fuel station owners and operators have to assert their rights forcefully in order to achieve adequate operating profits themselves. Frequently, the legal situation of the fuel station owners and operators is in fact much better than they would think. We offer legal advice to owners and operators of fuel stations, both in principal-tenant and DODO (Dealer Owned Dealer Operated) situations, in asserting their rights and enforcing their claims, both during the term of their contracts and following the termination, after the end-of-term.
The new developments bring about new business opportunities as well. For example, the fact that operators of petrol station shops may be contractually bound by strict directives from the oil company may justify a claim for compensation based on section 98b of the German Commercial Code, just as in the case of a sales representative (Handelsvertreterausgleich, applied mutatis mutandis). Owners and operators of fuel stations may also face a number of questions regarding the validity of very long-term contracts (sometimes with terms of 30 years), considering the changing market environment and diminishing sales of petrol products and fuels.
Based on our lng-standing experience in the fuel station industry we are well versed in the special characteristics and perculiarities of this field, and we know the relevant people in the business.
Dr. Kay Wagner