Fast Growth 50 is more than just an award, it is a community, and we are always excited to see the growth and success that our businesses achieve.

Fast Growth 50 hero image

This year, to mark 25 years of Wales Fast Growth, we wanted to speak to those previously on the list to highlight their growth and to see what being on the Fast Growth 50 list has meant for them.

To kickstart this we had a discussion with Darren Briggs, Managing Director of Ascona Group, who have been recognised as a fast growth firm, not once but twice. Appearing on the list both in 2021 and 2022, this business showed incredible growth with an impressive 421% growth in 2022 and an even more impressive 717% growth in 2021. This was despite the challenges faced in the last few years.  

We first asked Darren to briefly introduce himself and the business in which he responded: 

Darren Briggs, Ascona Group

Darren Briggs, Managing Director of Ascona Group

Darren Briggs, Managing Director of Ascona Group“In 2011, I took on the lease of my first forecourt in Pembrokeshire - Bush Hill Service Station – which marked the start of Ascona Group. In the early years, Ascona was very much a family focused business and we only acquired our second site in 2012. In 2017, we started our high growth strategy and since then, there has been a dramatic shift towards expansion. 

Today, Ascona Group is one of the UK’s fastest-growing forecourt operators with growth of over 950% over the last three years, we have 62 sites across the UK, and we serve over 300,000 customers a week. Ascona is headquartered in Pembrokeshire and we employ over 280 people across Wales, over 850 people in total. Since the very beginning, we have focused on supporting our local communities which is why we also run a charitable initiative, the Ascona Foundation, which supports a range of community initiatives up and down the areas in which we operate.

When it comes to my own story, I started out in the industry at Elf Oil, aged 27, and was determined to work my way up. In 1998, I was appointed Area Manager of Wales and the West of England where I managed 60 independent sites. I sold my first business,, to the Petrol Retailers Association in 2008. That business provided fuel price data and transparency to the downstream industry dealer market across the UK. With this experience, I realized that the success of a forecourt hinged on two things: namely, the margin made on the fuel sold, and its attractiveness as a retail destination. Today, those two things are at the heart of Ascona still, with a great team behind the company”

In terms of successes since appearing on the Fast Growth 50 list, Ascona has not fallen short, with Darren telling us all about their achievements over the last year and their vision for the future: 

Petrol station

“Our vision for Ascona is to expand the portfolio to over 300 sites by 2028. Our goal is to turn each site into a roadside retail destination that drives an average EBITDA of £300,000 per year, meaning Ascona could be valued in the region of £1bn in the next five years, an ambitious but decidedly manageable target.

In the last year we have continued this mission, acquiring a further two service stations in Monmouthshire and Ceredigion in Wales. Both sites were fitted with new Nisa and Starbucks facilities, with plans to make major improvements over the next three years. Ascona has a healthy pipeline of over 30 forecourt transactions ready for completion during 2023.

We also opened the first Greggs store at Crossways Service Station in Neyland, West Wales in 2022. This is an exciting new partnership, and our plan is to introduce Greggs to multiple sites across the portfolio. 

We remain focused on creating the next generation of forecourts and launched a £3m transformative redevelopment programme at an existing forecourt at Machynlleth, North Wales, earlier this year which is in keeping with our core strategy of modernising existing sites. There are a further 12 redevelopment programmes being planned, which will see an additional £40m spent on modernising existing sites across the UK. 

The communities served by our stores sit at the heart of everything we do, and we have continued our community engagement through the Ascona Foundation. We have donated over £200,000 to local and community charities, with each site donating a minimum of £1,000 per annum to local causes. 

In addition to our focus on the local community, it has also been our privilege to support the work of larger charities in the last year, with a particular focus on empowering young people, social mobility and voluntary work. Charities include the Duke of Edinburgh, SeeAbility, and our recently announced charity partner for the 2023/24 financial year, the Wales Air Ambulance. “

Darren Briggs, Ascona Group winner

Ascona Group celebrating their win as the ’Fastest Growing Business, Medium to Large Firm

“We are very proud and pleased to have been included in the Fast Growth 50 list, and to be amongst such excellent company. There are some truly amazing people working at Ascona, many of them returning to this beautiful corner of Wales after careers in cities across the UK to start families or to retire. Being able to recognise and reward all their hard work over the last few years in this way is a huge honour.”

To give your company and team the recognition that it deserves, as has been achieved for Darren and Ascona Group, put your application in today.

Apply here!