Once again ConocoPhillip’s Jet brand has trounced the rest of the industry in the third survey of retailer views of their relationships with suppliers.

In the surveys published in 2001 and 2003, Jet also led the field while majors such as Shell in the first survey, and Esso in the second survey, scored the worst. Esso has again fared badly in the latest analysis of views, while Shell is only marginally better.

This year’s exercise was conducted by the Business & Marketing Unit at Northampton University. More than 7,000 questionnaires were sent out to retailers, prompting a 12% response, which PRA director Ray Holloway described as “statistically very acceptable”.

“It’s the only opportunity retailers get to tell suppliers what they think of them,” he said. “All the information provided has been analysed professionally and the confidentiality of those who participated is assured.

“Jet has done exceptionally well. You don’t get to be voted the best oil company three times in a row without doing something right. Jet is completely focused on dealer concerns. The company has an intent to communicate. The smaller companies do seem to fare better in the surveys – Murco’s performance this time is excellent. Better communication with retailers is something the big oil companies need to get their heads round. Shell’s performance is dreadful, only Esso is worse. BP is a very mixed bag. Total is best described as nondescript. Many are let down by headoffice communication and integrity.

“Retailers are happier with the distribution performance of their supplier, and with communications with the local office than the perception of the integrity of their supplier. They are least happy with communication with headoffice. Thirty per cent of retailers say their relationship with their supplier has deteriorated since the last survey. But overall, compared with 2002, it seems there has been an improvement in the ratings on specific aspects of their relationship.”

Other aspects of the survey show that, compared with 2002, Shell, Esso and Total retailers are very much more inclined to change their supplier. And in terms of perceptions of fairness of agreement by fuel brands Jet emerges as the most favoured supplier, as was the case in 2002. Murco is rated second behind Jet in terms of perceived fairness of the agreement to retailers, while Shell appears to offer the least fair and reasonable agreements.

Everyone at the ConocoPhillips HQ in Warwickshire is obviously delighted with the company’s performance. “We have a long-standing culture of placing a lot of importance on listening to customers and getting to know them and addressing their concerns where we can – and that’s really the reason we do so well in this survey,” commented the company’s dealer business manager Patrick Hudson.

“We did say following the last survey that we weren’t complacent and would work on any areas we could improve on, and I think that’s happened. In many categories in the latest survey our percentage rating is double or four times that of our competitors. That’s great news.

“We will continue to try and do better in areas where we weren’t as dominant as we felt we could be. We are also very gratified that a large percentage of our customers replied.”

From the top to the bottom in performance in the survey and Esso was none too happy – and issued the following statement: “While we note the results of the latest PRA survey, once again we question its reliability and accuracy. Esso places great importance on striving for honest and frank communications with its dealers. Research work carried out by an independent organisation (Opinion Leader Research ‘OLR’) appears to contradict this latest PRA survey.

“The OLR research, which is both qualitative and quantitative, has been undertaken since 1996. The responses made by the randomly selected retailers are kept confidential to the research organisation. However, the trends and conclusions produced are statistically significant.

“The most recent research (the 9th year of conducting such surveys) undertaken last year, provides several important insights concerning Esso dealers. For example: 50% of Esso dealers view Esso more favourably – up from 35% in the previous survey; although many dealers reported ‘leaner times’ they said their profitability had improved due to the withdrawal of Pricewatch and the introduction of new commercial terms with Esso; 73% of those who feel well informed agree that Esso consistently operates with high integrity.

“The research did identify areas where retailers had some concerns. Given the difficult, highly competitive nature of the retail motor fuels market, it was to be expected and we are working on these aspects.”

Timo Halonen, Esso dealer manager, UK & Ireland, said: “Dealers are very important to Esso. By conducting our own confidential surveys of dealers’ views we are able to identify and work upon those areas that are important to them. Although there is more we can and will do, the results of our latest survey appear to confirm that we are making progress.”

Simon Grimsell, Shell’s retail sales manager for UK & Ireland, while believing some headway has been made, is aware of the company’s shortcomings and has plans to improve the situation: “Since 2001 average fuel throughputs have grown by almost 40% across dealer sites that operate under the Shell brand, suggesting that we are getting something right.

“We have made significant steps forward recently in areas of distribution performance and communication and have received some positive feedback. We do, however, acknowledge that we still have some way to go. We remain committed to the UK dealer market and hope to shortly announce further improvements to our current offer.”

Guy Vigar, Texaco’s general manager of retail sales for Europe, is also keen to improve his company’s performance: “Our aim for Texaco in the UK is to be the fuel brand partner of choice and this survey shows us that while we are getting some things right, there is still a lot to do.

“Our new retail strategy is focused exclusively on our retailer operated network and as such we are currently recruiting more area managers to support our network and actively recruit the retailers who will take the Texaco brand forward.”

Meanwhile Jeremy Clarke, retail marketing manager of Murco, was pleased with the results: “The overall outcome for Murco was excellent. But this does not mean we will not strive to do even better. Murco has an ongoing programme to build its dealer network.

“It is, therefore, gratifying to find out that our retailers are receptive to our approach and that we are giving dealers what they are looking for.”