So it’s ’Bonjour’ all round as the Total brand returns to the UK, following its deal with Harvest Energy (see News page 4 and Forecourt Trader website).
It’s a great move for Harvest Energy in terms of having a recognisable major oil brand to roll out as it further develops its forecourt network. While UK motorists haven’t seen the colourful Total logo in the UK for a few years (certainly anyone who drives in Europe will have), it will be much more familiar than the Harvest Energy branding which, though it arguably looks clean and smart, lacks any meaningful heritage. In the same way it will also surely broaden the appeal of Harvest Energy to independent dealers seeking a supply deal.
However, once motorists have been drawn onto the Total-branded forecourt by this subliminally reassuring recognition of something familiar, then it will be down to the offer on individual sites to keep customers coming back.
The Total brand last made UK headlines back in June 2011, (at a time when several oil companies were retreating from the retail environment - Murco was also up for sale at this time) when it was part of an amazing deal conducted by the godfather of independent forecourt retailing, the legendary Gerald Ronson, chairman of Rontec. He put together a consortium called Rontec Investments, comprising his Snax 24 operation and partners Investec and Grovepoint Capital which acquired Total’s retail and fuel distribution business in the UK.
The audacious deal included the acquisition of around 500 co-owned service stations, 254 of which he simultaneously sold to Shell for £240m. At the time it left Snax 24 as the leading independent fuel retailing operator in the UK with 238 sites and supplying a further 318 dealers.
The oil distribution assets were then sold to DCC plc, the international sales, marketing and support services group that owns Certas Energy which operates the Gulf brand in the UK, and will likely face stronger UK competition linked to the previous owner of the assets it bought! The first of the new era of Total sites is scheduled to open before the end of the year - and so the wheel turns...