I guess I’m fortunate to work in an industry which is constantly changing as this brings new challenges every day! Having been in it since 1975 I’ve seen most things but there are still surprises that come out of left field like the Rontec deal. It also helps that lots of the people in our ’forecourt sector’ family are good fun to work with they work hard and play hard and they are genuinely interested in the future of our industry.
I joined Elf Oil (GB) in 1975 to work in their corporate planning department and, after working on the integration of various companies including the Look and Sky businesses (who remembers those brands?), I did a variety of jobs in retail. I was looking after retail pricing in the early 1980s when we had fuel shortages and every dealer was on price support against the Petroleum Times WZP! In 1987 I decided that Elf was likely to move back to France so I left and went to work for the US-based retail planning consultancy MPSI. Of course, I got it completely wrong as Elf bought Amoco, so I moved to London instead. I spent 13 good years with MPSI travelling around the world looking at retail networks. I became a bit of an expert on the South African and Spanish markets as well as on a number of former eastern European countries. In 2000, Catalist approached me about looking after their UK and Ireland business.
Catalist became part of Experian in 2006 and we still manage to retain the advantages of being a small niche part of a massive organisation. Basically there is just myself and James Haigh who front the Experian Catalist business, but we have teams of Experian people looking after our data and fuel price information from their secure data centres in Nottingham.
I also have a team of mainly ex-oil company, semi-retired surveyors who visit the sites on a regular basis and keep our data up to date. Please be nice to our guys when they visit your forecourts!
Nowadays, with the heavy focus on retail fuel prices, the first part of most days is concerned with making sure I understand the fuel price data we are sending out.
I check on my own version of PriceViewer and look at the various averages. A quick chat with Brian Madderson from RMIP usually follows, then if it’s a significant day there will be various calls and emails from the media wanting more information and looking for a ’sensational’ story.
Brian is doing a great job of representing the industry to the media so we provide him with as much support as we can, as this takes the pressure off us. My one live appearance on BBC News 24 was pretty scary, rivalled closely by Chris Evans asking me questions on BBC Radio 2!
We get three or four calls each week from people wanting to have access to our fuel price data. Sometimes it’s just one guy in his bedroom with a bright idea for a smartphone app; other times it’s a major organisation wanting to provide fuel prices as an added value service to their customers. All contacts have to be taken seriously, but they can take days to sort out.
I get about 150 emails a day, most of which are not particularly relevant but they all have to be looked at which can take up a lot of time. I guess I should be grateful for the fact that we don’t have to cold-canvas for business, most people know who we are and come to us with their requirements. Knowing a lot of people in the industry certainly helps and I’m always happy to chat about what’s happening out there in the market as it usually reveals an opportunity.
Some of you know I do a bit of running and if I’m training for something I try and get out four or five times a week. At my age, as a Vet60, I do get on the podium from time to time as there are less people competing! I have the Manchester Marathon at the end of this month and the Cape Wrath Marathon at the end of May.
Cape Wrath gives me the chance to see the really rural side of our industry and have a chat with the operators who keep the wheels moving in the far north of Scotland.