Essar Oil (UK) has restated its aim of 400 sites within the next five years, following the appointment of Ramsay MacDonald as head of retail at the start of the year.

“We’ve got fuel quality, we’ve got scale, we’ve got the ambition, the image, the team,” said MacDonald. “It’s not a big leap of faith, it’s just the need to build that credibility and reassurance to the dealer community.”

A year after leaving the retail helm at Certas Energy, Ramsay MacDonald is back in the saddle, refreshed and rejuvenated, and greatly enthused about his new role at Essar.

“What excited me about coming to Essar was the people, the product, and the project here,” explained MacDonald. “I love this industry – I still think I’ve got a lot to offer. It’s great being involved in the management of a complicated, large energy plant – the Stanlow Manufacturing Complex. The brand really appealed to me as well – it has a lot of scope.

“The retail team I work with are very engaging, committed people. We can build a great brand and some really good partnerships with suppliers and dealers – and being the principal sponsor of the Forecourt Trader Awards for 2019 adds into that.”

Essar has been very open about its ambitious plans for the UK, and the oft-quoted goal of getting to 400 sites as quickly as possible. It’s a realistic and necessary target for a UK refiner, according to MacDonald: “If you put it into context, looking at what other refiners have in the UK, it’s about getting that criticality. I don’t see why we shouldn’t be as big as Jet, for example, in five years. If we can get more than that, even better. It’s about facilitating the profile of the brand and a long-term supply position. We export a proportion of our production here. But the economics dictate to us that it’s far better if we can sell it inland. So that’s why the strategic position of us getting into retail makes perfect sense.”

Encouraging dealers to change fuel brand is no easy feat, but MacDonald is confident there is plenty in the Essar armoury to persuade them, not least the fact it is a UK-based manufacturer with significant ongoing investment in the market; but also highlights the company’s fuel products, which it will certainly be shouting more about in the future, with the suggestion of a premium fuel product launch later in the year. It produces more than 16% of the UK’s transport fuels, but is also looking to the future in terms of environmental developments. “We’re very proud of our product provenance and product quality,” stresses MacDonald. “The fact we are a manufacturer – we import, we export, we create products here. As the industry goes into this changing environment, who better to steward customers through that transition than someone who is actively involved in all aspects of the supply chain?”

However, like certain other oil companies, Essar is also on the lookout for acquisitions. It already has plans underway for a company-owned flagship store at Elton Green, opposite the Stanlow Refinery, on a run-down site on the busy A5117.

“We’re very excited about Elton Green, because we think it will give us a good insight into what model would be right for us. We’ve got no desire to operate the sites ourselves. So we would be looking at retailer partnerships to do the final execution – it’s such a specialist area in itself.

“But acquisition, and getting into that as an alternate model would make perfect sense for us. So we’re certainly interested in looking at anything on that front as long as the numbers add up. You also have to look at what greenfield opportunities there are as well. But, of course, at the other end of the scale you’ve got the unmanned model. Asda and others have proved that can be viable. We could have a mix of all those formats.”