Esso is embarking on a recruitment campaign in the new year to sign up new dealers.

Timo Halonen, the company’s dealer-owned service station manager for the UK and Ireland, said: “We’re here and we’re in business. We haven’t communicated our message well, but we’re now on a new regime to recruit.

He could not be specific about how many dealers were required, “but it would be 100s of sites we are looking for”. He said the Esso dealer network had reduced by around 200 sites in the past two to three years.

“The losses have been for three major reasons: some have closed to the industry through a combination of low volume and high property values; some we have disengaged on purpose as they were not viable in the medium to long term, or they did not fit with our investment criteria; or we have lost some to the competition.

“I don’t think we’ve done a good enough job telling dealers about the great organisation behind Esso – the supply logistics, the investments we’re making in our company owned network, and on top of that we have been at the leading edge of converting our existing dealers into ‘Net Buyer’ – a Platt’s-type deal. It’s been well accepted – we currently have around 250 dealers on the contract, out of a total of 360 UK dealers.

“We needed to successfully migrate our business onto the Net Buyer basis, and we’ve pretty much pioneered that and been successful in it. We did not want to grow the dealer chain until we made sure Net Buyer worked. Some took to it quickly, some didn’t. One of the beauties of the Net Buyer scheme is that there is nothing more transparent. It is simple. Plus we have the best-in-class sales force with more than 300 years of experience out there – they are very experienced, professional people.”

Halonen said he was looking for dealers with a future, ie with above average volume for the market they’re in, as well as non-fuels income through, typically, a shop and car wash.

“Esso is a huge brand – we have a mutual opportunity,” stressed Halonen.