While major oil companies tend to hog the headlines with their various activities - sometimes good, sometimes bad - some of the smaller players in the market enjoy less of the limelight. One such company is ConocoPhillips - with its Jet-branded, dealer-only network - which, according to the company’s dealer business manager, Patrick Hudson, has been busy working away seemingly behind the scenes, but focusing strongly on its core market of ’locally-based’ service stations. Its network has 425 Jet dealer sites - that’s more dealers than Shell (309), Esso (265), and Total (341).
Hudson says the company took on 24 dealers last year, losing only five to competitors. The hope is to take on a further 30 in 2008 - six are in the bag already with only one lost to the competition. "We also aim to re-tie all our existing dealers coming up for renewal - bearing in mind that there will always be those dropping out of the market, for example, where sites are being sold for alternative use."
With the rate of site closures slowing Hudson’s personal view is that the market must be somewhere near to optimum levels, with the sites that are left being operated by good retailers who have managed to find ways to sustain their businesses successfully. He doesn’t see a huge rush for them to leave the industry.
He is also confident about Jet’s presence in the market - although nationally the company’s retail market share is 3.5%, in certain areas, such as near its refinery in Humberside, its market share is nearer 12%. And he believes proportionally the brand is stronger - decades ago when there were 33,000 sites in the market, Jet had 800. Now there are around 9,000 sites, Jet has 445.
"Dealers come to us because we are consistent - we don’t chop and change. We still offer Platts and margin share deals - which we wouldn’t do if they didn’t work for us and our dealers. It’s a very competitive market, and the consequences of that at the moment mean we are taking a hit. But we take the long-term view - things don’t go up forever and they don’t go down forever."
There is also always someone to get hold of at the end of a phone, according to Hudson: "We simply can’t hide - there are only 14 of us at retail headquarters. We have always scored highly in surveys in terms of integrity and trust - if there’s an issue about anything we’ll be upfront and talk directly with our retailers about it."
Communication has always been one of the Jet brand’s strong points, whether in terms of good attendance at dealer meetings, or publicising itself locally with campaigns such as ’The School Run Code’.
The company is also helping retailers to help themselves with its ’AimHi’ scheme, which has the tagline ’fuelling better standards and service’. A move to LED poll signs is also planned. "The industry is mature and not full of massive surprises," says Hudson. "But whatever the challenge our size means we can react quickly."