As Gulf Retail puts the finishing touches to its preparations for its appearance at the International Fuel and Forecourt Equipment Show, managing director Keith Jewers, reflects on a very successful year for the brand.

With around 170 sites now sporting the famous Gulf logo, including 30 new signings in the six months to December, he is confident about the brand’s penetration into the dealer market, and of reaching the company’s target of around 300 sites.

"Gulf has been taking sites from the majors," he claims. "We can match the majors in the marketplace with the competitiveness of our deal, and we can match them on brand profile. And our latest dealers tell us we surpass them on support.

"We have no fear of the other brands. In fact we relish the opportunity to pit our wits against our rivals, and have the field experience and the operational gravitas to hold our own in this market.

"No matter how often the majors say they’re the dealer’s friend, that will only be until the next guy comes along. We’ve not seen a consistent strategy in one of the oil majors in the past 20 years.

"The dealer market is 100% our business, and we support dealers with a strong, experienced field force and a flexible approach in everything we do. How many of the majors have increased the size of their retail field force in 2006/2007? Gulf Retail has."

Jewers says there is little to differentiate between the majors and it seems more about whose area manager actually appears committed to the cause as to where the business might land. Five years ago being supplied by a major meant a dealer would be on a margin deal with pricing support. Now, with Platt’s deals, it’s more of a level playing field. All an oil major has to offer, he says, is the ’perception’ of a bigger brand.

However, he has been surprised to be up against Esso on sites of less than 3mlpa. "I am intrigued by the oil majors’ interest in smaller dealer locations," says Jewers,"and wonder how long it will take the wheel to turn and for the volume threshold, size of location and brand compatibility to become relevant again.

"It won’t be long before the smaller dealers with supply contracts with the majors realise their area managers will only return calls when contracts are due, and are not adequately able to cover the maintenance of the brand."

Average volume for the Gulf brand was below 1mlpa, but is now 1.8mlpa, with sites at the top end doing over 6mlpa. However, Gulf is still more than happy to take on the smaller sites.

"Whether it’s a big or a small site, it’s all good business for us, and we continue to build the current network like the old Gulf network - on strong relationships.

"We know every dealer location in the UK and their current circumstances. Our strong brand is packed with meaningful support. We offer a 24/7 advice line, 365 days a year. We have invested in a shops redevelopment and merchandising package and brought into our operation an expert in this area whose work over the past two years has added considerably to the bottom line of Gulf retailers.

"We have also added greater field and head office resources to ensure our intentions of maintaining a high degree of communication. We recruit competent, mature, experienced people to provide effective representation; solving problems, identifying opportunities and generating revenue for our dealers."

Jewers says dealers only need to make one call, they are not over-absorbed with chasing an answer or faced with a representative taking copious notes and then doing nothing. "What price do you pay for that service? No answerphones, no chase-up calls and empty sessions with uninterested graduates looking for their next move in the chain," he stresses. "It is genuine dealer support and one of the reasons why 22 dealers have re-signed with us in the past financial year (since July), and we’ve not lost a single dealer we didn’t want to let go." (See Gulf on F39 &B20.)