There’s been a lot of publicity surrounding Esso’s new Synergy Fuels brand as it is rolled out across the company’s UK network. What has not been publicised so much is the company behind the installation of the branding on Esso’s company owned network and alliance sites the Premier Group.
With a long history dating back 60 years, The Premier Group is a family owned and run business, which rates itself as one of the most respected providers of liquid fuel storage, measurement and dispensing systems in the UK. It operates as three main divisions: construction, installation and servicing, and has an impressive client list including Esso, Shell, BP, Tesco, MRH, Rontec and MFG.
Steve Evans, managing director of The Premier Group’s construction division which specialises in the building, knock-down, re-build, refurbishment and decommissioning of petrol filling stations was the business development manager at construction company, CNC, that was bought by the Premier Group in 2002. He started as a carpenter and joiner and has held every position on the way up.
"I’ve been with this part of the business since the day it opened in 1988," he explains. "We’ve always been involved with forecourts. When the company was bought by The Premier Group the strategy was to offer as much to the forecourt sector as possible from in-house. We do everything from a manhole to a knock-down-rebuild and everything in between.
"We take pride in working with the customers, understanding their business and what their future plans are. If an independent retailer comes to us and wants to develop their site within a certain budget, we’ll do a package for them that includes all the planning and the building regulations. We give advice based on the facts. The only way we can control the cost is to be involved in the design as well. We prefer to work with architects directly to ensure the client gets the best service at the right price."
Working with the customer means knowing certain things about the business, such as retirement plans; or financial strategy. "A retailer may want to keep some money in the bank now, but we may suggest that he would be better off spending it on the site if he wants a return on it in 10 years," says Steve.
"In that case we may give advice such as, let’s not line the tanks, let’s change the tanks; put new pipework in instead of leaving the old pipework there; change the pumps, and so on; in order to get the best value out of the project. It’s all about understanding the whole story of what a retailer wants and where they’re going with their business. Often what they want and what they need are two very different things.
"We see it as a partnership. It’s very much about being involved in a project we’re creative people and we like to create something that the customer is really pleased with."
However, what some retailers visualize, and what they get if they’re not careful, can be two very different things. Demonstrating what is possible, and what something will look like when it’s built is another key part of The Premier Group’s service that can make a huge difference to the end result.
"Although customers approve the plans, many people can’t see something that’s two-dimensional," explains Evans. "You need to be able to walk these things out on the forecourt, mark it out and show them what the impact is. Something people don’t always understand is scale and size.
"This is especially important with independent retailers because it’s their own money they’re putting into the project. With oil companies, they know what it’s going to look like because they built one yesterday. If it’s not quite as they like it they can change it on the next one. With an independent generally they are only going to do it once and it needs to be right. Computers can help, but the best thing is to be able to give them some idea physically of what’s going to be created."
A large part of The Premier Group’s business is maintenance. The company’s service division supports more than 2,000 forecourt sites under a range of maintenance contracts. All maintenance contract work is co-ordinated using a computerised service call tracking system to ensure the equipment receives the fastest repair possible.
The company developed a bespoke software platform designed to capture, collate and manage information relating to a specific project and integrate with an app accessible on any portable tablet. The app was used to manage Esso’s Synergy programme.
The company surveyed and then ’Synergised’ the sites, designing how the various features of the branding the Waves, Koalas and Blades would be best applied on a site-by-site basis.
"We’ve had a Shell maintenance contract for a number of years and have developed our programmes to work alongside that," explains Evans. "Every time we got called to look at a manhole or something, we produced a conditions survey. We look at the overall condition of a site the building, the boundaries, the forecourt, the refuelling areas, and so on. We now have a system which can show the customer the condition of the site last year, this year and estimate what it will be like next year, showing the rate of wear of, for example, a manhole, based on volume throughput. The software keeps a record of the condition of all of the sites, and manages all the jobs and the process flow.
"We can assist our customers with where to spend their maintenance budgets, because they haven’t got time to go around all their sites. But even if you have just a small number of sites, you don’t naturally see the deterioration. We can give advice, such as if you’re surrounded by a lot of trees, you’ll need your guttering done more regularly.
"There are still a few forecourts out there that are pretty rough, and which would not take a lot of money to put right and maintain.
"Painting a rusty canopy column may cost only £30 a year. Just jetting the canopy, the fascia and the forecourt makes a big difference. Forecourts need to be bright, clean and well maintained. Otherwise it’s not visually great for the motoring customer they want somewhere safe and clean where they can take their family."
Consideration for the customer has seen The Premier Group go the extra mile for the local community to minimise disruption and bad feeling when a major building project is under way. The company’s £1.2 million redevelopment of a site to create a new BP/M&S outlet, saw the company use a concrete crusher to not only recycle concrete back into the site, but to reduce the level of traffic disturbance, cut carbon emissions and noise pollution. Staff also volunteered their time to a number of local causes. In addition the company ran a poster competition at the local school, designed to encourage children to stay away from the site.
"We do about 1,000 projects a year and are quite diverse in what we do," says Evans. "We have an adaptive workforce and can go an extra mile to come up with a solution."