A philosophy of "putting our money where our mouth is" and "using our experience to help our customers", was how Certas Energy retail director, Ramsay MacDonald, described his company’s approach to business, during a presentation at last week’s ACS/RMI Forecourt Seminar at the Ricoh Arena, Coventry.

MacDonald shared the experiences of Certas Energy, the largest fuel supplier to the UK independent sector, and more recently the owner of a small network of filling stations, acquired within the past two years, within Scotland’s highly competitive central belt.

He said the sites had become a test bed for innovation and the development of anything from forecourt promotions and shop brands to HSSE issues. Once assessed, advice is made readily available to Certas Energy dealers including its Gulf and Pace-branded networks.

“It brings into stark focus the challenges facing the independent operator and has given us a chance to see if the mantras we preach actually stand up to the test,” said MacDonald. “From tank linings and shop development to latest EU legislation and back office systems, we can share our experiences with our dealers on almost any aspect of petrol retailing.”

MacDonald used the example of eight sites, all operating on the same margins previously supplied by the major brands, and now rebranded to Gulf.

“We had to ensure that the assets were sustainable and tackle a number of legal issues, undertake risk assessments and compliance checks, install remote wet-stock monitoring and implement an audit programme coupled with staff training. The tanks were old and had to be double-skin lined or replaced. We introduced Londis to make the change from garage forecourt to credible convenience store and made sure that the sites were all bright and clean.”

More recent activity has included the introduction of the HTEC/Gempay card payment terminal, allowing Shell Fuel Card acceptance across all sites as well as the introduction of Costa Coffee and several off licences. Staff communication has also been overhauled.

“It’s an ongoing challenge but we are delighted with the initial results,” enthused MacDonald. “Fuel sales are up 26% , shop turnover 17%, lubricant volumes have doubled and coffee sales trebled.”

“Unlike others, we see our company business as serving to deepen our dealer offer and we will pass on any tips or learnings to our customers. We also extend a warm Scottish welcome to anyone who wants to visit the sites and will always welcome any feedback from the dealer community on how we can do better”