Retailer Andrew MacDonald grins as the queue of drivers snakes its way onto his forecourt.
"Our fuel sales are up 10% on last year," he says. "We usually see a 10% dip in the August school holidays, so this is really unbelievable."
Andrew puts the improvement in sales at Grange Filling Station in Rayleigh, Essex, down to one thing: the company recently signed up to turn the forecourt into the first new-look fully-branded Harvest Energy site in the UK. The official opening was last month, with the day including events such as special promotions and offers.
After being with Conoco for 17 years, and BP and Total at different times, it was quite a change for Andrew, who is the managing director of independent group Sectorsure Limited. But he’s convinced it was the right decision.
He says: "It was time for a change, and the Harvest Energy deal is a good one. The logo is fresh, clean and bright, the people you deal with are fantastic, and you get a good price on fuel - which you can pass on to the customer. The site has been very busy since we changed to Harvest Energy."
Sectorsure, which bought the Rayleigh site five years ago, has two other sites - Cricklewood Broadway Service Station and Goldhawk Road Service Station, both in London - which have also since been converted to the Harvest Energy brand.
Andrew adds: "Grange Filling Station is the Sectorsure flagship site, with a volume in excess of 6mlpa. The launch of the newly branded store and image has been a great success, and the reaction of the customers has been something to behold!"
Over at Harvest Energy, Simon Davis, the company’s head of sales and logistics, is so sure the site switches will be a success, he’s putting his money where his mouth is.
"I’ve had a very large wager that the volume will go up at these sites," he says. "All three sites are very busy anyway, but with the improved presentation of the sites we think it will be significantly better. I think that when people see the fully-branded site, they’ll be very surprised. There’s going to be lots of blue neon that looks fantastic at night."
Harvest Energy enlisted the help of Yorkshire-based agency Studio 1 to come up with the new brand image for the company as well as project-manage the branding of the forecourts, and is actively looking for more sites to bring on board.
Davis says: "We approached Sectorsure about the deal - I think it’s a very brave step for them, but I also think they see the value of a new brand. They thought it was perhaps time for something new.
"We’re keen to get more branded sites on board, we’re actively looking for dealers that do at least 2mlpa and have a decent c-store offering. The key to the success of our conversions is the refreshing brand image and the support package in place for the dealer. We have a full service package, including pump maintenance, credit card support, competitive and flexible deals, and a reliable and customer-focused supply and delivery capability using our own branded fuel tankers."
== No corporate baggage ==
Davis says the difference between Harvest Energy and rival oil companies is the lack of "corporate baggage" at Harvest. Speaking at the smart Harvest offices in Cavendish Square, central London, he adds: "Our role is to provide customers with the fuel they need reliably and on time, with no hassle and at a competitive price, along with any other services they require. We let the independent retailer run the business the way they want.
"We don’t have any pretence about knowing anything about running a c-store, we think independent dealers know their business better than we do, so we’re not giving them rules.
"We like to say you’ll get all the support you’d get from a major supplier, and a lot more freedom, and a significantly better price from us."
The company currently supplies four unbranded Park & Shop sites for the Park Garage Group, as well as some other unbranded independents, three US Air Force bases, and Tesco, Morrisons and Asda. The company does have one existing branded dealer site - Newport Street Service Station in Swindon (featured in Forecourt Trader, October 06) - but with the old branding. Progress in the brand roll-out hit the buffers with the contaminated fuel fiasco last year (see Forecourt Trader, March/April 07), but is now back on track.
Currently, according to Davis, Harvest Energy is hoping to extend its relationship with Park Garage Group - number two in the Forecourt Trader Top 50 Indies List in 2008. In fact the company is as keen to speak to retailers who don’t want any branding on the forecourt as those who do.
Davis adds: "The contaminated fuels issue put us back about a year with our plans. Your first priority has to be to look after your existing customer base. We had to make sure we had dealt with those issues and had made sure there was no chance of a repeat. We wanted to instill confidence.
"We didn’t lose a single piece of business because of it and the two customers who were most affected have re-signed. It’s often a way of finding out how good a supplier is - to see what happens when something goes wrong.
"We want people to have confidence that there’s no risk involved to them to move to the Harvest Energy brand. We can almost always offer the dealer a better deal than their present one.
"But they will need to get over the barrier of an unknown brand, so if you can show the volume doesn’t go down - but actually goes up - from being rebranded, then I think people will come across quite quickly."
Harvest Energy, whose sister company is Topaz in Ireland, is offering one-year contracts as well as three- and five-year deals. Meanwhile, Davis says the business is in a period of good growth, running 24 trucks, compared to four in mid-2005, and with 19 staff and a projected turnover of £2.5bn for 2008.
Its fuel is stored in a number of locations around the UK, the biggest of which is in West Thurrock, Essex, as well as Westerleigh, Bristol; Milford Haven in South Wales; Immingham on Humberside; Grangemouth; and Nottingham. It also manufactures fuel in Amsterdam - its business includes selling petrol to West Africa.
The company is very proud of its Harvest B30 biodiesel, which Davis says is going strong and is being sold at about 150 Morrison forecourts around the country.
It’s also used by Ford to test new engines at Dagenham. The fuel, made from a blend of UK rapeseed and UK used cooking oil, has also got approval from Peugeot Citroen for its UK cars with HDi engines.
Davis says: "The real benefit is the carbon saving, it’s also completely sustainable and offers the same performance as normal diesel."
Harvest Energy certainly has plenty to say for itself, but Davis has one important message to dealers:
"I’d like to say to independent retailers - be brave. There’s another world out there apart from the major oil companies. The thing for us is that this is our core business, we don’t make lots of money exploring and refining, our business is making and distributing fuel to customers.
"So to us the importance of customers and independent retailers is significantly more than to a major oil company. And we’d like to be able to demonstrate that."