Having seen many of the major suppliers, backed by their parent companies, put retail assets and, in some cases, refineries up for sale, dealers across the country are rightly questioning whether any oil company is serious about the UK market, according to Keith Jewers, director of Gulf Retail.
He has reassured dealers that Gulf’s long-term strategic plan, with the backing of its parent company, is for expansion, organically and through acquisition across the whole of the UK. "Unlike many of our competitors," he says, "We recognise the potential of the UK market and cannot emphasise enough that the Gulf brand represents certainty and continuity for dealers".
Jewers says uncertainty among competitors is one of the reasons Gulf has expanded its network so successfully in the past six months and continues to receive an unprecedented level of enquiries from petrol filling station owners.
"We have recently welcomed people to the Gulf brand from as far afield as the Outer Hebrides and the tip of Cornwall as we all work together in this relentlessly competitive market place," he says."With concern about interest rates rising and no let-up in bank attitudes to borrowing, the challenges we face are real and perplexing. It is quite clear that the high prices we have witnessed recently are a reaction from the world’s oil markets and traders to the anticipated increase in demand from emerging nations, particularly in the Far East. Add to that the cross-marketing activities of the hypermarkets as they cynically exploit their advantageous cost base to the detriment of the traditional retailer. Despite the rhetoric they clearly do not adopt a ’sensible pricing policy’."
Yet faced with such daunting circumstances, says Jewers, forecourt owners take the punches, adapt and move forward. He claims to be continually buoyed by the successes Gulf dealers can achieve. "Innovative and resourceful by nature, more and more are willing to invest in alternative profit centres such as Gulf’s In-store shops programme. For profitable, well-run forecourt operations, the asset and freehold value of the business continues to buck the trend and present the best possible incentive a strong investment." Gulf is now represented in 50 countries with thousands of employees supporting its global brand, according to Jewers. He says the UK is a significant part of this worldwide operation and the company’s expertise in areas such as racing lubricants, metalworking fluids and marketing, is being shared in many overseas markets.
"As we strive to increase the profit opportunities available to our UK dealers, at the same time Gulf remains committed to improving the specifications and quality of its products. Recently, we introduced to the forecourt a new premium fuel, Endurance, and a new specialist racing lubricant range, Competition. Backed by technical laboratories and a dedicated research and development team, Gulf’s lubricants are constantly evolving to meet the latest specifications including approvals from all of the major motor manufacturers. Not only do these products conform for all makes of car and commercial vehicles, they come with very competitive mark-ups. Dealers who stock Gulf lubricants generate significant extra profit for their businesses. This year we intend to launch several high-profile promotions designed to strengthen the brand proposition and drive new business in the direction of our dealers."
Jewers says there have been 70 conversions to Gulf during the past six months and the network will pass 250 sites in the coming year. "Gulf is the fastest-growing forecourt brand in the country," he claims, "and continues to attract new dealers through a strong package of benefits and long-term commitment to the UK."
"With so many oil companies looking for an exit strategy, Gulf is bucking the trend and expanding its brand as it strengthens its position in the UK, offering dealers a strong and credible platform from which to build a profitable business. More forecourt owners are recognising this and switching to Gulf. In recent months, we have taken long-term supply deals from all the major oil companies, and those new signings recognise that Gulf has the critical mass, supply security and brand strength to meet their future goals."
Jewers believes that the Gulf brand, its benefits package, and years of experience in this market provides any dealer with an easy bedfellow.
"We are here to support retailer business through good times and bad, now and in the future," he says.