It’s being touted as the most exciting project for the Texaco brand in 10 years, and is long overdue. A brand refresh, under the title Project Shining Star, is to be piloted later this year ready to begin the rollout at the start of 2010. For everyone involved with the brand it will bring a welcome lift to a tired image. "We recognise the Texaco brand in the UK has been under-invested in for years and we’re going to fix that through Project Shining Star," says Rhonda Morris, Chevron’s general manager, marketing Europe. "The main purpose of the project is to re-establish Texaco as a premium UK brand."
Indeed the fact Texaco is one of Britain’s strongest brands is endorsed by its inclusion in the latest issue of Superbrands, which says: "The Texaco brand has been an active force in UK society, fuelling industry and the economy, keeping people on the move and participating in a range of community and environmental projects for more than 80 years."
Such heritage is hard-earned, and anyone concerned that the Texaco name would disappear following the company’s merger with Chevron in 2005, and subsequent renaming to the Chevron Corporation in 2007- Chevron Ltd in the UK - should be reassured by the promise of a brand refresh.
"This is not about a paint job, or quick cosmetic changes," stresses Morris. "This is an in-depth, long-term, sustainable project to improve our brand image in the UK. The key elements are about brand standards and making sure our retailers understand and comply with those standards. To work well it’s got to work for everybody. We can’t just load costs on because it looks pretty - although that is obviously a very important part of it. The image is being commercially engineered as well as designed. We want to take advantage of new technologies available to help dealership costs.
"There are elements such as lighting, for example, that should contribute to increased efficiencies on the forecourt. We want consumers and retailers to have a positive perception of our brand, but not at the expense of profitability."
There are four elements to Project Shining Star - the forecourt image; fuels product offering; retail support programmes; and brand investment.
"We don’t have definitive answers to what exactly the brand investment will be, all we can say is that it will be more than in the past," says Brian Worrall, sales manager, Europe.
"Currently we sponsor Sports Stars in Ireland; and we also sponsor the Football League Championship, which started this season and will run for another couple of seasons. There’s no TV ad, but you will see Texaco on the hoardings, and for the first time in a while, Texaco promoted on various media - on the web for example; on the Football League Championship sites; branding in programmes for matches; tickets given away in the local newspaper; hospitality; plus we’re looking to develop relationships between service stations and their local clubs."
While Project Shining Star will give a much-needed fillip to the image of the brand, Morris says it will also reassure retailers of Chevron’s commitment to Europe - in fact the company’s European marketing strategy is posted around the head office at Canary Wharf so everyone can see it and have a global understanding of the company’s strategy. "Chevron is a global company with 60,000 employees, more than half of whom are outside the US, even though they are a US-based company." she explains. "People have to understand how they fit into that. Part of our global downstream strategy is manufacturer-led. With a refinery in Pembroke our role is to profitably anchor Pembroke production in areas of supply strength.
"In Europe as a whole we have 1,377 sites, which grew by 49 sites last year against a falling market. In the UK alone we have 1,096 dealer sites. We also have 40 authorised distributors across the UK and Ireland, which provide an invaluable service in covering certain geography, such as rural areas, that we wouldn’t be able to supply directly. Hence there is a higher presence of Texaco in rural areas than a lot of our competitors."
The company-owned network was sold off following an announcement in 2005, and apart from a few owned sites in Ireland, the focus now is totally on the dealer market.
"It was a major transformation for the company," explains Worrall. "At the time we employed 5,000 people just on the marketing side of the business. Now we employ 200. But it has reduced the complexity of what we do enormously. In many ways people misread the signs from the sell-off, but it was about a change to the business model. We sold a lot of service stations, but we actually ended up with a lot more flags out there than we had previously. In the subsequent two years in particular we were very successful in picking up new dealer business. We have a good track record in attracting dealers to the business - from their point of view we are now much more focused on them and their needs."
In the wake of the sell-off the company launched the Bright Horizons support package, part of which was a commitment to good communications through Retailer Advantage meetings, the National Retailers Advisory Council, face-to-face with Texaco area managers; a retailer magazine Advantage News; and through the Forecourt Trader of the Year award-winning website, TexacoStation.
"The website is a two-way communication and came into its own recently when a Chevron executive made some rather wayward comments about selling parts of its business," says Worrall. "We were able to react immediately on the website. Also during last year’s protests, we were able to keep retailers updated on the supply situation."
With some big dealer contracts coming up for renewal - such as MRH (GB) - Worral is confident the brand can reach into the upper end of the dealer-volume spectrum, despite its image as more of a community-based operation. "We have a brand that’s recognised as a superbrand in the UK, that’s going to be refreshed in a very positive way, but that already has a lot of strengths to it. We have a good promotional programme, Star Rewards; fuel card; an extensive range of dealer support; fuel cards; training - our mobile unit is very popular; plus reliability of fuel supply. Obviously there is a fundamental level at which all oil companies have to compete, and no one will ignore the economics. But over and above that the quality and service of relationship we give, especially in times of crisis, always comes out in our discussions with dealers as a very positive thing. If we are inundated with orders we will put a lot of time and effort into working out who really needs that order tomorrow and who can wait. We do it because we’re interested in maintaining that reliable supply through even the most difficult times - such as during the tanker strike last year. Without that nobody’s got anything. Plus, though the personnel has changed, the strategy is the same in that there is always someone at the end of the phone. Our business is solely focused around our retailers and distributors, investing in infrastructure, our fuels and our brand. We have a very strong hand to play."
=== NEWS UPDATE ===
== Trefigin signs new supply contract ==
Fuel distributor Olew Trefigin Oil Ltd has signed a new long-term supply contract. Under the terms of the agreement, the family-run business will benefit from Texaco-branded fuels and oils to supply to industrial, agricultural, domestic and other commercial customers including Texaco-branded retail sites. The company is also a successful marketer of the Texaco Fast Fuel card and Texaco lubricants under the Havoline brand. "Chevron has supplied Olew Trefigin Oil from its refinery in Pembroke for more than 35 years and I think that says a great deal about the strength of our relationship," says Worrall.