It’s been a busy summer for Malcolm Blake, director of Oasis Garage in Hull, North Humberside. Not only has he spent a small fortune transforming his tiny forecourt shop to a spacious Spar convenience store, he has also changed fuel brand. After nearly 20 years with Jet, during which time he spent many years on the dealer council, including as chair, he has switched to the Gulf brand. In doing so, Oasis Garage has become the first dealer site with the full-concept new Gulf branding.
"Moving to Gulf wasn’t an easy decision," explains Malcolm: "I’ve been thinking about it for a couple of years. It’s a massive thing to move away from Jet they’ve done nothing wrong at all and have been thoroughly professional. But it was a combination of things and I began not to feel happy.
"When I started to speak to the Gulf guys, there was no pressure, just conversations. The human touch was important to me." He was also impressed with the plans for a new brand image the first change since 1991 and loyalty promotion, Oomph, which was launched earlier this year: "I wanted to be part of something special. The strong new image, a great loyalty promotion and great people that’s why I’ve joined Gulf. It reminds me of the old days, from local rep to managing director, everyone is accessible. We’ve already reaped the rewards of Gulf’s third-party tie-ups with our Spar shop refit and now we look forward to the new Gulf image transforming our site. It will certainly get people noticing us as they drive down the road.
"I feel Gulf has a real appreciation of the challenges that we retailers face. We now have a long-term partner who, like us, understands the value of working together and growing our business." Oasis Garage is in a rural location on the A165, a busy commuter route between Hull, Bridlington and Scarborough. Malcolm built the site as a greenfield development in 1988, when his father’s old-style garage with two pumps and a workshop was bypassed and he decided to retire.
Malcolm, a toolmaker by trade, was wholesaling eggs at the time. "I always like building, so I bought the land, got the planning and built it." He initially had a workshop, which closed down circa 2000 because it became more hassle than it was worth. But the forecourt was doing well, plus the little shop. Fuel brands came and went first Q8, then Thrust Petroleum through Bayford’s, then to Jet. The shop was a narrow little Mace store which was doubled and doubled again over the years, as various improvements were undertaken.
"The Mace store was dire, and when the end came for Palmer & Harvey who had supplied the store for 20 years or so Costcutter took over and that didn’t work for us," says Malcolm, who felt he had lost his mojo and needed to move with the times. "You can’t be a dinosaur the forecourt business is constantly changing". He remembers attending what was probably one of the first forecourt shows, being encouraged to sell Evian water. "My attitude to that was, you can get it out of the tap. Now the best-selling product in summer is water! If you’re going to survive in this fuel retailing business, you’ve got to give it the full offering. I realised my mindset had not been there, I had gone stale. I needed to change and do it all properly. So I did it all in one go with the help of my son Ollie. It’s great to have some young blood. I had to do it, otherwise the business would have been a nonentity." The site was shut for about three weeks while the work was completed. On the forecourt the old LPG tanks have been dispensed with and car parking has doubled to 17 spaces; however the car wash operation remains it’s still a good business, says Malcolm. The most significant change was to the forecourt building; work included incorporating the workshop into the store and turning everything around, creating a modern 1,700sq ft convenience store, with a comprehensive range including alcohol, food-to-go, Costa coffee, and a great chilled offering. The site re-opened on August 1, and it’s been a steep learning curve, says Malcolm: "The business has changed completely. We’re seeing a lot of different customers coming in and are still learning what they want. There have been a few teething problems and it’s been a huge challenge, but I now feel inspired again."
Gulf is driving change, says Certas Energy retail boss
Gulf is driving change in the industry with its innovative approach that puts dealer profitability at the top of the tree, according to Richard Billington, retail director of Certas Energy, as the roll-out of the new Gulf branding gets under way. "We are redefining the Gulf proposition and everything it stands for with consultation backed by action now a pillar of the brand’s evolution, " he said. "The actions we have taken in a relatively short period of time are all designed to improve dealer profitability and these include the launch of a fresh new forecourt image and the roll-out of a first-to-industry fuel loyalty programme Oomph. Both initiatives have been well received by the industry and are now available to every new Gulf dealer."