Great achievement as independent dealer Nakendram Piratheepan (Theepan) goes from 0-10 sites in just three years

Sterling Petroleum managing director Nakendram Piratheepan (Theepan)

Sterling Petroleum managing director Nakendram Piratheepan (Theepan) 

Gloucestershire-based Sterling Petroleum took on its first dealer forecourt in 2020 and in just three years, managing director Nakendram Piratheepan (Theepan) has built a portfolio of 10 sites with the promise of more to come.

Supported by Gulf Retail, the 37-year-old is transforming small and sometimes run-down forecourts across Wales and the South West into thriving businesses. The first of these was Mid Glam Service Station in Aberdare which now pumps over 2mlpa, has a shop turnover of £20k a week and generates £1000 a week from the car wash. It is an impressive transformation of a site that was closed and with zero revenue.

“It took me six years of trying before I finally secured my first dealer site,” explains Theepan. “It was a frustrating time, I had no track record and seemed unable to be taken seriously by vendors or their agents, even though I have been involved in petrol retailing since I was 22. Thankfully, Gulf’s regional manager Sam Edwards believed in me and my vision. He and the whole team at Certas Energy have been by my side, providing financial support and sharing their know-how and together, we have not looked back.

Cinderford Service Station (Sterling Petroleum)

At Mid Glam, Theepan spent every available hour working on the forecourt to understand the business and the community it serves. He invested heavily, upgrading the forecourt, installing new tanks and pumps and creating a modern Londis convenience store.

“We now offer four fuel grades, all major fuel cards , 24-hour opening, food to go and a 24-hour off licence,” he enthuses. “We initially agreed a lease deal with an option to buy the freehold which meant we were not over exposed or relying too heavily on the banks.”

The impact at Aberdare was immediate and gave Theepan the confidence and financial wherewithal to take on other forecourts, adopting a similar business model. Sterling Petroleum now has a throughput of over 12mlpa with Endurance - Gulf’s higher margin premium grade - accounting for 10%. Profits have risen in three years from £100k to £500k.


Cinderford Service Station (Sterling Petroleum) workshops

“It has been an exciting and very rewarding few years but definitely still work in progress,” he continues. “We have a fantastic team, all committed to the cause and eager to play a part in our expansion. So far, all of the appointments from site managers to area managers have come from our forecourt staff. I want to ensure that we recognise talent and can nurture it wherever possible. We have created a proven business model and our operation is structured for growth. We currently have a backroom staff of four - two area managers and our own team of shop fitters. I would not argue that for the size of our business this level of staffing could be considered top heavy, but it has enabled us to take rapid growth in our stride and there is no reason why this should not continue. Our most recent acquisition in Nottingham was up and running smoothly within 7 days of contracts.”


A growing network

Four more sites are about to come on stream and a sum total of 20 by year end looks highly probable. Most are located across the Southwest and Wales, with recent acquisitions now extending to the East and West Midlands.

“With ongoing investment in people and technology, I don’t feel that we are restricted geographically,” says Theepan. “The numerous benefits associated with size and scale far outweigh any logistical issues and technology allows us to smoothly manage the business from a single point although I still somehow managed to cover 100,000 miles last year! I’ll continue to work on the tills at each site we bring on to understand our customers and how best to serve them. I realised the value in this approach after reading about Gerald Ronson’s career and achievements when I studied Business and Finance at Bristol University. His story, his work ethic and the way he has transformed the forecourt sector has inspired me and is the reason I am now totally emersed in this industry. I still refer to his mantra, ’Retail is the Detail’ every single day. Like him, I also want to be a driving force of positive change in our industry.”

Cinderford Service Station (Sterling Petroleum) shopfront

Now taking a Masters in International Business at the University of Gloucestershire, Theepan acknowledges Gulf’s ongoing role in the success of his business and its willingness to face down industry challenges as and when they emerge.

“It is far from ideal to see utilities soaring and we are working alongside Gulf to contain these. We’ve sites spending over £6k a week on utilities and this is not sustainable. We’ve also seen the impact of utility costs and higher mortgage rates on pump prices. Motorists are having to be so much more price-conscious to manage their monthly budgets and now even a 1ppl differential at the pumps is influencing behaviour. With Gulf we have a respected brand, the new image is popular with customers and Gulf’s Oomph loyalty scheme adds an extra dimension to our promotional activity. Add to that strong margins, flexible delivery arrangements, good credit terms and a commitment to reduce our costs and drive up revenues. From the tanker drivers and order office through to the company’s management, it is a partnership of trust and understanding. Nothing gives me more pleasure than to phone Sam or national accounts manager, Nicola McKeown, when we exceed our volume targets as we did recently at Bourton on the Hill. We estimated 2mlpa and are currently over 3mlpa with £20k-plus-a-week shop revenue.


The right people

Cinderford Service Station (Sterling Petroleum) inside shop

“Having good people by my side is so important to the overall success of the business. These include my right-hand man, Saji Kumar, Bala of Oyslans who masterminds our back office systems and Colin Walpole of Londis, another outstanding ally, analysing our customers and identifying the most appropriate convenience set-up for each site. We provide our staff with gratitude bonus’s and offer financial support and mentoring to those who wish to manage their own forecourts. I know from my own experiences that taking the next step can be out of reach for many good people and we want to help ours achieve their potential. Another popular aspect within our business is a commitment to give 10% of our profits to charity each year, relying upon the input of our staff to determine which worthy causes we support.

It is so rewarding for all of us when we see the impact, for example, of helping children in the UK with autism to thrive. We want our workplace to always be a happy place because that will transfer through to our customers and we all know in this frenetic business that there is nothing more important than a contented customer.”

Sterling Petroleum managing director Nakendram Piratheepan (Theepan) shop