He said he’d never do it, but in February Ken Kay confirmed that he’d put all his eggs into one basket, by signing the final one of his 12 sites over to the Texaco brand. "I have never wanted to do it because putting everything in one basket is a risk, and I’ve always tried to balance risk," said Ken, who is CEO of the Blackburn-based Kay Group (UK) Ltd.

"However, I first got into bed with Texaco in 2010, after Chris Cave, the company’s area sales manager, wore my carpets out coming up and downstairs to see me. The offers from Texaco kept getting better and better, while the offers from other oil companies were going the other way.

"Eventually we decided to give Chris a try, but not before we phoned up half a dozen other customers to find out what Texaco was like to deal with what their deliveries were like and so on. We got fantastic feedback.

"What came back, loud and clear, was that it was a company with great integrity it did what it said on the tin."

The combination of the deal, the local territory manager, and the references he got about the company encouraged Ken to move two BP sites to Texaco as a trial, and to see what the customers thought of it. "How the brand was received by customers and what happened to fuel volumes was a concern," he said. But he was impressed with the service, because gradually, as contracts came up for renewal, "and Chis kept coming up the stairs", sites moved to Texaco in twos and threes.

"The image is great," says Ken. "And deliveries have been outstanding, especially compared to the nightmares other people are experiencing. It’s also important if you do have a delivery problem to be able to talk to someone in Manchester who understands the local issues, and not someone based thousands of miles away, which has caused frustrations in the past.

"It’s the hardest test to come from a BP or Shell brand to Texaco. Initially there is a drop in volume although it’s site-specific depending on the amount of fuel card and bunker business you have. There is a little bit of fall-off through BP’s Nectar and Shell’s Driver’s Club loyalty schemes. But we tend to counteract that by doing a special offer to open up with even before we finish with the old oil company brand, to encourage customers through competitive pricing and promotions."

As more sites moved to Texaco, Ken admits to a bit of a wobble when Valero took over the Texaco brand in 2011. "We had a wonderful relationship with the Texaco brand and were worried about what was going to happen to it. But after an initial fright, we began to hear good things. Valero was an unknown quantity, but within months plans were coming out about re-opening the Manchester Fuel Terminal, giving us cool product and anyone in our business knows cool product is like gold dust."

More trudging up the stairs from Chris and finally the Texaco colours now blaze from all the Kay Group sites. "The Kitchens of Burnley site is our biggest baby and the final site to go to Texaco. We wanted to learn everything before we moved this one. We bought it from Steven Blackadder in 2007 he had such vision and the site was five to 10 years ahead of its time, with diesel on every island, and cashiers dressed like air hostesses. He created a destination site, people came and liked what they saw, and kept coming. There wasn’t another garage around like it and our challenge has been to maintain those standards. Fuel volume is about 11-12mlpa and probably the highest for a UK independent."

So can he sleep at night with all his eggs in one basket? "I feel very comfortable having all 12 sites with one brand," he stresses. "And the fact that the Valero management, including Eric Fisher, Valero’s president for Europe, have taken time to visit, is also reassuring.

Plus, he says, referring to Chris: "We have the best rep in the parish he’s the best territory manager I’ve ever had in 42 years in this business."

’best rep in town’

Chris Cave, area sales manager for Valero Energy Ltd, has been pursuing Ken Kay for 15 years wearing his carpet out with his constant visits.
But his persistence paid off, winning Ken over to the Texaco brand in 2010, and gradually moving more of his sites as the contracts came up for renewal.A major coup came this year when the Texaco branding went up on Kay Kitchens Service Station, in Trafalgar St, Burnley, formerly owned by Stephen Blackadder, winner of the Forecourt Trader of the Year Award in 2002. The deal completed the transfer of all the Ken Kay sites to the Texaco brand. "Gaining the Kay business has been one of my proudest achievements," he said. "I’ve been chasing Ken for 15 years!"