Customers making their regular stop at Tanerdy Garage in Carmarthen were in for a bit of a shock. Not only was it the start of 2014 and time to get back to work, but the colours were all different on their local forecourt. Colours that had been there for 85 years...
Gone was the bright yellow Shell branding, replaced by Gulf’s blue and orange livery. Had the owners gone mad during the Christmas break?
Quite the opposite. It seems they had become increasingly disenchanted with the service they were getting from Shell on a number of issues and realised that, as a global operation, it was no longer a good fit for their rural, but nevertheless, thriving, long-established family-run service station.
The business was established by Tommy Evans in 1928 and had been supplied by Shell since the start. It was handed down to his son Ken who successfully guided the garage through the difficult times of fuel shortages and the arrival of supermarkets in Carmarthen, which contributed to the closure of four or five independent sites.
Ken passed away in 2008 after a short illness, and his daughter Karen Smith, became the third generation of the family to operate the business. In partnership with husband Stephen, a major refurbishment of the forecourt and shop was undertaken in 2010, including new pumps, relining of the tanks and trebling of the forecourt shop to 1,000sq ft.
While volumes had been in decline up to that point, since then fuel sales have increased annually to nearly 6mlpa from less than 4mlpa, while shop sales have more than doubled to £1.2m a year.
No bad feelings
The growth brought the frustrations with their fuel supplier into greater focus, such as problems with fuel deliveries, outdated technology and a lack of personal service.
"There are no bad feelings Shell has served the business well for many years," explains Stephen. "But it’s clear the Shell model does not suit our local needs. We’re different to a major site in a city or on a major arterial route."
Despite the long association with Shell, Stephen is adamant that the decision to switch to Gulf was easy and "another positive step forward for the business and our customers".
"There is nothing remote about Gulf. Deliveries are from a local depot and personnel are always available to us. Gulf has a good track record of supporting independent fuel retailers and has a strong brand image. We had a number of offers from other oil companies, but the people from Gulf had the right approach from the start. We have worked with some good people at Shell, but we have seen more forward thinking and intelligent ideas from Gulf in the past month than we had from Shell over two decades."
The reaction from customers has been very positive, according to Stephen.
"The site serves a fairly large rural community, so we’ve got customers who have been using the garage for 30, 40, 50 years through the generations. We’re on a main route from rural villages into Carmarthen, and have strong business accounts from companies in the area such as builders, taxi firms, hauliers, farming and related industries, which exceed £200,000 a year.
"Our history is important to us," continues Stephen. "We are active supporters of the local community and they support us. But we also know we cannot rest on our laurels. The move to Gulf is the latest step to improve our offering. It will benefit customers at the pumps, as will the Certas Energy/Suresite card platform which will be more efficient and still allow us to accept Shell cards."
The store hasn’t up till now had a symbol brand, but is just about to take some supply from Londis which, by coincidence is recommended by Gulf.
"I think the symbol operators are more flexible now they used to want to take you over, and not want us to use local suppliers. But, for instance, we have a lovely local bakery. The bread is very well regarded, customers come specially to buy it, and we also make the sandwiches out of it, which we promote as the best in Wales and generate a turnover exceeding £100,000 a year.
"As forecourt operators we are always looking for new opportunities and daily sandwich making was one. New revenue streams help to protect our livelihoods and those of our staff, who are the jewel in the crown and we cannot speak highly enough of them." Continuing in the family tradition, the staff now includes daughter Rebecca (known as Becky).
"Tanerdy is feeling optimistic about the future and the switch to Gulf," says Stephen. "It’s time to return to a two-way working partnership where we face the challenges together and reap the rewards together."