Dealer groups are now signing to the Gulf brand in significant numbers according to Ramsay MacDonald, retail director of Certas Energy (formerly known as GB Oils). The signings mean that the company will start the New Year 53 million litres stronger as a result.
He says recent successes, including a major two-part deal with the Co-op and a high-volume site in Wales that has been with Shell since 1928 will increase the Gulf network by 18 sites, mainly in the Midlands and North of England. Average fuel volume of the Gulf network has also risen from 1.8 to 2.5 million liltres a year.
"We’re now coming up to about 400 Gulf dealers compared to 180 two years ago, so we’ve more than doubled the numbers. Longer term our target is to have a network of 600 dealers. We want to expand across the whole country and can certainly handle that in terms of supply logistics. I think we are unique in being the only company that can genuinely take anyone on, anywhere in the country. We have about 250 depots nationwide, and about 1,000 trucks of all shapes and sizes under our control, with our own workforce.
"We are also competitive because we’re not wedded to any single strand of supply chain. We have contracts in place but are never more than 22% exposed to any one source."
Certas Energy currently supplies around 23% of the UK’s independent filling stations including 140 Pace-branded sites although it was not until the acquisition two years ago of the Total dealer business in the UK, that the company’s credentials and ambition became generally recognised.
When MacDonald took on his role two years ago, he shared his vision and ambitious plans, many of which he says have now been achieved, including a name change from GB Oils to Certas Energy, which he claims has been well-received.
"We were the new kids on the block and understandably at first there was a degree of caution among some of the major independent groups to conclude supply arrangements with a new player. They wanted to see at first hand that we really did mean business, both as a champion of the independent and as a committed long-term partner. By our actions, our investment in infrastructure and people who I believe to be some of the best and most qualified in the industry we continue to make headway. We are not an ’oil company’ and never will be.
"Our big point of difference is that we have the staff on the ground who have a very strong brief to resolve customer issues. They’ve got the resources to make a decision there and then. Everyone within the organisation is at the end of a phone. They don’t switch off at 5pm and leave things until Monday. Improved infrastructure means we respond quickly to dealers and in person, not from a call centre in Manila."
Two years ago MacDonald said he wanted to be a top four player with the best service levels in the industry: "By our actions, and the response of dealers and groups, who are coming over to us in significant numbers, we are heading in the right direction and will continue with more of the same throughout 2014. Our re-sign levels are also above 95% and our conversions of Total dealers to the Gulf brand are on track and are about to hit the 100 mark with more pledges to convert this year."
However, one obstacle to signing to Gulf is combating the fear of losing the perceived benefit of a major brand, according to MacDonald. "How much does the brand really matter to the end user/consumer? I think possibly dealers have a bigger hang-up about those things than motorists do. The Gulf brand is well-established with a strong heritage."
Recent converts previously supplied by Shell, Esso and BP cite the company’s partnership approach, flexibility, transparency and people as just as important as the Gulf brand, according to MacDonald.
"Dealers of all sizes are recognising the value of working with a dealer-focused organisation that knows its future success is dependent upon theirs. People and relationships can never be understated and deals are invariably done because of the personalities involved and the trust that exists.
"I am extremely proud of the people in our organisation and sincerely believe that the quality, temperament and experience of our staff does set us apart from the competition.
"We empower people to make decisions, cutting out layers to achieve quick responses and with no hidden agendas. Dealers appreciate this way of doing business and tell us that it’s a breath of fresh air."
While totally focused on building its dealer network, last year the company purchased the former Top 50 Indie Calanike in central Scotland when it went into receivership. These sites have now been refurbished and rebranded to Gulf.
"Five were recently put back into the hands of independents with another four to follow in the next couple of months," explains MacDonald.
"We’re giving a helping hand to several start-up businesses by selling or leasing the sites to new dealers in the market place; personalities that we are sure will build very successful dealer operations over time."
However, the company-owned operation also provides Certas with the tools to test-market anything from forecourt promotions and back-office systems to re-lined storage tanks before they are rolled out to the dealer network. "As well as ensuring that we can speak to dealers from a position of experience on running forecourts, it demonstrates to them a more committed involvement as a petrol retailing operation in the UK," stresses MacDonald.
"The Gulf brand has a strong history in the Scottish Central belt and Certas has an infrastructure that makes it a strategically good fit. With that in mind we have, in the past two weeks, concluded a deal to acquire 13 sites divested by Shell in this area."
MacDonald stresses that retail business continues to be challenging and that everyone must continue to look at the nuts and bolts of their business, but at the same time invest in new opportunities, particularly in convenience stores, hence the recent link with Londis. "And dealers should not be afraid to consider a move to Gulf. "We’ve proven ourselves, and renewing with a big brand just because it’s the devil you know is not a good option."
certas energy highlights
Fuel cards: The roll-out of the new card platform continues apace; 400 filling stations in five months have so far received the new GemPAY/Suresite system. It claims to be faster, compliant and more secure, and with the ability to take the Shell Fuel card, it opens up new volume opportunities for all Certas-supplied dealers. Discussions relating to other cards are ongoing and Certas Energy is hoping for a positive outcome very soon.
PRA: Certas Energy provides all new Gulf dealers with free PRA membership, encourages dealers to support the PRA’s lobbying of government, and in 2013 sponsored and participated in a series of dealer roadshows around the country. "Our support is recognised and welcomed by PRA chairman Brian Madderson and his team," says MacDonald. "We’re willing to stand alongside the PRA to champion some of the causes it has been fighting. We want to have a vibrant dealer sector that’s our raison d’etre. With Brian at the helm, we’re happy to get involved with the debate."
Londis: Certas Energy recently announced a preferred supplier arrangement with Londis that will provide Certas-supplied filling stations with a fast track to Londis for expert business advice and consultancy.
Network: The Gulf network has doubled in the past two years to 400 sites (from 180). Recent conversions to the brand include: Co-op total volume 36.7 million litres; Garston Way, Liverpool 3.7mlpa from Esso; A16, Lincolnshire 8mlpa from Total; Tanerdy, Carmathen 6mlpa from Shell; St Merryn, Exeter 1.8mlpa from Esso; and Meredith, Ipswich 2.2mlpa from BP.