The glorious Powerscourt Hotel in Wicklow, Ireland, was the setting for last month’s biennial Jet conference, which brought together retailers, wholesalers and senior Phillips 66 executives including Brian Mandell, president, global marketing in an informal setting. The event is all about relationship building, sharing news, ideas and feedback.

Retailers were treated to first-class hospitality, including evening events which featured a heart-warming speech by Nicholas Hamilton, Jet’s brand ambassador and brother to F1 star Lewis; and the presentation of awards for the company’s Proud to be Jet standards and service scheme the overall winners were Subi and Labhu Vadher from Mayfield Service Station, Ilford.

It was a first for Mary Wolf, who is just a year into her role as managing director of Phillips 66 UK & Ireland marketing. "It’s a big expense for us, but it’s well worth it, and something we need to continue," she says. "To us it’s invaluable to have that interaction and time with people. You hear so much from everybody, and it gives them a chance to open up and talk about something that’s been on their mind. It’s so important not only for Phillips 66 to see our customers, but there’s also a lot of value in bringing our customers together to talk and share their thoughts with each other; to give them the space to learn about about what we’re doing, to ask us questions, and to be able to learn from their peers.

"It’s also about listening to the good and the bad. We mustn’t be afraid to hear where we’re not doing so well, otherwise we won’t improve."

The theme for this year’s conference ’20/20 Vision, growing together’ provided the platform to deliver some key messages, chiefly the Jet brand is here to stay and grow, and the growth will come by looking beyond the Humber Refinery, according to Wolf.

"We are supplied by the most sophisticated refinery in the UK Humber and we’re very proud of it. But we need to look beyond it to increase supply reliability," she stresses. "We’re working on investing in our infrastructure and improving our access to market.

"Humber is central to us it is the backbone and a great supply partnership but it was such a large focus, it was probably limiting us. We can access barrels from all over the world through our commercial group in London just as well as any other importer.

"We’re already doing it because right now we sell more diesel than Humber makes. This new development is complementary to Humber and helps the supply reliability of our existing position, because there are times when Humber’s down, such as for maintenance. It also enables us to further grow our business."

The focus on growth and competitiveness has prompted Wolf to introduce an internal reorganisation, effective from January 2017.

"We’re realigning into wholesale and retail, instead of national and regional. That means taking staff from our front office and reallocating them to serve the business. We’re adding resources around our pricing and demand group, which will help us better inform and empower our sales staff. They can have better discussions with their customers and improve that relationship. It’s not a cost-cutting exercise to reduce headcount, more of a reshuffle.

"We’re taking a little bit of the nuts and bolts work back into Warwick and feeding that information with more rigour around our analysis hopefully empowering the tools the sales force needs to talk to the customers.

"Instead of having to do the work themselves, there’ll be a consistent message about the price of the market, centrally communicated, via our commercial organisation in London. They’ll have a really good understanding of the market, how it is moving every day, so they can make the right decisions with their customers. It also enables sales staff to spend less time in the office and more time out in the field."

Wolf says the transition will be undertaken with the minimum of disruption to customers retailers will only notice if their sales person changes.

Another key focus at the conference was about regarding customers as business partners: "We’re changing our offering, spending a lot of focus and time showing our customers all the different services we can offer, all the different relationships we have and all the different ways we can help contribute to them having a better business. Because if they have a better business, we have a better business.

"We want to have better partnerships we’re listening to our customers, getting their feedback, getting their ideas, and trying to work with them. There are a lot of other variables to work with to help them improve their business, and that’s where we want to focus."

One of the manifestations of this was the launch of a brochure highlighting all the various services offered by Jet, in conjunction with other suppliers including Astley Signs, Eurotank, EWA, Spar, Suresite, TLM, Tokheim and UK Fuels who featured in a small exhibition alongside the conference. With the cover line ’Maximising growth’, the brochure highlights services focusing on site appearance and maintenance, tank services, a convenience offer with Spar, shopfitting and food to go.

"Our Snack on the go format where we’ve teamed up with Expresso Plus and Country Choice is really neat," enthuses Wolf. "It’s a modular concept, but it’s not a one size fits all. It can be modified to suit individual retailers."

Other areas of development which help retailers include the introduction of the My Phillips 66 app which simplifies invoice processing, eliminating errors and back-office work. "Not everyone is comfortable with technology straight away," says Wolf. "But once people see the My Phillips 66 app and are able to use it, we get a lot of uptake.

"We’re improving our supply chain position, working through technology, and on our retail services offering, to bring the strength of our relationships to our customers. And that’s another advantage of a dealer gathering because we can demonstrate to customers such things as new technology. It helps to have someone personally guide you through it.

"Some people are really interested in technology and love to see the latest and greatest. Once you get those early adopters and they’re in a forum like this, they start talking about it and it sparks an interest in those that are not so comfortable with it. Once you can get to that critical mass where people understand, use it and start benefiting from it you’re there! It makes the next wave easier."

While much of the talk is about growth, the target of growing the network to 400 sites by 2018 has been relaxed.

"In the past year we have shifted our focus," explains Wolf. "I still think we can achieve 400 dealer sites we currently have 332 but what’s important to us is to do it in the right way. Not every site is a good site, and we’re not signing just anyone to get to 400 sites a number is not the metric we’re using.

"We need to ensure we have a quality brand and a competitive offering, and the numbers will come because of it. We want a network that everyone is proud to be a part of. I’d rather have 200 quality sites than 400 not-so-good ones."