Jet dealers were welcomed in glamorous Cannes last month to one of the regular gatherings held by Phillips 66, which enabled the company’s staff (including its senior executives) to network in an informal setting with its retail and wholesale customers.

There’s been a lot of change since the last customer conference 18 months ago in Ireland much of it painful, following the closure of the company’s marketing office in Warwick, and the loss of a large majority of the existing workforce.

This ’re-positioning’ was essential, according to Mary Wolf, managing director of UK marketing for Phillips 66: "There was a realisation that we needed to do something for the business, UK-wide, as we weren’t as efficient as we needed to be in this economic climate," she says. "We had three offices at Humber Refinery, the marketing business in Warwick and our commercial office in London, each with their own IT and finance departments, for example. We saw 60% of the Warwick staff unable to relocate to either London or Humber. It was a really difficult time, and one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It was a hard thing for the group, but it was the right thing."

What it means is that half the company’s staff are new and still learning the ropes, but the primary sales staff hasn’t changed for most of the customer base, according to Wolf.

"Relationships are key and we wanted to preserve that as much as we possibly could," she stresses. "We’ve had a lot of change in the secondary line such as the sales support and the account co-ordinators. We’ve consolidated our customer support group and put in place a senior manager to focus on supporting our dealers, and we’ve also kept some key anchor people throughout the organisation bringing that customer knowledge, experience, heritage of the brand, and culture we’ve worked so hard to establish, as well as the ethos of customer service that is so important. There are real pockets of strength in terms of people helping with the transition.

"I would also like to express my utmost gratitude to the people that left. It was so important for them to share their expertise with the new people, because they wanted us to succeed. And we wanted them to succeed in their new endeavour so we did as much as we could to help them. It was scary some had been here for 25 years since university."

The Warwick office was closed at the end of 2017 and in January the team made a new start in London. However, while all this has been going on, dealers have felt a certain amount of frustration at the lack of progress over particular issues that concern them. And while it was great to see US-based Pam McGinnis, the company’s president, global marketing, make the journey to the south of France to present an overview of the global energy landscape and insight into the company’s values and strategy, retailers were hoping for something more concrete on dealer-focused initiatives.

Wolf takes an honest approach: "We did deliberately take a pause when we were doing our repositioning, because our focus had to be so much on people, and making sure we got through that transition as well as we could. We knew that our retail business manager Guy Pulham would be leaving and we were bringing in a new retail business manager, Soenke Voges, whose role is to strengthen the brand and drive further growth across the UK network.

"We knew we would be making a lot of key decisions about re-imaging, cross-card acceptance, premium fuels and so on. We were very deliberate with the choice of Soenke and got tremendous co-operation from our company in Germany which runs circa 700 company-owned sites for them to give us one of their best people. He has a retail background. He ran stores with the number one brand in Germany. He understands what makes a difference. So bringing that kind of expertise in invigorates the staff, helps re-educate our sales force, and we can bring something different to the dealers that they haven’t seen from us before, that should help their bottom line."

Wolf stresses that this year is all about starting to execute the areas where the company need to work on the brand. Plans are underway to refresh the image; make better use of new technology; and for a new marketing campaign to reinforce the message to consumers about the Jet brand, as well as a re-focus on its premium fuels. She is well aware that the oil majors are starting to tread on Jet’s territory, approaching smaller retailers who are understandably tempted with the lure of a big brand.

"We still have around 330 dealers we haven’t really lost any ground. But our dealer community are looking at us and saying ’now what?’ It’s a tough market and we have a lot to do. The best way to improve our business is to help our dealers improve theirs. There will always be a place in the market for Jet. We’ve always been the value-for-money brand, and I think there’s still space for that. Our messages will be pretty simple and we won’t stray too far away from our fundamentals of ’clean, fast, friendly, safe and reliable’. That should be the expectation and an excellent experience every time you’re on a Jet forecourt."