Retailers are signing up to Shell in the UK because of the growing strength of the brand, which follows the company’s aspiration to be the number one global fuel retailer, according to David Moss, Shell UK’s general manager, retail.

Addressing a large audience of dealers at the company’s annual conference at the Celtic Manor Hotel in Newport, South Wales, last month, Moss said: "You didn’t sign up to Shell just because of the cost price, or the fuel (2015 was a record year for V-power), or the food you signed because of the total package. You signed because of what we’re going to do in the future. We’re an innovative organisation. It’s not about the past, it’s not about today, it’s about tomorrow."

With safety a key message "a safe business is a good business" Moss also stressed that dealers needed to be committed to all elements of the programmes driving the Shell retail business, referred to throughout the day’s various presentations as the ’five fs’ fuel, food, fones, friendliness and facilities. These have been determined following feedback from the company’s Tell Shell programme which receives around 20,000 hits a month in terms of customer feedback.

"Dealers can’t just focus on one or two of those elements, but all of them together," says Moss following the conference. "There’s no point being a little part of Shell... We’re spending a fortune improving Shell. We can’t be complacent, we have to continually innovate. If we get the customer offer right, the dealer will realise they have a good proposition because Shell is putting money into getting customers onto their forecourt. That’s where we’re putting our effort and it seems to be working.

"There are some things we won’t compromise on. If it’s an unsafe site it won’t be a Shell site even though it may be the most profitable dealer operation in the country.

"People join a brand for a reason. If you’re a Shell dealer you’ll say I like Shell because of x, y, z. If you see another station with a Shell brand that is not meeting your expectations of x, y, z, you’re not going to be very happy. So there are standards we measure them through mystery shopper and other activities. If dealers are like-minded, we won’t have any issues. We don’t want to go back to the old days of dealers and ourselves using energy against each other, we want to work collaboratively in a partnership."

The emphasis on retail standards was reinforced three years ago by extending the ’People make the difference real’ programme which had previously focused on the company owned network to include dealers. Retailers are measured through mystery shopper and other activities. Winners are well rewarded this year it’s a glamorous trip to Tokyo, Japan where they will mix with around 6-700 other winning Shell retailers from around the world. This year’s five dealer winners included Top 50 Indie Stuart Giles and Lee Mohamed from the Golden Cross Group; RT & JM & JM Whilock; Stanshawe Service Station; S,S,S & S Patel; and the Laurels Service Station from Horncastle in Lincolnshire which was described as the ’best of the best’ and won an additional $10,000.

Last year saw the completion of operation ’strawberry’ which involved the sale of 185 company owned sites to seven dealer groups, leaving the company with around 460 dealers and 560 co-owned sites.

"We’re extraordinarily pleased with the way it worked out," says Moss. "The team did a fantastic job delivering that programme. Overall there were 400 changes to the network. Apart from the sites sold to dealers, we also took the opportunity to adjust the retail clusters we have on our company-owned estate. If, for example, two sites were sold from a cluster, we had to look at how best to repopulate that cluster for the retailer. So there was a bit of moving around to ensure we kept the best retailers."

Despite this considerable activity, Moss says the company broke records in terms of sales and financial performance, which enabled considerable re-investment into the retail operation.

"From a shareholder perspective irrespective of all that change it was a record-breaking year," stresses Moss. "I’m very pleased to be able to say that, simply because it demonstrates the growth and potential in the UK fuel market. That’s quite reassuring.

Shell’s focus for 2016 is to continue to drive standards and service across its network to produce the best forecourt experience for its end-user customers, particularly in terms of technology. Wifi will be added to all company owned sites in 2016, as a service for motorists, but it will also enhance the performance of Shell’s Fill up and Go payment facility, which is operated via beacons within each pump. Shell will also be the only forecourt brand to accept Apple Pay at the pump when Fill up and Go is enhanced in the summer.

All company owned sites have Fill up and Go, plus about 100 dealers. Moss is hopeful that it will be available on all forecourts within 18 months, and that dealers will see the benefits of investing in such technology: "We have to ensure the software that sits behind Fill up and Go works with all dealer forecourt systems, which requires investment by all parties. We’re working through that.

"Visa Europe tells us that by 2020 50% of payment will be via smartphones. That’s not very far away. So we, as a leading company want to be at the forefront of that. These things are innovative and exciting and they’re what customers want. In the UK the traditional pay-at-pump is not that well trusted by customers. Fill up and Go leapfrogs all the cumbersome machines, the paper, the PIN, the ’out of action’ all of that is gone. It really does feel quick."

Encouraging the use of mobile phones on the forecourt also brings with it the issue of safety. "We’ve been looking into this for some time, and we have to do an education job," explains Moss. "This is not about a mobile phone causing a spark maybe 30 years ago when phones were so much bigger. The issue is one of distraction. We don’t want people to multi-task while using a mobile phone.

"Our customer champions [Shell speak for sales assistants] won’t allow someone to fill up if they get out of the car using their phone. The training behind this is enormous. It’s very important that when one is being innovative and moving forward it is done safely."

In fact a new training offer is being made available to dealers via a retail training academy web portal or face to face at one of 12 training centres located across the UK and delivered by trainers or ’energisers’ responsible for different regions across the country. The training is part of the agreed supply agreement with dealers so comes at no extra cost.

"Our training plans are huge," explains Moss. "It’s not easy to get the fuels great or the food, the phones, the facilities it all requires money. We had 210 million transactions in 2015 on the company owned estate and it’s not easy for the customer champion to be nice to those people all the time. If we believe that the Shell experience is made up of these transactions, we better make sure that the people doing that are representing Shell in the way we want them to. The only way to do that is to treat them appropriately and to train them."

The training centres are service stations with offices or land at the back that have been converted. "We want the take-up to be 100%," stresses Moss. "And we don’t want the cost to be an inhibitor. Training is such an enabler. Service station staff are looking after such big assets, it is essential they are appropriately trained."

The PRA’s Brian Madderson was invited to give his feedback from dealers in a presentation on ’what’s hot and what’s not’. Top of dealer concerns was Shell’s future commitment to dealers what happens when the widely respected David Moss moves on: "Ultimately this is about the strategy of Shell and its retail business in the UK. While my team and I may formulate that strategy, we do have to get that approved by the board. The board have agreed that it’s a good strategy. Therefore whoever the leader or the team is, the company will follow that. Shell is a lot bigger than any one individual. The strategy is the thing that matters. Globally our goal is to be the best fuels retailer in the world, wherever we operate. To be the best for us is to be the best for our customers."