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Certas Energy continues to grow its Gulf network, both organically and through acquisition

As three-times winner of the Forecourt Trader Oil Company Initiative Award, Certas Energy has established a reputation for its innovations to help give some ‘Oomph’ to its independent dealers.

And yes that is a pun on its forecourt loyalty platform, which won the Oil Company Initiative Award in 2020. 

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Jenny Lockwood, Certas Energy head of Retail Dealer

In subsequent years it was the Gulf Dealer Rewards programme that led to its success at the Forecourt Trader Awards, followed by PricePro App and Dashboard initiative which won in 2022.

The Forecourt Trader Awards judging team felt that in a year when there’s never been so much focus on rising and volatile fuel prices, the tool that Gulf has given its independent retailers to help compete with the major players in the sector in one of the most important areas of the business appeared to be very welcomed by its Gulf dealers, to help drive up profitability. The company teamed up with Experian and My Automate to create the PricePro App and Dashboard, a service that provides high-quality pricing information to dealers, which they have described as an impressive and invaluable tool that could potentially save them tens of thousands of pounds.

“The situation that existed before we introduced PricePro was unacceptable,” explains Jenny Lockwood, Certas Energy head of Retail Dealer, who has more than 30 years of petrol retailing experience working in dealer operations. “It favoured the large groups, fuel companies and those with the clout. It was not a level playing field for smaller operators, so we have effectively made available much of the same pricing intel as used by the major players, available by phone or PC, with potential savings of up to £950 a week.

“Everything we are doing at Gulf Retail is designed to improve a dealer’s profitability, from Supershine, our exclusive car wash brand package to Foresite, our telemetry tool that helps highlight the key trends and opportunities in each store’s sales. Live trials of Foresite will track measures such as fuel-to-shop conversion rates, loyalty take-up and use-per-category, joint purchases like meal deals and much more. And by embedding loyalty data alongside sales data, it helps dealers set up our award-winning loyalty scheme, Oomph, in the way that works best for their businesses and priorities. It’s a unique resource and we can’t wait to see exactly what it can achieve in-store for our retailers.”

Driving forward all these exciting initiatives are the company’s area managers, are trained, equipped, and empowered to make prompt and effective decisions on behalf of their customers, according to Lockwood: “Their role as business consultants extends well beyond the traditional supplier retailer relationship. Dealers know that in challenging times, as well as in good times, Gulf is there for them and ready to place resources at their disposal to make life easier and their businesses more profitable. PricePro, a UK-first, was launched at a time of massive pump-price volatility and our tie-up with Energy Solutions an independent broker with access to the wholesale market, aimed to reduce utility costs at a time of unprecedented utility price increases. It was rolled out to the Gulf dealer network in the build up to Christmas. These time-critical initiatives are proving their worth and have been wholeheartedly welcomed.

“Soaring utility costs are a worry for us all and overpowering some business owners” explains Lockwood. “Our tie-up with Energy Solutions is still in its infancy but there are some very encouraging early results. One retailer has confirmed savings of 13% against their best renewal contract and will save £4.6k a year as a result. Another has saved 27% against their current terms, saving £11k per year. These are fantastic figures but just the start, and over the coming months we will be inviting all of our Gulf dealer network to review their current arrangements. In some cases, it will not necessarily reap rewards but for many, big savings are possible and if we can involve multiple sites in this new initiative, our position strengthens and will open even cheaper rates for Gulf stores.”

Certas Energy continues to grow its Gulf network, both organically and through acquisition and now includes 42 company-owned and 41 Fuel Express unmanned sites within its portfolio. Its technology-driven unmanned operation has benefitted from the proven and successful pan-European unmanned retail business developed by parent company, DCC. Further cross-divisional collaboration is actively encouraged.

“Gulf Retail is part of a huge muti national business that invests heavily in people, infrastructure and technology,” continues Lockwood,” and our belief is that our UK forecourt operation is best served if the various divisions work in tandem.

“We have created Roadside Services, pooling the talent, expertise and technical know-how that exists throughout our global business for the common good. We must ensure that knowledge and experiences that could benefit other areas of the business, do benefit other areas of the business, including petrol and convenience retailing. Roadside Services comprises Gulf Retail, Fuel Cards & Bunkering and SNAP.”

SNAP is described as an all-in-one smart-payment solution and Europe’s leading smart digital payment platform and marketplace for HGV fleets, drivers and service providers. Its account’s network includes over 300 HGV parking and washing locations in UK and Europe, utilising a unique licence plate-based platform that eliminates the need for HGV drivers to carry cash or cards and consolidates transactions across all sites and services on one single itemised invoice.

“We believe as part of Roadside Services, the backing of parent company DCC, and with our company owned estate and partnerships across the industry, we have a unique set of resources to enable a dealer to explore new opportunities now and in the future,” says Lockwood. “For us that means helping dealers maximise margins on current fuels, understand and invest in EV or alternative fuels, diversify, and optimise revenue streams, cut energy costs, and understand lease strategies where the current operating model may no longer be considered appropriate.

“Utilising our know-how and experiences within the wider group, we will partner dealers through the energy transition, providing the consultation, hardware, installation, and software solutions. We have created a new brand for e-mobility and energy transition, EVOLO, which will span across domestic, commercial, and roadside services. One of the key projects we have initiated is around E-Mobility and the building of a network of ‘on-the-road’ rapid-charge points to bring consumers and business users a complete solution. As our customers make the transition to electrification and more sustainable energy sources, we must be able to provide them with the full solution and guide them in making the right decisions at the right time. “

Lockwood sees supply problems and the cost of living as two of the most pressing challenges facing the industry: “The impact on consumer behaviour of higher interest rates and rising costs is already evident in pubs, restaurants and the High Street. The challenge for us as fuel and convenience retailers is to minimise the impact by being even more service-orientated, responsive and innovative in the way we operate our forecourts. The more relevant we can be within our communities the better we will fair.

“In terms of supply issues, from pharmaceuticals to fresh food produce, these are prevalent throughout Europe and our industry is no exception. It has been, and continues to be, a headache for all fuel suppliers and their customers. Where we are experiencing issues, we are doing everything possible to minimise disruption. Thankfully, Certas Energy has its own tanker fleet and drivers which means that we have been able to manage the situation better than others who rely on contractors but that is of little consolation to a business committed to provide service excellence at every level.

“In our industry there is rarely a passage of time without some turbulence and while we all have plenty to keep us awake at night in 2023, when balanced against the past three years, there is every reason to look forward with renewed enthusiasm.

“Buoyed by new technologies, the renaissance of the independent sector will continue although smaller sites with limited scope for development look more vulnerable than ever as higher interest rates, labour shortages and rising costs take grip. Within Certas Energy and Gulf Retail, we have every reason to be upbeat about our prospects in 2023 following a year in which more than 30 new dealers joined the Gulf network.

“Our relentless focus on dealers continues and we are further investing in people, technologies and services to drive down costs and drive-up the profits of every Gulf dealer. To differentiate ourselves from the competition, we strive to be smarter and more innovative and consider ourselves the number one choice for the independent. We take that as a responsibility and our three consecutive wins in the Oil Company Initiative of the Year at the Forecourt Trader Awards is proof that we can be judged by our actions, not just words.”

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Certas Energy’s Roadside Services Expo and Awards