The Gulf brand recently achieved another landmark, reaching 500 sites mark in Britain with its Scottish market heading towards 100 forecourts strong (93 is the figure). Stretching from the Borders to the Isles, it’s now the only truly national fuel brand in Scotland.
2015 was another positive year for the Gulf brand, according to Certas Energy’s Retail Director Ramsay MacDonald, who admits to being hugely ambitious, and spending every waking hour thinking about how the brand can enhance its position in the marketplace.
“The average Gulf dealer volume is now 1.6m litres – up from 1.3m, with average new conversions coming in at 2.5mlpa. During 2015 we also strengthened our Scottish company owned network by adding two former Co-op sites in Nairn and Forfar.”
Certas Energy also converted seven of its central belt sites from Shell to the Gulf brand taking its own network of forecourts to 25, 18 of these under the Gulf brand. Average company owned volumes (including those formerly Shell branded) have risen from 3mlpa to 3.4mlpa and Gulf is now a top three forecourt brand in Scotland.
Having a cluster of company owned sites is really helping the business in terms of learnings, according to MacDonald. Shop expertise is achieved by working with more than one of the leading symbol groups. Certas Energy has long term links with Londis, introduced Spar (CJ Lang & Son Ltd) on its Co-op sites and recently added a couple of Bestway stores with notable successes.
“We also understand how the credit card system works and the machinery that’s involved,” continues MacDonald. “We know about deliveries; how important it is to keep your site constantly stocked. We know about the things dealers should find an improvement in when they move to Gulf compared with their previous supplier, and we work damn hard to make sure that’s the case. Our credit card package, for example, is great. Other people say theirs is competitive but we know ours is better. And in terms of fuel cards, I don’t think anyone knows more about the fuel cards market than us.”
MacDonald believes the Gulf brand is now able to compete directly with the ‘big three’ for quality sites, large groups, market share and so on. Through its Scottish company owned network it has worked with all the major brands – BP, Esso, Shell, Texaco – which has provided an interesting insight.
He is pleased to mention, for example, that year-on-year, the company’s seven Shell sites that have moved to Gulf have shown a 17% uplift. He also believes the company’s Endurance premium fuel grades make Gulf a credible fuel brand, which can provide a huge boost to retailer coffers that other fuel suppliers can’t.
“That supergrade, although it may be only four, five or six per cent of your fuel sales, in terms of your cash margin – because of the pricing differential – it can account for 20% of your fuels gross profit,” explains MacDonald. “In the two Co-op sites that we took over in October, the supergrades have been doing 10,000 litres a week. That will get them an extra £30k a year.”
“2016 is about ensuring that our dealers are profitable and working alongside them to improve the value of their assets. We shall continue to use our economies of size to force down costs and enhance retailer services whilst also continuing our drive to raise the Gulf brand’s profile and site operating standards.”
On the back of the successful ‘VIP trip to Le Mans’ and ‘Win a Mini Cooper’ fuel promotions which were rolled out nationally, the latest promotion, ‘Fuel your way to the USA’ has been enhanced by involving Certas Energy domestic customers.
“We emailed about half a million of our domestic customers; and had about 10,000 entrants on the website,” enthuses MacDonald. “Along with traditional advertising we see great value in internal promotions to domestic and commercial customers; using the leverage of the group to impact on the B2C and B2B markets. If we can continue to get the dealers to support these types of promotions, it gives us the ability to go even further.
“After all, we don’t have the kind of money the major oil companies have to advertise on TV and raise the profile overnight, but we’re trying to develop that Gulf loyalty with drivers and end-users to make it a more compelling brand for dealers to swap to.”
MacDonald sees the promotions as a critical touchpoint for Gulf service station staff to be able to engage with their customers, something Certas Energy has learned from operating its company owned sites. “Having a frequent programme of ‘what’s new at the Gulf site’ is absolutely critical,” he stresses. “The role of sales assistants is vital in this – I feel passionate about them, it’s such a difficult job. But these people can make or reinforce a business, or potentially break it if they’re not onside. Promotions can help drive volumes, and by being able to say ‘this is something new’, that’s a hugely positive move, compared with being just locked into the traditional loyalty card programmes.”
“We offer local awards for the site that has liveried the best for the promotion, and so on, to try and inject a bit more fun into it, and get dealers to engage more with the staff at the sharp end.”
“Our message to dealers in 2016 is that we shall continue to strengthen the Gulf brand, drive down costs and work in an open, honest and transparent way that goes right across every aspect of customer service. We pride ourselves on our knowledge of the dealer market and the quality of our sales force; committed, approachable and empowered.
Our over-riding message to retailers is: talk to us in 2016.”
Ramsay MacDonald, Retail Director, Certas Energy says;
“There are a number of ways that Certas Energy is able to support a dealer to re invest in their business.
“Typically, we will build investment monies into the deal or introduce the dealer to our preferred equipment suppliers where they have the opportunity to buy at discounted prices. With more than 500 Gulf branded forecourts across the UK, Certas Energy has established competitive pricing arrangements with many suppliers and we make sure that these are available to our dealers.
“For those dealers who prefer to manage their own financing we have a good working relationship with Henry Howard Finance, specialist providers for independent forecourt operators. They understand petrol retailing and are often much more innovative than the high street banks in the way that they can structure loans.
“Now is the time to consider further investment, particularly if your site is not optimising its potential. At Certas Energy we actively encourage our Gulf dealers to invest in their facilities to hold onto their existing customers and attract new ones. The harsh reality is that whilst you are pontificating, your competitors are probably improving their facilities.”