Harnessing opportunities

Fuel Oil News last visited State Oil’s Weybridge offices in 2011 when the company had been in existence for just 10 years.  Six years later – with much having happened at this entrepreneurial company in recent times – a return visit was due.

To learn more about developments with this advancing group, which now includes the Harvest Energy brand alongside Prax Petroleum, editor Jane Hughes met with Stephen Rhodes, Sales Director, and Caelie Hawkins, Operations Director – who both joined the company earlier this year – and Ian Woodcock, Retail Director since March 2015.

“The group has moved on significantly in recent times through a combination of organic growth, acquisitions and geographical expansion, all underpinned by an experienced and enthusiastic team” explained Stephen.

Strengthening the team

Commercial Director, back in 2011, Don Camillo has now been appointed as Managing Director – UK, with responsibility for all UK activities.  Joining in March, Caelie Hawkins has been appointed as Operations Director to drive forward the Groups interests within the UK downstream supply chain.

“This is an exciting entrepreneurial company with great coverage across England, Scotland and Wales,” said Caelie who joined the Group from a banking background –  and having advised on the acquisition of Harvest Energy, knew the company well.

With responsibility for all operations and distribution activities in the UK, including the management and development of the recently acquired terminal assets at both Cardiff and Jarrow, Caelie is ably supported by Leesa Christopher who manages Customer Services and Asger Larsen who is responsible for logistics.

“We’ve rebranded and reintroduced the rail-fed Jarrow terminal to the market in the North of England which has been a very positive introduction for the region. Furthermore, our engineering team is currently overseeing a study to reintroduce the import jetty on the Tyne to enable us to accept product deliveries by vessel,” added Caelie.

Formerly with Mabanaft and Haltermann Carless, Stephen took over as Sales Director from Neil Robertson who retired at the end of July.  Joining in April to ensure a structured hand over, Stephen is now looking forward to driving the established wholesale business forward as well as leading the strategic development of the recently established Aviation and Fuel Card businesses.

Stephen arrived into the organisation at a good time with FPS EXPO taking place just after he joined. “The FPS EXPO provided me with an excellent opportunity to meet up with longstanding contacts and many old friends” said Stephen.

“It is great to have Dixie Patel back from maternity leave and a number of our sales team supporting on the stand at the FPS Expo. Dixie and the sales team have a great understanding of the distributor market in the UK and recognise the importance of building and developing strong relationships with customers” added Stephen.

Growing the UK business – assets, aviation, retail and fuel cards

“Post the Harvest acquisition this role is a great opportunity for me as it offers the challenge to grow the business through our own assets as well as developing new business from a wide network of product supply locations,” Stephen explained.

New for Stephen, is the aviation business originally set up by Harvest Energy to principally to supply AvGas to regional airfields.

“The business is in its infancy but we have a plan to grow and develop beyond the current commercial footprint.” added Stephen.

“A new fuel card sales business and dedicated sales team commenced in late 2016 and is located at our offices at the Jarrow Terminal. David Purvis – Commercial Manager, is responsible for the growth and development of this new venture that represents a natural extension to both our retail and commercial propositions. The Harvest Energy card sales are growing steadily week on week via the sales of product to customers using the Key Fuels and UK Fuels networks”.

“The integration of Prax and Harvest has been a real success story,” said Ian Woodcock who is the group’s Retail Director. Ian has many years of experience in the downstream fuel sector having joined Fina in 1984 and who was once a petrol pump attendant as a student.

“Whilst the Harvest Energy brand has a huge amount of prestige, having the Prax name behind it gives our customers confidence in the knowledge that we have ownership of the whole fuel journey almost from the well to the pump, giving us more overall control,” said Ian.

An agreement to carry the Total lubricants brand at Harvest Energy retail sites has also recently been completed.

Harvest Energy now has 103 sites stretching from Alnwick in the north to Redruth in the south.  Harvest also operate a number of unmanned sites under the brand ‘Breeze’

“This retail sector is hugely competitive ” said Ian. “Seeking to take the hassle out of running a fuel site, we listen to the dealers’ needs and react accordingly – some just want a no-frills service whilst for others they seek a turnkey operation looking after all aspects of maintenance, security of fuel and credit card processing.

“Non-oil income as an important driver of retail profitability and we have recently refitted all our company owned and operated sites under the Londis and NISA brands.   These brands are important to us as shoppers increase their frequency of shopping the sites must have credible fresh ranges as this is a fundamental part of the top-up basket concept.

Taking the brand forward

With State Oil having a very different audience and geography to the brands of Harvest Energy and Prax, the company is currently reviewing its entire brand portfolio with a view to appointing a new marketing agency as a key partner to develop this important requirement.

“We’re just embarking on the first steps of the appointment process and want to get this right as the new relationship will be embedded for the long-term,” explained Ian.

To help increase its dealer and customer presence, in June this year, Harvest Energy had a stand at the South of England show with fun, games and give-aways.

“With plenty of choice and competition out there in the retail market, we have to be constantly listening to and talking to our customers as well as our customers- customers to ensure we are meeting their demands.” added Ian.

International developments

With interests in trading and mid and downstream activities, the group’s head office is located in Weybridge, Surrey. It also has an office situated in Marble Arch, at the heart of London. The group has established trading offices in Zug, Geneva; Houston and Singapore. It also has branch offices in Albania, Belgium, Brazil, China, India, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria.

“As the oil majors step away from downstream, markets are increasingly opening up internationally providing opportunities for independent companies like ours,” said Stephen.

“These are interesting times affording us the ability to create a portfolio with a breadth of coverage.  As the oil majors continue to divest, plus the availability of capital from the finance markets, the environment is constructive for organisations that can deliver sustainable returns.  Being flexible and having the ability to make decisions quickly, State Oil is extremely well positioned to harness such opportunities.”

Inspiring the future

“We’re now a global company that’s growing and in the spotlight,” said Ian.

The company retains its appetite for expansion both domestically and internationally and this will be achieved through organic growth and acquisitions.

“Open-minded and in a very acquisitive phase, we’d be pleased to talk to people about opportunities” said Caelie.

“As the group expands there will be opportunities for employees to broaden their experience. With Europe and the UK being mature markets the Group will continue to develop towards an international focus in the growing global economies.  Having representation and assets in different regions and sectors chain helps better manage risk and profitability.

We are here to listen, we’re approachable, we understand the business and we will continue to evolve” added Stephen.

Cover image for Fuel Oil News, October 2017 - Harvest petrol forecourt at night