Linton Fuel Oils – by royal appointment

Linton Fuel Oils directors

Russell Mortimer, Neil Flynn, David Flynn and Peter Gower from Linton Fuel Oils

As the nation celebrates the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, across the city another London institution is marking its own special anniversary. Founded in 1972 by David Flynn and Roy Panton, Linton Fuel Oils celebrates its 40th anniversary this month.

 Liz Boardman visited the company’s Wandsworth head office recently to find out more about the firm, its royal connection, recent rebranding, and the trials and tribulations of operating in the heart of the city.

Generation game

Forty years on, Linton remains a family owned and run business.

Co-founders and directors David Flynn and Roy Panton both have less active roles in the day to day running of the business, but are still very focused and offer their wealth of experience in supporting the new generation of directors. David’s son Neil and Roy’s son Stephen head up the sales and transport divisions respectively. Roy’s other son Dean, whilst not directly involved in the business, is also a director and board member. Stephen’s wife, Caroline Panton is domestic fuels co-ordinator and Roy’s wife Marilyn controls the purchase ledger, making it a real family affair.

Across the business, Linton currently employs 85 staff (including 35 drivers), many of whom have been with the firm since the outset: “Staff turnover is low,” said marketing manager, Russell Mortimer. “We’ve restructured the business over the past three years and our operating platform is now the best it’s ever been.”

As part of the restructure, Peter Gower joined the company in 2011 as general manager. Formerly of Prax Petroleum and Petroplus, Peter has more than 30 years experience in the industry and is responsible for the administrative side of the business.

Capital investment

Based in the capital, Linton distributes 140 million litres of fuel each year across central London and the Home Counties. In addition to the London head office, the company operates from other locations: Nustar’s terminal at Grays, Essex, and Esso’s terminal at Heathrow. Linton has just completed the first phase of re-structuring its lubricants based depot near Tiverton by installing fuel storage tanks. This will provide local homes, farms and businesses the opportunity to experience the reliable and efficient service the company has proudly offered for forty years in the south east.

As Castrol’s Channel partner for the South of England, Linton supplies a full and comprehensive range of lubricants from East Anglia to Cornwall, and stores more than 100,000 litres at its Wandsworth and Tiverton depots. The company also offers its own brand, Linton Lubricants, (formerly known as MICA lubricants) for customers for whom OEM recommendations are less important and for those who wish to promote their own brand. Linton has an established relationship with Fuchs, completing the lubricants offer for all of its sectors. Supporting the division through, key account management, telesales and marketing is an office in Swindon, central to both depots.

Although ideally located to serve its key sectors (commercial, industrial, domestic and agricultural), operating in central London, certainly has its pitfalls, as Neil Flynn explained: “Driving in central London is difficult at the best of times but for tanker drivers it’s especially demanding! Some of the buildings to which we deliver have been there for many years, but in more recent times, access has changed and bus lanes have been added, limiting the amount of flexible delivery times we used to enjoy.”

The London Low Emission Zone (LEZ) is also a major consideration. Peter Gower told FON: “As we are located inside the zone it’s vital that our fleet of 37 tankers and 7 lubricant vehicles is both compliant and regularly updated. If a vehicle is non compliant there’s a fine of £200 a day just to enter the zone. It’s very expensive to operate in London.”

The company has recently been awarded Freight Operator Recognition Scheme silver level membership, which although is not essential, is becoming increasingly important for freight operators in London.

Game plan

With the Olympics and Paralympics fast approaching, there’s no denying that from a logistics point of view, it’s a complete nightmare for companies like Linton. In preparation for the games, Steve Panton and transport manager, Graham Binstead recently attended one of Transport for London’s seminars, outlining its strategy for the six-week period. “During the games many of the streets will be closed and carriageways will be reduced to a single lane. There are also restrictions in place at certain hours on designated roads. As a result of this we’ll either have to re-think our routes or apply for access, both of which will considerably increase our costs,” remarked Neil. “We are preparing contingency plans which may result in changing shift patterns for some of our drivers. Whilst enjoying the Olympic Games in our city we still have to cater for the needs of our customers.”

Linton Fuel Oils tanker

A newly liveried vehicle at the Wandsworth head office

Royal seal of approval

Being located in London does also have it advantages, particularly when you have some high profile customers on your books. Linton has supplied fuels to royal properties for many years and has just received the royal warrant for a second period of five years. “We’re extremely proud,” said David Flynn. “The warrant reflects the high level of service we deliver and we’re especially honoured to appear in the Queen’s Jubilee programme this year.”

Fresh approach

The company has recently undertaken a major rebranding exercise and is extremely pleased with the results. “We changed our brand identity eight years ago and whilst it was innovative at the time, we felt that we needed to freshen it up and modernise it again,” explains Russell. “We were conscious that we wanted to evolve what we already had rather than totally reinvent. It’s not a complete change but more of a shift in direction. We’ve also updated our website and plan to offer customers the ability to manage their accounts and order oil online.”

The new colourful branding can also be seen on many of the company’s new tankers. “It’s a steady process,” said Peter. “We can’t take all our trucks off the road at the same time but we’re working our way through the fleet and hope to complete rebranding by the end of summer.”

Ten years on

In an article written ten years ago by FON’s editor Jane Hughes, it stated: “In ten years time, Linton will be a profitable company, populated by well-motivated staff, paid above the industry norm who have high self-esteem and self respect.”

Peter commented: “This is what has happened. We’re a forward thinking company and aim to be industry leaders. We have pride and passion in what we do. We aim to give our customers excellent service, great products and overall, real value. We’ve already achieved a great deal of what we set out to do. Linton is a one stop shop and can provide everything that our customers require. We work in a demanding industry, one which expects a very high level of service and performance, but we can deliver and do so on a daily basis.”

Neil echoed this: “Every day brings a different challenge and rarely are two days the same, but we’re fortunate that we deal with a broad spectrum of customers spanning many market sectors, so whatever the conditions are in the marketplace, we have a very stable and consistent level of sales.

“With many global factors affecting the daily price of oil it is important we have a continuous stream of market data to assist in making key purchasing decisions. The economic downturn has seen a strain on consumer budgets, which in turn has made them more adept in their buying. Maintaining acceptable margins to ensure retained levels of profitability is essential to our future growth.”

Linton will be celebrating its ruby anniversary at a company golf day later this month and also plans an event in Wandsworth over the summer. Here’s to the next ten years…..

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