Fuelling investment

The company’s new Carlisle depot – commissioned in October 2012

The company’s new Carlisle depot – commissioned in October 2012

When Carrs Billington Agriculture (Sales) Oil Division bought Wallace Oils in 2005, Derek Wallace said that he would stay with the business for three years. Eight years on, he is still there and at 67, has no intention of retiring – just yet

Liz Boardman went to meet Derek at the company’s new Carlisle depot to find out more about the growing group of companies

 From small beginnings

Having set up Wallace Oils in 1982 from his living room, former boiler engineer, electrician and Currie Fuels sales representative, Derek, gradually built up the business, buying trucks and eventually a depot in Carlisle in 1989.

Now wholly owned by Carrs Billington Agriculture (Sales) Oil Division, Wallace Oils sits alongside sister companies Johnstone Wallace and Carrs Billington Fuels. Although at the moment the companies still operate under three separate names, the plan no doubt, at some time in the future is to bring them all under the Carrs Billington Fuels branding in the future.

With five depots in the north of England (Carlisle, Lancaster, Hexham, Cockermouth and Langwathby) and three in Scotland (Dumfries, Castle Douglas and Stranraer), Carrs Billington supplies circa 100 million litres of fuel and a substantial amount of lubricants each year. Each depot operates in a 30-40 mile radius, giving the division excellent coverage in Cumbria, Northumberland, Lancashire and south west Scotland.

A rural landscape

The division does a huge amount of business in the agricultural sector. “We operate in an extremely rural area. Over the summer 40% of our business is gasoil to farmers. Our parent company, Carrs Billington has a very strong presence in the sector, selling feed and other agricultural supplies.” On the flip side, over winter, 60% of our work is in domestic heating oil.”

A keen supporter of the area’s agricultural shows, Carrs Billington has attended the Cumberland Show under the Wallace Oils banner for the last 30 years. This year is no exception, as Derek explained: “It’s a form of local advertising for us – it’s all about having a presence and offering our customers a cup of tea and a bun. We like to spend a bit of money and encourage customers to visit us with their families – it’s nice for them to see that we value their custom. We do also take orders and get some new business each year.”

Loyalty pays

With community buying still very much a hot topic, Liz asked Derek if it was prevalent in the area and whether the company supplied any buying groups.

“There are lots of buying groups in our area,” said Derek. “It’s a fact of life – we either have to work with them or lose orders. Hexham has three on its books and in Carlisle there is a similar number and is growing. On the whole we have a good rapport with them and the majority of them are village based. I can understand the thinking behind it. I don’t want to be high handed – it’s a numbers game, we’ve had to encompass it in our business. We pride ourselves on giving a good service and particularly with the buying groups and this has definitely worked in our favour.

“The downside is that if buying groups chop and change between distributors, then they don’t get our loyalty. Why should they? It works both ways. If a good, loyal customer requires an emergency delivery, they get it. I often get calls on a Sunday; I had to build the business like this. My business card has all of my numbers on – I don’t get abused and would always rather people called if they are struggling. We also have an emergency line where there’s always someone on hand to help. We are open from 7am until 5.30 during the week and Saturday mornings.“

IFC has supplied skids at all of Carrs Billington’s newly upgraded depots

IFC has supplied skids at all of Carrs Billington’s newly upgraded depots

A boom in business

Thanks in part to the recent cold weather, Derek reports that business is very good. When FON visited the Carlisle depot just before Easter, Derek said that staff would be working right through the bank holiday: “It’s been busier than it was over Christmas. The dreadful weather is extending the season. This time last year it was 20ºC and we didn’t do anywhere near as much business. At the moment we’re easily delivering twice the quantity.”

Further proof that Carrs Billington is doing well is the significant investment in its facilities. As part of on an ongoing programme of refurbishment across the division, a new Carlisle depot was commissioned last October. “We needed a new depot as we had outgrown the old premises,” explained Derek. The new depot was built for purpose and features a brand new bottom loading skid from IFC and tanks from Koronka, giving approximately 500,000 litres of storage. “The location is spot on,” said Derek. “The Carlisle bypass and the M6 are both just 5 minutes away and the Ineos terminal at Dalston, where product comes in by rail, is also close by.”

Across the company, three depots have been upgraded in as many years. Cockermouth has a brand new facility, inside a Carrs Billington retail outlet and Hexham’s depot is only two years old.

Across the border, Johnstone Wallace’s Dumfries depot has had a major refit, whilst its Stranraer and Castle Douglas depots are also being upgraded.

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