Manx Petroleum – Fuelled with island spirit

Manx Petroleums Ltd has been serving the Isle of Man community for over 85 years.   A Shell distributor for 58 years, the major’s withdrawal from both the island and UK downstream has seen Manx Petroleum go through a period of transition leading to the creation of a new brand identity.  To learn more, Fuel Oil News visited the company at its Battery Pier depot in Douglas


The self-governing island has a population of 85,000. Chief executive, Jenny Clucas, who joined Manx Petroleum on 13th May 1974, said:  “We’ve been fulfilling the island’s fuel needs since 1926. We serve all aspects of the island’s community, all walks of business and home life.”
The distributor’s wide range of deliveries include Jet A1 to Ronaldsway Airport terminal, diesel to the island’s power station, gas oil to mega yachts, navy vessels and fishing boats, and to farms and construction. The majority of deliveries are to domestic customers who live in properties ranging from thatched cottages to modern new build properties and even a castle! There is a network of recently refurbished retail supply businesses and the company has just been awarded a two-year contract by the Isle of Man government for the supply of road diesel; a government keen to support the local economy via local businesses.
Most product arrives from Stanlow – a much easier crossing than Pembroke from where the depot was previously serviced. Fifteen shipments of between 3700 – 3900 tonnes each are received annually.   “Being on an island, we can’t just monitor the price and buy product daily when it’s advantageous,” explained general manager, David Kay, who has been with the company for over 30 years.   “We have to plan well in advance with refinery staff for the arrival of our replenishment stock which comes by sea tanker.  It takes 12 hours to fill the ship, 8 hours to sail across and 12 hours to discharge, so from planning to arrival, prices can change dramatically meaning there’s much more risk attached.”
Rebranding and moving forward  
The traditional Legs of Man symbol has always focused in the company’s branding.   “We didn’t want to forget our roots,” said Jenny “But we did want a modern forward-looking image.  We started the rebranding process four years ago – well before we were aware of Shell’s plans to exit downstream – relaunching into the domestic market in August 2008 to reinforce the Manx identity.  Two years ago we started getting vibes that Shell would be removing its forecourt presence on the island at which point we prepared to rebrand our retail operation.  Launched on 1st July 2010, we had 100% take up to supply the island’s eight independently owned retail sites together with our one owned site.   Finance manager, Judith Thomson, took care of the site’s financial management and risk information, together with transfer from Shell of the polling and card transaction payments.”
Newly branded tankers bearing the very modern red and white Legs of Man have been on the road since August.  The tanker fleet consists of 14 vehicles – 10 domestic and two commercial rigids plus two trailers.  The majority, built by Tasca Tankers, have a MAN chassis and Alpeco measuring equipment.
Promoting the new image is a very attractive brochure; copies of which were given to customers at the island’s summer agricultural show.  Designed in-house, it features photographs taken by a local photographic society and the depot supervisor, Malcolm MacDonald.
“The rebranding exercise has been a real morale boost for our 55 staff,” said Jenny.  “It’s been an excellent move.  We’re proud and positive having invested in our independent future in demanding economical times and, we’re very pleased that customers have welcomed the changes.  Although a family business with chairman, Simon Kirkpatrick, being the third generation, there’s often been a misconception that Manx Petroleum was part of Shell – people even used to call us about the size of our Shell profits!”
Depot maintenance
“Serving an island community, our business is built firmly on customer service,” said David.  “Tankers must be kept on the road and in good condition, so we have our own tanker maintenance workshop employing two full-time mechanics.”  Many spare parts are stocked with an overnight delivery available from the UK for other parts. Manx Petroleum has 8 drivers plus two winter contract drivers – knowing them well, some customers even bake cakes for their visits!
Distribution manager, Jim Kaighin, who has responsibility for drivers, shipping and routing, gave FON a depot tour.  Fitted with interceptors and alarms, the water-fed Douglas depot can store almost 9 million litres. Gas oil and kerosene is top loaded whilst Loadtec equipment installed five years ago enables petroleum and diesel to be bottom loaded.  At the jetty, three grades of fuel can be offloaded at the same time.  Product is first analysed and checked before being piped to depot tanks, in mostly above ground pipes which are inspected every two years.
Tank cleaning was in progress during FON’s visit.  Tanks are surveyed on a 5-year rolling programme with each tank taking four to six weeks to clean.  Being close to the sea, salty air causes external corrosion.
In addition to his role as aviation manager with responsibility for four refuellers (Manx Petroleum is agent for Shell UK Aviation); Peter Quirk is group health and safety manager. Seven years ago, pre Buncefield, sophisticated fire-fighting equipment was installed at Battery Pier and with a sheer rock face just behind the tanks, the rock face is netted and regularly checked by abseiling geologists.

Keeping the customer satisfied
The Manx Petroleum Heating Services team is headed by Jeff Ward and employs six OFTEC registered engineers. General manager, David Kay, started as a service engineer and still chats to several customers whose boilers he serviced many years ago.
Like mainland UK, last winter saw heavy snow on the island.  “This was most unusual for an island situated in the Gulf stream and surrounded by the Irish Sea,” explained Jenny.  “Our customers were very understanding of the conditions and by Christmas Eve we’d cleared the backlog.  Our staff did exceptionally well and really pulled out all the stops to look after our customers.”
Manx Petroleum is not alone on the Isle of Man.  Total and CPL are also present.  The latter belongs to GB Oils and the former is just about to join its fold.  Esso sold its interests on the island to CPL 15 years ago. “We have a good working relationship with CPL who to date have had no storage on the island and buy product from us.” added Jenny.
On FON’s visit, unleaded was 141.9p on the island.  “Every two weeks we provide two reports to the Isle of Man Office of Fair Trading,” explained Jenny.  “Island businesses are under the spotlight on prices but we have a good relationship with the OFT who understand that our overheads are much higher and that we do not have the economies of scale.  Domestic product prices for all three suppliers are constantly published.
“We feel a responsibility to serve our local community. We’re a friendly family business that’s very willing to rise to a challenge.  Having a good reputation in such a small market place is essential – if our customer service were to drop, word would very quickly get around the island.”
After 37 years with the company, Jenny who is now working a three day week, said:  “Times have been challenging but it’s been a great experience.  I’ve seen so many interesting changes.  Previously, we flourished with Shell’s support and now I’m very proud of our evolution into a true independent.  I wish recently promoted David, and Judith and all the experienced team the very best in moving the business forward.”