Taking a different approach

Ireland scenery
Speaking to many fuel distributors in Ireland recently, the most frequently used word to describe the current market was ‘challenging.’
“It’s been a tough year to date,” said Donall O’Connor, managing director of online distributor based in County Antrim.  “Customers are trying to extract the best price for everything – including their oil – and at the same time they’re also buying lesser quantities.  On top of that, oil is less attractive for heating and gas is making significant inroads.”
FON asked distributors what they were doing to tackle the tough times and to ensure their business survives, and even thrives.
Be prepared
“We spend a lot of time preparing the company for the busy periods, so that when they arrive we’re in the best position to take advantage of opportunities,” added Donall.
“Being web-based, we have a lower cost structure; 99% of our orders are online. That means we can compete at the sharper end of the price strategy, and offer a more attractive deal.”
“We introduced a budget prepayment scheme following customer feedback. While we don’t offer credit, customers can choose to put an amount on a card each month, and then just pay the balance when the bill comes in.”
Stay positive
Agreeing that customers are increasingly price focused is Gordon Halnon, of County Wexford-based Gordon Halnon Oils.  “You can lose a customer for the sake of €10 here or there. Service is much less important to them.
“It’s extremely competitive but important to stay positive. Hold onto your customers as best you can – the market will get better eventually and we all want to be there when it does!”
Reward customers and staff
Another distributor spoke about benefits now being offering to customers and staff.
“We incentivise staff with new account and upgrade bonuses, and seasonal prizes – last year’s was a 42-inch television; this year we’re offering free iPads for the highest upgrade to our premium kerosene.
“When they purchase 700 litres or more of heating oil, customers are being offered 10ppl off their next fill of petrol/diesel from one of our retail sites.”
However, this distributor emphasised that the biggest way to safeguard business was to protect reputation. “Deliver on promises, be fair and do the right thing when situations arise.”
Brian Uprichard, who owns Armagh-based Brian Uprichard Fuels, said: “We diversified about a year ago and acquired a petrol station.  As well as added sales from petrol, we also have a kerosene pump for heating oil. For those who might be struggling, it’s a way to budget for small amounts of oil at a time.
“We’ve also put a PayPoint logo in the shop, so when customers come in to pay for petrol they see the logo and ask about the delivery business.”
Brian’s last piece of advice is the easiest to implement.  “Get down on your knees and pray a lot!”