Hampshire-based Rawlings Fuels is an independent supplier of fuel oils delivering to domestic and commercial customers, including farms and agricultural companies. Its beginnings were in a transport company, from which the fuel company emerged, grew and eventually moved to its new dedicated depot just over a year ago in March 2020.
A year on from the move, managing editor, Margaret Major, visited Tom Davies, director of Rawlings Fuel, and the team at the Hook depot to hear how things are going now.
Talk us through the evolution of Rawlings from its beginnings to the present-day business.
“The company had its origins in Rawlings Transport, a long-established independent road haulage company based in Hook, Hampshire. Since it began, in 1972, it has built an enviable reputation as one of the UK’s most trusted road haulage companies with a large number of long-term customers.”
This focus on customer retention through exceptional service is a theme that continues through the Rawlings Fuels business which began as an offshoot of the transport business with the acquisition of Phoenix Fuels in 1993 with Rawlings Fuels formed to supply domestic heating oil throughout the area. The fuels business grew rapidly, as the customer base and delivery fleet expanded and, in 2019, Rawlings Fuels began the creation of a purpose-built fuel distribution depot to solve the problem of the two sides of the business competing for the space available in Hook.
How did you originally come into the industry?
Terry Rawlings was the owner of Rawlings Fuels when Tom got involved as he explains: “I was originally a planner at Cemex in the construction industry and then came into oil distribution to work for Terry.” Terry is still involved with the business but has passed it down to his son, Paul Rawlings and it is still very much a family business with Terry’s daughter and grandson also working for the company.
Paul Rawlings recently oversaw the redevelopment of the fuel side and, after 40 years at the Hook site, he had developed a clear idea of what was going to be needed in a new depot.
What have been the main company milestones of growth and change?
“The biggest change has been the relocation of the fuel distribution business. We found the ideal location in South Warnborough, Hampshire, not far from our original location, and set about building the depot we wanted.”
Using the insight Paul and Tom had acquired over the previous 12 years, the depot was created through extensive building work by a local building company to create ‘North Barn’, where the offices are located, with industry specialist Adler & Allan building the storage tanks. Rawlings Fuels moved in March 2020 and the new depot has met and surpassed all their expectations proving to be an excellent base.
What was the best bit of advice you were ever given in this industry?
“It’s not really advice but someone once said; ‘If you’re not in oil you don’t see how many are on oil’. It’s been a real eye-opener to me how many households in our local communities are reliant on their oil and it’s made my focus being to get their oil to them when they need it.”
Excellent service is clearly hugely important to Rawlings and is seen in everything they do.
From community involvement, with its support of local sport teams and community events, through to a telephone / PC interface recognition system that brings the customer’s account up on the screen when they ring in, it is clear that the customer is at the centre of everything. With 85% of their business placed via phone calls this system makes the ordering process a very friendly and simple one.
While I was there, I met many of the team behind Rawlings Fuels and, without exception, they are friendly and dedicated to both the company and to doing the best job possible. Their genuine care for their customers comes through in everything they do.
With the huge majority of their business being domestic (although Tom, similarly to many distributors, would like to increase the commercial customer base to maintain more even order books through the year) this customer-based approach is vital to their success.
As Tom explains: “Everyone talks to everyone. We have a large number of customers and a significant proportion of those are on a regular ‘top up’ service. We get to know what they need and with what frequency, so they are very loyal. We never let them run out and they take priority.”
How do new customers find you?
Tom explains further how important the community grapevine is and why their reputation is so important: “We have a great reputation and that is built, and shared, at the local pub or shop! We sponsor local events and football teams but that’s also to give back to the communities we work in.”
With 7 permanent drivers, most of whom have 20+ years’ service with the shortest service still being 16 years, another key part of the loyalty of the Rawlings customer is the interaction with their regular drivers. “They know the area and they know the customers. There are many small villages in the area they service and often it starts with just one or two customers but grows organically as they tell their neighbours about how happy they are with the service they receive from Rawlings.”
Appreciation for the care the drivers take over deliveries is shown not just through recommending the company to neighbours and new people moving into homes heated by oil but also in the Christmas cards and hampers that the drivers receive as well as the 5* ratings Rawlings service gets in reviews.
Looking to the future how do you see decarbonisation impacting on your customers?
With the increasing focus on net zero 2050, Rawlings is considering how they can be part of the solution and, as Tom says: “Watch this space. We are aware of the desire of our customers to start contributing to the reduction in carbon from fossil fuels and we will be putting our ideas into action to help them to achieve this.”
Is there a next generation in the business or that may get involved in some form of fuel distribution in the future?
“Terry is still involved along with his son, Paul. It is still very much a family business with Terry’s daughter and grandson also working for the company.
“Sam, Terry’s grandson, is currently the O-license holder for Rawlings Fuels and so the company is safe in the hands of three generations of the family with everyone focussed on the company vision of looking after their customers in the very close-knit communities they deliver to.”
Looking to the future what is the vision for the company?
“To keep customers happy, keep drivers happy and keep our staff happy,” Tom replies without hesitation. “It really is that simple.”