18/06/2008 - 22:00

Gull consolidates growth after Peak oil purchase

18/06/2008 - 22:00

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Boosted by its recent acquisition of independent fuel retailer Peak, West Perth-based Gull Petroleum continues to grow its market share in the highly competitive market of fuel retailing.

STRATEGY: Wayne Ferrell says Gull hasn’t sought to take on the majors head on, but rather has sought out opportunities offering value and new customers. Photo: Grant Currall

Boosted by its recent acquisition of independent fuel retailer Peak, West Perth-based Gull Petroleum continues to grow its market share in the highly competitive market of fuel retailing.

The acquisition, finalised in March, added about 30 outlets to Gull's Western Australian business, enhancing its already extensive regional network in particular.

Gull chief executive Wayne Ferrell said the acquisition added some strong assets to the group in terms of sites.

"We felt we could add a lot of value to the Peak business. They had some great assets in terms of sites," he said.

Started in 1976, Gull became solely owned by the Rae family in 1983 and remains a family-owned operation, with two members of the Rae family serving on its board.

The company has 110 sites in its WA network, including the Peak acquisition, as well as 33 sites in New Zealand.

About two-thirds of its WA sites are located in regional areas, extending from Carnarvon to Albany.

"Early on they [regional sites] were cheaper properties to buy into or to lease. That's how it started. But as the population's grown those locations have become even more important, from a branding perspective," Mr Ferrell said.

The company gained momentum in the early 1990s, when the decision was made to build a fuel terminal at Kwinana, the first independent fuel terminal in Australia.

"That really facilitated the growth in the company. It provided true independence in getting fuel supply, that was critical," Mr Ferrell said.

"It was brave, bold new ground."

Since then, the independent operator has remained competitive in an evolving marketplace by pre-empting market shifts and adapting its strategy.

The entry of Coles and Woolworths into the market at that time, and the move towards the convenience store model of retailing, were the key drivers of that market shift.

"We could see there was going to be increased competition in the fuel side of business; at the same time, the convenience part of the market was really starting to get established," Mr Ferrell said.

Gull closed a number of older, smaller workshop sites, which equated to roughly 20 per cent of its total number of sites.

It also invested in upgrading the sites it thought were in good locations, and began building new sites in the convenience store format.

"We looked at all sites, which ones were going to be able to compete in what we thought the market was going to look like," Mr Ferrell told WA Business News.

Mr Ferrell said Gull didn't try to tackle the oil majors head on, but rather sought out opportunities that offered a value proposition to customers it didn't already have.

"It required a lot of patience and willpower. You don't want to be shy of a good old street fight, because that's what happens," he said.

"What you can't do is tackle these guys head on. You don't try and be everything to everyone."

One difference between Gull and the oil majors is its involvement in the manufacture and distribution of biodiesel.

It became the first fuel retailer in Australia to offer biodiesel to motorists, offering B-20 blends and up to B-100 to some customers.

It's Queensland biodiesel plant produces 30 million litres annually, using mainly used cooking oil and tallow.

Mr Ferrell said while the biofuels environment had been challenging, the debates surrounding fuel prices, the environment and energy security could bolster support for the industry.

"I don't think any proponents of biofuels have ever said this is the panacea of all the issues. It's a contribution, it's something you can do," he said.

"You could actually replace 10 per cent of all fuel right now or in a very short period of time with biofuel, and that would make a contribution."

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