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By Moses Kaketo

Records from the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development reveals, the number of registered fuel operators in Uganda have increased to over 100, with more than 1,000 petrol stations spread across the country.

 

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However, the competition is mainly between Shell and TOTAL. The rivalry seems to have increased lately with each positioning itself for the war. This is seen in the expansion drive, rebranding, product innovation among others. But, who has an edge over the other? Read on.

 

Expansion

 

In the recent past, TOTAL Uganda has grown by swallowing existing struggling players. The latest being Gapco Uganda. In 2008, Total bought Caltex Uganda. The acquisition of Gapco Uganda means, the French based oil firm now owns more than 160 fuel sites up from 125.

 

In the past two years, Shell Uganda has opened up more than 15 new fuel sites mainly in upcoming towns and suburbs including Kiira, Kasanganti, Gayaza, Namugongo, among others. According to analysts Shell’s strategy seems to be working out as it targets customers as they get out of their homes.

 

The challenge with TOTAL ’s strategy (buying off existing companies) is that many of these fuel sites are located in Kampala that is already overcrowded. This affects the margins. Otherwise, Total Uganda may boast of owning more stations, however, traffic to these stations is low-Talk about the White Elephant.

 

Innovation

 

The growing middle-class and expatriates living and working in Uganda created a niche market that Shell Uganda quickly moved to fill when they introduced Shell V-Power. Shell V-Power is said to have properties that clean the car engine. The product is readily available in developed countries.

 

The growing popularity of Shell V-Power ‘forced’ Total Uganda to introduce a similar product-TOTAL Excellium

 

However, analysts say Excellium has been inadequately marketed. It remains to be seen whether the product will catch-up with the already popular Shell V-Power.

 

Marketing and promotions

 

The liberalization of the fuel market caught the traditional players [Shell, TOTAL , Gapco and Caltex] unaware. The once mighty fuel giants were relegated by new and aggressive entrants. In 2008 Caltex decided to pack her bags. While Shell and TOTAL remained more like sleeping giants. The new entrants had taken over the market.

 

To bring back the customers, Shell and TOTAL had to among others rebrand. This was not enough. Rebranding had to be backed up by proficient marketing and promotions. To achieve this mission, Shell Uganda has employed an effectual communication mix. The oil giant has employed both below and above the line marketing. Shell is active both online and off-line. The firm has a powerful online presence. According to analysts, Shell brand has been revamped.

 

Shell also undertakes regular promotions, where lucky winners win free fuel, Travel trips abroad, and free service among others. These promotions are meant to attract customers to Shell stations to feel the revamped Shell Petrol stations.

 

The market has without a doubt rewarded the fuel giant. The company has since doubled the size of her storeroom with a construction of two large tanks with a capacity of five million litres each-that is, ten million litres extra capacity. And Total Uganda?

 

The battle for non-fuels

 

The effect of more players in a tiny market, not so much regulated market has resulted in a drop in margins per barrel. As a survival strategy, the big brothers have added non-fuels to the line of services they offer to supplement their revenue.

 

In partnership with other service providers, these firms offer a constellation of services including, fast-food, Insurance services, dry cleaning, mobile money etc.

Shell has partnered with global fast-food firms including KFC and Pizza Hut. These additional services have in one-way or the other, increased traffic onto Shell stations, from Shell has benefited as the customers end up refilling their vehicles.

 

Not to be left out, TOTAL Uganda recently, signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Good African Coffee. The MoU allows Andrew Rugasira’s firm to set up Coffee Shops at all Total Uganda Petrol stations. It remains to seen whether Good African Coffee will increase traffic at TOTAL Petrol stations.

 

The battle for corporate companies

 

 While the open market is key, fuel firms tend to make more profits from corporate companies and multinationals. These take fuel in large quantities and also sign annual contracts.

 

Market reports indicate Shell [mainly Shell Uganda] has more corporate firms. TOTAL Uganda is a French based company, while Shell is an American firm. There are few French companies in Uganda. Could this explain the variance between Shell and Total?

What ails Shell?

In 2011, Vivo Energy was given the mantle to revamp the struggling Shell. Vivo Energy is a joint venture between Vitol Group, a Dutch firm Vitol, Helios Investment Partners, an African private investment firm and Shell.

 

In 2014, Shell group announced plans to invest over $300 million of capital in the next three years in Africa. Uganda reportedly received about 20% of $300 million. That is a cool $6million. Now you know why Shell is able to do whatever it is doing in the market.

 

So where do you fuel from, and why? Shell and TOTAL will definitely be interested in your views.

 

More about the Author : Moses Kaketo

 

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