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Rubis Jamaica to expand network, business lines

Published:Friday | August 8, 2014 | 8:00 AM

With the Rubis gas station on Waterloo Road in Kingston about to open its doors to the public, the newest petroleum brand in Jamaica is wrapping up its rebranding programme and is now in expansion mode.

"We are ready to invest in any new service station," Alain Carreau, chief executive officer of Rubis Energy Jamaica Limited, told the Financial Gleaner.

The company, which entered the Jamaican market at the top of 2013 when it acquired the Shell Jamaica assets, just had its official launch last week. Its Waterloo Road station, which has been under construction, is now scheduled to reopen in the next two to three weeks.

Rubis is in 17 markets in the Caribbean area, but with 53 stations here, Jamaica is both the latest and largest regional market. The French company entered the Caribbean in 2005 in the French Antilles and then grew into the wider Caribbean area.

"We don't hesitate to buy," Carreau said in an interview this week, but clarified any new station would be limited to heavily trafficked areas.

Suburban targets

Its geographic targets are new or upcoming suburban areas.

"It would be useless to put a station in the middle of the mountains," Carreau said, "as there simply wouldn't be enough business to make it economical."

Rubis is also considering expansion into other segments of the market, but says those plans are not for immediate disclosure.

The company owns "most" of the 53 gas stations in its network - that's as specific as Carreau got. It aims to grow either "organically - one by one" or through takeover, he said.

Petcom is on the Rubis Jamaica's radar. The state-owned asset will be placed on the market later this year, but whether Rubis bids, said Carreau, will be guided by the financial status of Petcom.

Though fresh out of the blocks, Carreau says that Rubis is already one of the largest private investors in the Jamaican economy.

"We are not only a fuels marketer - we are in the oil business," Carreau said.

"We are amongst the largest private international investors in this country," he said. That investment includes takeover expenses, rebranding and investment in the terminal.

He declined to quantify the investment, saying only that it was in the billions of Jamaican dollars spent on the acquisition and capital expenditure programmes.

"It's obvious that we are the largest investor recently," he said. "We are unparalleled in Kingston," he said.

Foreign owned rivals

Rubis' top local rivals are Total Jamaica, which has a network of about 56 stations, and Texaco Jamaica, which has 62 stations bearing its marquee. All are foreign owned.

Rubis Jamaica has its own oil tankers, wharf and terminal, all "100 per cent owned by us," Carreau said. Its terminal is located behind its Windward Road offices in Kingston with capacity for 50,000 cubic metres of fuels, lubricants and chemicals.

"And we are continuously evolving and improving it," he said. The next step is a new gantry to load trucks.

As a result of its extensive infrastructure and shipping fleet, Carreau said Rubis is able to import its own fuels without relying on state-owned refinery Petrojam for its supply.

"Most operators buy from Petrojam, but we can buy from wherever we want," Carreau said. "As a result, we can import products that are different from others."

It allows the company to differentiate itself by selling products of a higher standard than the Petrojam base, he said.

Rubis Jamaica currently imports products from the Caribbean zone - mainly Trinidad - and the US Gulf Coast, Carreau said.

The company incorporates additives into all its products. In June, it introduced its UltraTec additised fuel in the four main fuel types, 90 and 87 gasoline, diesel and ultra-low sulphur diesel.

Rubis Jamaica directly employsalmost 100 people, and more than 1,000 indirectly across its operations and retail network.

The company does not directly employ service station and delivery staff. "They are not on my payroll, but through contracts and commissions we pay them," he said.

That is not the case in all its markets, however. "In other parts of the world they would be Rubis," Carreau said.

Rubis is listed on the French stock exchange, and because of regulations there - particularly related to insider trading - Carreau said he could not disclose financial information

"We have a strong brand in three continents and are very successful," he said.

Rubis is among the top two oil companies in the Caribbean, he said. Its main regional competitor is Sol, a company which currently has no stations in Jamaica, but distributes Shell lubricants and other products.

"We are fresh, we are younger, we are very much entrepreneurial - which is a different approach to the business than Shell," Carreau said.

Carreau joined Rubis in January but has been in the oil business for 30 years, and has previously worked as CEO for Shell in several other countries in both Europe and Africa. He last worked as managing director for Shell in the Ivory Coast and in Burkina Faso, both in West Africa, from 2008 to December 2013.

richard.browne@gleanerjm.com