19 February 2020

Watson through the years - The 70s

Watson enter petrol retailing.

The first Watson Service Station was opened at Ringwood in Hampshire in 1970, leased from Texaco. It had the distinction of being one of the very first to operate a 24 hour service. In the early days there were no frills about the majority of petrol station forecourts and certainly no canopy to protect the motorist from bad weather. Mostly they were just pumps with the petrol being served by an attendant. There was no self-service, indeed it was found that many motorists would drive elsewhere if they discovered they were forced to serve themselves!

It was in the 70s that Watson Petroleum began to develop repairs and maintenance to its own vehicles.

Already doing in-house vehicle servicing, the company set about establishing its own repair and maintenance depot at Blakehill Farm. Blakehill was a former airfield on the outskirts of Cricklade and just a few miles from the Brinkworth Head Office. The purpose-built workshops have grown dramatically and today have a staff of 26, including 18 fitters, and they deal with 180 tankers and over 130 other vehicles from the Watson fleet.

This major development could not have happened without professional help.

In 1974 a young surveyor, Paul Reinge carried out a survey for Texaco on land that was to become Watson Petroleum’s first-purpose built oil depot at Bridgwater in Somerset. Five years later in 1979 that first Watson project turned into a long lasting working relationship with Paul, from the initial transport workshop and stores construction through new depot building, design and construction of modern petrol stations involving a total expenditure to date of more than £10 million.

In 1978 Watson Petroleum moved into the liquid petroleum gas or bottled gas business.

The bottle gas market expanded rapidly in the 70s with the introduction of the mobile cabinet heater. Mike Slaughter, former General Sales Manager at Texaco UK approached Tony Watson with a proposition that he should acquire Gas Link Limited, the largest distributor of Heron Easygas. Although Gas Link represented 40 per cent of the Easygas business, it was having problems which Watson Petroleum could answer. The Gas Link Head Office was in Barnstaple and there were depots in Swanage, Newton Abbot, Exeter and Bridgwater. Initially Gas Link was left to operate with little day-to-day involvement from Watson Petroleum. But that was not to last. In August 1979 Tony Watson junior, a fully qualified Chartered Accountant, joined Watson Petroleum and turned the rather uninspiring trading results of Gas Link into a success story more than justifying the original acquisition. In fact within two years the bottle gas market continued to expand and the Gas Link Head Office moved from Newton Abbot to Brinkworth and all the administration was integrated into Watson Petroleum.