West Berkshire oil supplier JPS Fuels ready for increased demand over winter – and the owner drives his own HGV
JPS Fuels owner, Jonathan Pinnock, talks about how he is steadily building up his business.
WITH their bright yellow exterior, JPS Fuels’ lorries aren’t difficult to spot on the roads. The man behind the business, Jonathan Pinnock, says the colour – which he describes as “the most revolting shade of yellow” – wasn’t his choice as he looked to save money on spray paint after setting up the heating oil supply business in August 2018. Three years on, Mr Pinnock could have the pick of the colours as the company has gone from strength to strength. He says, however, that he’s sticking with yellow.
“I grew up in the fuel industry and have been in it all my life,” the 33-year-old says. “My parents were in it, and my dad, Ian, had a fuel company.”
After running a business fitting heating oil tanks for five years, Mr Pinnock decided it was time “to get a proper job” – taking a position as an HGV driver first at a semi-local company before moving to a national fuel company.
However, after growing disillusioned with the corporate direction the company was heading and suffering “a bit of a midlife crisis”, Mr Pinnock decided to step out on his own and set up heating oil supplier JPS Fuels – using all the knowledge and expertise he’d gained so far from his career in the industry and determined to make it a success.
The first, and hardest, task for Mr Pinnock was finding a good second-hand lorry.
He continues: “I found this lovely mini-tanker up in Wales – they’re the most prized second-hand lorries as they’re very rare. I went and looked at it on a Saturday morning, stopped at services on the way back and decided to buy it in the afternoon.
“I paid the deposit and had it on the Monday morning, and officially started the business on August 1, 2018.”
Since then, Mr Pinnock has built the business from the ground up, first focusing on securing customers – who primarily live in the rural villages around West Berkshire and North Hampshire – and then building the brand.
He says he focused on customers that other companies had let down, saying the “absolute bottom line” of his business was the people, ensuring they had the supply they needed to heat their homes even at incredibly short notice.
After 18 months of sustained growth and a very busy winter in 2019, Mr Pinnock realised he was struggling too much on his own to keep up with the increased demand.
In August last year, after the first wave of coronavirus, he bought the company a second lorry from the same company in Wales – retaining the same bright yellow colour scheme that became the trademark of the first lorry.
Business went smoothly with the two lorries last winter, and Mr Pinnock has now continued to build his company by helping member of staff Pippa Cooper secure her own HGV driving licence.
For Mr Pinnock, having team members capable of performing several tasks is key to the smooth running of small businesses.
He says: “To invest in your staff is always a step forward.
“To have people who can perform multiple roles is always a good thing for a small business, you need to have that flexibility.
“I’ll sit behind a desk, but equally I’ll go out and drive a lorry if needed. That’s why we’ve put Pippa through her HGV tests which gives us flexibility if we need someone to take a lorry to a job a bit further away, or if it’s got to be repaired, we’ve got someone else who can drive it.
“It’s a big deal, it all helps and it keeps the job running smoothly as well.”
JPS Fuels hasn’t been overly affected by the recent fuel crisis, which has been caused by a lack of HGV drivers and people panic buying on the forecourts.
Mr Pinnock expects fuel supply and demand to return to normal shortly, but he says the shortage of HGV drivers will continue for much longer.
He says there is no one thing to blame, and pointed to low wages and poor driving conditions as the real drivers behind the problem.
He says: “As a generalisation, having worked in the sector as a driver, the pay and conditions have been appalling for some.
“When you’ve got companies advertising jobs for £12 an hour driving an articulated lorry, you’ve got no hope of recruiting people.
“You might get someone to do it for six months to get some experience, but then they’ll move on to something better.
“The wages going up will help it a lot, but for many people it’s just the lifestyle.
“You’re expecting people to live in a tin box on the side of the road for a week at a time away from their families, with very poor facilities – especially through Covid when many of them were closed.
“That’s the real reason for a shortage of lorry drivers – there’s no quick fix.”
For Mr Pinnock, who lives in Thatcham, the focus now is to get through the winter, when demand inevitably skyrockets.
Attention will then turn to the long term, as Mr Pinnock looks to bring in bio-fuels for heating as the market moves away from fossil fuels.
The future looks bright for Mr Pinnock, JPS Fuels and their yellow lorries.