In ‘yellow and blue’ for nearly 50 years - we went Behind the Business to meet Robert Dearnaley, the Managing Director of 4 Elms Group. Responsible for two of JET’s longest standing dealer sites: JET Four Elms North and Four Elms South - Robert tells us the story of a thriving family business, a ‘spectacular’ makeover and reveals the secret to their ongoing success.
How long have you been a JET site/dealer and what’s the story behind it?
The deal we’ve recently signed will take us through to 50 years in 2027 – so a long time! It all started with my dad, Gordon Dearnaley, who first bought the site in 1966. He signed with JET ten years later after trialling a few other companies and we’ve been in yellow and blue ever since – and we have a really great relationship. The site has seen immense change over nearly half a century, starting from humble beginnings to what it is today. Now we have two bodyshops, a workshop, two fuel stations with 14 members of staff, our SPAR shops and a full team of 80 across the whole group.
What’s your earliest memory?
My earliest memory is of me aged three, sitting under car bonnets, watching my dad work on the engines. I also have memories of him going in on Christmas day, serving customers because he was always very committed. A quality I’ve inherited since taking over from him aged 25, when he retired in 1995. And the rest, as we say, is history. Interestingly, the site was originally just one but a dual carriageway was built through the middle and so we turned it into two separate sites just across the road from each other!
Talk us through a day in your life.
No two days are the same and there’s never a dull moment. I often work from home, but on the days I do come in I’ll always be up early. It normally involves me checking over everything – the stocks, sales and orders. I like to make sure everything is running smoothly and to check in on the team. Then I’ll have a call with the management and we’re off into the day.
Do you have a career highlight?
One of my biggest projects was when we opened our first petrol site in Holborough in June 1995 - another JET site. We bought and developed the land around the site and introduced the first ever drive-through Wimpy burger restaurant in the UK. It was a successful business, so much so that we later sold it as we got offered a deal that was too good to say no to.
What’s the secret to running a successful service station/do you have any leadership tips?
My best piece of advice is to make sure you’re approachable and to always be available to your staff. If someone can’t get hold of you and they make what they believe to be the best decision at the time, then that’s on you as the management. I will always back them up and we can discuss it later and learn from it together. Positive, trusted relationships and respect sit at the heart of what we do.
We hear you’ve made some major changes to the site(s) – how’s it looking?
It’s been a pretty big job with works going on for around eight weeks. We’ve done everything from relining the tanks including replacing all the pipe work, to introducing new JET ULTRA Premium Unleaded fuel to the pumps and implementing the new JET rebrand, which has changed the entire look and feel of our sites. I have to say it looks spectacular, especially when it’s lit up at night! Four Elms North and South are very comprehensive service stations; we take pride in the fact that it’s a one-stop-shop for our customers - from repair, servicing and maintenance to our fuel and convenience facilities. On our convenience side, we have our SPAR shops. We are looking very smart indeed.
What’s in the pipeline over the next year?
The biggest event I have coming up is that I’m getting married in a month’s time! My wife and I had a party in France in the summer, and we will be having the official wedding in Tunbridge Wells in four weeks’ time. But beyond that, we’ll always keep our eye out for new sites to take on and then it’s just business as usual.
Sum up your job in three words.
Never ending story (but I wouldn’t have it any other way…)