In the Beginning
JET was established in 1954 by John Willy 'Bill' Roberts. Bill, who was born in Halifax in 1898, started working part-time in the mills at the age of 11. By the age of 12 he was working full-time and studying economics.
The War Years
Bill Roberts served in the First World War and though barely out of his teens, he was keen to get on. One story typifies his character. After complaining that the sergeants were getting roast beef instead of stew like the men, he was told, 'If you like roast beef, work to become a sergeant and you'll be entitled to it.' Before long Sgt. Bill Roberts was enjoying roast beef too.
Between the Wars
in civilian life, Bill started working for a chemical company. His business acumen helped make the company, Trent Oil Products, a formidable oil distributor in the competitive years between the wars.
The Jet Age
In 1954 when the petrol supply was de-regulated, Bill set up Jet Petroleum Ltd - a name inspired by 'JET' - the prefix of vehicles registered in Rotherham, Yorkshire and his first tanker, JET 855.
Soon Bill was seeing demand from the smaller independent retailers around Yorkshire for an alternative supplier to the major brands which effectively controlled the supply and price of petrol. He began selling fuel at lower prices and the JET network started to grow as motorists began searching out these lower price outlets.
In 1999 the rusting skeleton of JET 855 was discovered in a farmers field by an Oxfordshire haulier. In a fitting way to celebrate 50 years of the JET brand, the vehicle has now been restored to its former glory. The restoration of JET 855 is an amazing story of coincidences and uncompromising dedication.
In 1961, JET was bought by Conoco Inc, which built on JET’s low price tradition. JET never lost sight of the customer and always offered value for money. JET's low costs soon created headaches for the established oil companies and headlines in the press.
'Cut Rate Fuel - JET Joins the Price War' screamed the Daily Mirror in 1962.
'JET Steps up the Petrol Wars' claimed the Daily Mail in 1963.
The East Anglian Times even went as far as to predict, 'The newcomers (JET), as will be seen, do not lack initiative and resources and in a few years time the whole situation in the petrol industry may be drastically changed.' How right they were.
Deals and Dealerships
Throughout its history the JET brand has always stood up to the big brands - not only on price, but in its treatment of customers. In 1961 Garner Group Holdings opened the first JET service station near Portsmouth. By 1967 the Group had three JET dealerships - and an agreement signed by JET's area rep, Peter Bullen-Smith, on the back of a beer mat.
'In those days this was regarded as a gentleman's agreement and the paperwork was drawn up later,' said Mike Garner, the original owner's son, who now runs Garner Group Holdings with his brother Tim.
In the east of the country, Ness Road Garage in Burwell, Cambridgeshire was another business brought into the JET stable in 1961. The deal was allegedly struck on a golf course in St. Ives by the owner George Manchett.
Today, there are over 350 independently-operated JET outlets across the UK displaying the brand which has a reputation as an innovator in the petrol retailing industry.
Over five decades the JET brand has become synonymous with low prices and value for money - a popular message with motorists, dealers, distributors and commercial customers. In a volatile business the JET story is one of continuous innovation from the development of forecourt convenience stores to the introduction of the price sign.
Bill Jets Off
It's also the story of Bill Roberts, a hard-working, visionary man who changed the face, pace and price of British motoring and who, after 40 years in the business, retired to the South of France characteristically stating: 'It's a turbulent business, the oil trade, and I've had enough.'