The streets were emptied when the community quarantines started and were declared to cover large parts of the metropolis and its outlying areas in 2020. As a result, Cleanfuel’s sales at its filling stations were affected as customers had to stay home.
Cleanfuel President Atty. Bong Suntay even reveals that they had a problem with their inventory. “Of course, you order your stocks ahead of time and when we ordered our fuel, the global prices were much higher. With the lockdowns, we did not want to sell our fuel at high prices because we also wanted to take care of our customers, particularly the ones who are in public transport like our jeepney and taxi drivers.”
Despite these challenges, Cleanfuel made sure to support the country’s health care workers by providing free fuel for the Department of Transportation’s free shuttles for frontliners.
Now that the economy is starting to bounce back—due largely to private sector and the two Bayanihan Acts—both of which Suntay is involved with as a member of the House of Representatives as Congressman of the 4th District of Quezon City—his independent oil company continues to accelerate its growth.
Cleanfuel was born of Suntay’s search for a cheaper alternative to gasoline for his fleet of Basic taxis. “In my trips to Italy, Korea, and Thailand back in 2004, I noticed that they were using Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) as alternative fuel. It was not being used in the Philippines at the time, so I decided to buy 5 conversion kits to try it out on 5 units of our taxis and sourced the LPG from our local fuel companies. Seeing that it cost 40 percent cheaper than regular gasoline, I converted more of our units to use LPG fuel,” he says.
As the President of the Philippine National Taxi Operators at the time, Suntay knew all too well the need to balance the price of fuel with the capacity of the riding public to absorb any fare increase and he saw that conversion to LPG was the solution. Other operators wanted to convert too, but the challenge was that the fuel companies would only service those with 20 or more units, while the bulk of taxi operators was composed of single unit operators. This led to Suntay’s idea of opening Cleanfuel in 2007, to answer the need for auto LPG refilling stations.
The first Cleanfuel station was located at E. Rodriguez Avenue in Quezon City, soon followed by the opening of the Congressional Avenue station in the same city three months later. The company has since expanded its operations, with 86 stations in Luzon reaching as far north as La Union, Baguio, Pangasinan and Ilocos Sur and down south to Bulacan, Batangas, Zambales, and Quezon Province. Suntay reveals that for 2021, there are 14 additional stations that are already in different stages of construction out of their target of 18 new openings.
One of the factors for its growth, especially outside of Metro Manila was that they have expanded their products to include gas and diesel, still at lower prices but with quality that is at par with those of the bigger fuel companies. “Taxi services are only present in the big cities, and we wanted to expand to other areas so we needed to attract private motorists. It also happened to be around the time that app-based TNVS (Transport Network Vehicle Services) such as Uber and Grab started to become popular in the Philippines. Many of these drivers were former taxi drivers,” he shares. “When we started selling our complete product line, they remained our customers. This brand loyalty helped Cleanfuel grow at the rate where we have been expanding to where we are today. Then, as we grew, we made sure that our fuel stations can offer top notch service that our drivers look for.”
Geared for customer satisfaction
Customer loyalty and trust was built on an acute understanding of what their market needs, Suntay adds. “We have a very popular loyalty card program, where they can earn points when they gas up and they can exchange these points for household items such as rice cookers and double burner gas stoves, all the way to big ticket items including tablets and flat screen TVs. This way, not only are our drivers happy, happy din si misis,” Suntay quips.
Cleanfuel also puts a premium on customer service, such as providing air-conditioned drivers’ lounges and clean restrooms for their pit stops. This is also why their filling stations are constantly sought out by private motorists, especially by those on out-of-town trips. They have recently collaborated with Puregold grocery stores, where their customers, mainly those who have small retail businesses can avail of discounts at Cleanfuel.
“We basically have the same customer profile, and we both want to be able to help them with their livelihoods,” Suntay explains. “We are both happy with the result of the collaboration, and we are looking for ways to expand our partnership with them.”
Driven to succeed
Among Cleanfuel’s future plans is to reinforce the company mission of selling quality fuel for less by sourcing products that they can sell at lower prices for their customers. “We are also looking to further improve our quality of service and build bigger stations. In fact, other independent fuel companies are surprised that while they are downsizing their stations, we are building bigger stations. This is because we want to be at par with the bigger players and to accomplish that, we also have to be at par or even better in terms of our facilities.”
While Cleanfuel has more than made its presence felt in the increasingly competitive fuel industry, Suntay still believes that it’s good business sense to continue to look up to the Big Three leaders (Shell, Petron, Caltex) and observe and analyze what works and what doesn’t work for them.
“In terms of the products we sell, we have the same quality content. The only difference that they have is the number of stations. They were way ahead of us, of course, but as things continue to look up for us, we know we will eventually get there as well,” Suntay concluded.
Image credits: Cleanfuel