The town of Headford, located a fairly stiff drive north of Galway city centre, has two claims to fame.
Firstly, it had a brief cameo as the back drop to John Wayne’s man’s man, Sean Thornton, in the Oscar winning The Quiet Man; and secondly, its iron-aged archaeological monuments.
It may be small, but it’s growing, and that’s good news for Padraic Delaney who runs the Top Oil and Mace Service Station just outside the town.
Padraic took over the site in September 2014 after two decades of the forecourt being under different management. After six months, he launched an “extensive revamp”, fitting a new seating area, toilets, and a full makeover of the forecourt’s exterior.
The area around the newly installed and updated pumps, too, has been updated with fresh asphalt.
However, not everything went smoothly.
“We fitted the canopy with the fully rebranded Top Oil fascia, but we also decided to raise it in height,” Padraic said, explaining how it had been involved in a number of “minor” impacts with a lorry or two before he took over the site.
“It was an old type of canopy with a slated effect around it,” he added. “All the work was done in conjunction with the landlord, who helped with the planning. It had been a monster of a canopy, taking up twice the amount of room it needed to.
“It was a very difficult job. We had to come up with a completely unique engineering solution for it. We took the sheeting down, and reduced the canopy depth to change the profile height, and the new look is much slicker.”
With a lot of HGV activity near the site – including a large timber business – having a fit-for-purpose canopy has been worth the hassle.
“With a raised canopy, we would be able to get all that traffic, so it was a logical step,” he said. “It needed to be addressed.”
According to Padraic, the overhaul of the site required a “sizable investment”. However, he is still adding to the improvements.
This has included a new Electronic Point of Sale (EPOS) till system.
“The old system wasn’t fit-for-purpose,” he said. “The change was largely needed from an operations point of view.”
Throw in refreshed bathrooms, and a new seated dining area, and Padraic has achieved good value from the revamp’s €200,000 price tag.
“People said I was mad in the head, but you get back what you put into it,” he said. “You can’t come into the market with an old, tired shop. We wanted to increase the sales, especially in the deli, so you have to invest in it.
“The model we have developed is working, and the payback will be completed in just a few years. The risks are already paying off.”
Padraic said he had also received full backing from his retail partners BWG, which had also contributed to the “massive growth” the forecourt has enjoyed since Padraic’s takeover.
“The business’s sales, excluding fuel, were €26,000 a week before we took over, but it is now taking €36,000,” he said.
Padraic explained that his store’s growth had primarily been driven by the success of his deli counter.
“It’s up 45 per cent and has pulled everything along with it,” he explained. “We’ve seen what the competition has been doing out there. We know that the only room for growth has been in food-to-go, and there’s no point copying the weekly shopper market, that’s why we’ve pushed the deli counter so hard.
“In our business, you have to excel in food-to-go and put a huge emphasis on it.”
A lot of the investment at the Headford business has also gone into its staff, with the additional training helping the lucrative deli deliver sales after the dreaded 5pm cut off.
With food-to-go as its focus, the Headford forecourt has also introduced new concept franchise, Nom Noms. Targeting a similar customer base as Subway, it provides quality fresh sub rolls, and has proven popular.
“It’s particularly appealing to a younger audience, and brings in a lot of students,” he said. “Many pass by our Top Oil forecourt on the way to college in Galway, so we’re finding some success in pulling them in for a quick bite and a coffee. They also come in and have a sit down to enjoy the facilities. When you compare the price of stopping at a forecourt and having something from the deli and a coffee, compared to a restaurant or café, it doesn’t compare.
“They come in, have a toasted panini and a latte, can watch TV, freshen up, and get back on the road for around €6. It’s a big saving.
“So the instore seated area, in my view, has become a central part of the business now.”
Padraic and Top Oil have a relationship dating back to 2009. In 2011, he bought a Top Oil Service Station in Castlebar.
“I’m very familiar with Top Oil’s brand and motives in how to do business,” he said. “As a brand, they’re one of the fastest-growing in the country. Their branding and Top Oil Fuel Card business brings a huge amount of extra customers to any forecourt – that’s what we have found.
“Top Oil Fuel Cards means automatic extra business and Top Oil work very hard promoting the benefits for users. And if you don’t have a good fuel card, you don’t get the extra food spend that comes with it.”
Padraic also praised Top Oil’s marketing approach, and their assistance with helping promote its dealer sites.
“We had a local school that needed sponsorship for its sports jerseys, and we put our heads together with those at Top Oil and were able to make that happen,” Padraic said. “It’s great to get involved with the local community, Top Oil have built very strong relationship with rugby teams and obviously being the official fuel supplier to Connacht Rugby at this moment in time has given a huge boost to the Top Oil brand and everyone associated with Top Oil.”
Padraic also praised Top Oil’s Quality Assured fuels initiative.
“It’s just another seal of approval and it’s telling the customer and the retailer that ‘we’re behind you’ when it comes to fuel quality.”
With Padraic’s revamped roadmap to success expertly charted for the Headford service station, we asked him what he enjoyed most about the forecourt business.
“It’s probably a positive and a negative, but what I love is constantly changing,” he said. “I enjoy the new challenges, and going in everyday thinking, ‘how am I going to increase coffee sales by 5 per cent?, or ‘how can I boost the deli sales this week?’.
“What excites me is doing something new. Not everything works, but it’s important to keep learning and trying new things.”