Philip Cross, owner of Topaz Spar in Kilkenny’s Callan Road, speaks to IF&CR after switching brand
An avid eye might just catch a glimpse of Philip Cross’s Topaz service station from one of Kilkenny Castle’s archaic crenels.
Located just under a kilometre (as the crow flies) from the fortification and surrounding city centre, the forecourt rests at three chief intersections on the Callan Road, including the orbital N76, and arterial N909.
The location is a joyfully leafy part of town, with the services rubbing shoulders with the four-star suburbanite Hotel Kilkenny.
It is now all the more attractive following Philip’s transformation of the town’s former Esso station site into a state-of-the-art Topaz forecourt in February.
“The transformation was pretty smooth in the end,” Philip told IF&CR. “Topaz were very helpful throughout.”
Philip said his initial decision to join Topaz had been based on the strength of the brand throughout Ireland.
“I had been to a conference and listened to them carefully and liked their offer,” he said. “They also have a very good charge card business, while Esso’s had more-or-less disappeared. So I listened to what they had to say and I was impressed by their CEO.”
The redeveloped site features four pump islands hosting a total of 16 nozzles, most of which find themselves in use throughout the day and night. The store logs some 1600 transactions each week, so it is a forecourt that is in high demand.
“It’s quite a big site,” Philip said. “It also has a big canopy and can take HGVs quite comfortably.”
To help keep this busy forecourt ticking over, Philip has the help of 19 staff – including part-timers – who deliver the Spar store’s many popular offerings.
These include its “huge” deli business, and onsite Supermac’s franchise.
“We have a large mixture of customer types coming into the store for food,” Philip said. “We get both passing and local trade, so it’s good that we’re able to provide a complete range.”
While breakfast rolls remain ever popular, Philip is pleased with the extended offer provided by the Spar Tasty Deli concept.
Developed exclusively by BWG, the deli’s offer changes throughout the day, keeping pace with the breakfast, lunch and evening meal occasions. A full selection of fillings is available – from egg mayonnaise to falafel – while ready-made branded sandwiches and salads are located at self-service areas.
A Tim Horton’s coffee offer is also available for those needing to be perked up, while the store’s hot food counter thrums with tasty pastries, rugged chips, and spicy chicken joints.
Meanwhile, a range of pizzas, along with the popular Supermac’s menu, keeps business flowing into the site long after the typical drop off at 5pm for forecourt food.
“We make the pizzas ourselves, and we have a good all-round offering,” Philip said. “We do a very decent evening trade. We have a very good vegetarian section as well. It’s something new we have added.
“Health is now a major part of the decision-making process for customers, so it’s important we have things like a vegetarian option.”
Helping deliver all these hungry customers to Philip’s door is Kilkenny’s relatively new ring road.
“Our location provides very easy access, and the new ring road near us means it is easy to get in and get out,” he said. “Those sorts of practical things are crucial to a forecourt’s success.”
Philip’s experience in the forecourt sector is considerable, having owned another site in Kilkenny as far back as 1998.
The Callan Road forecourt was built 15 years ago, after Philip razed the former “rundown” occupying pump station. “The location was a major part of the decision to take on the site,” he said. “Also the size, it’s a large site, which we need to facilitate the volume of customers.”
Now, under the Topaz banner, Philip hopes the site will deliver at least even better in the future than it did in the past.
“The Topaz model is very interesting and very professional, as are they to work with,” he said. “They are the biggest forecourt retail brand in the country, so it’s a solid decision to join them.
“The charge card business is one of their strongest elements, and although it’s too early to fully quantify, I can see that so far it has definitely brought in extra business.”
Philip estimates that his fuel sales are up 20 per cent in just three months since joining Topaz.
But with everything now in place for Philip, the redeveloped site is sure to do a blazing trade.