Topaz began 2015 announcing they were moving into “expansion mode”, and the plan continues unabated with the refitting of Clonsaugh in north Dublin, and Ballacolla in Co Laois.
The stations were redeveloped at a cost of €10 million, providing over 300 jobs in total, while both have been reimagined into Topaz’s Re.Store format – an idea-heavy concept that takes their forecourt offering into new territory.
Speaking to IFCR, Sean Moriarty, Topaz retail director, explained that the employment created by the project was a great source of pride for the business.
“It’s projects like this that fuel the Irish economy,” Sean said. “Topaz is a 100% Irish-owned company, and this has supplied a lot of jobs not only in the forecourts, but also in construction.”
The Clonshaugh station will serve the residents of Clonshaugh, Balgriffin, Donaghmede and surrounding regions, as well as thousands of road-users that pass through the area.
Its opening fanfare was broadcast on 98FM, while its welcome was warmed by the addition of 20 jobs from Supermac’s, who have opened a new family restaurant and drive-through, and a Papa John’s Pizza restaurant that is also opening at the station.
Meanwhile, the unveiling of the Ballacolla station on the M8 Dublin to Cork roadway was carried out by minister for foreign affairs, Charlie Flanagan TD, who was joined by Kilkenny legend DJ Carey.
Both sites will provide services to approximately 50,000 motorists using the two motorways each day.
The sites have been modelled using Topaz’s Re.Store format, which Sean says is part of the rolling out of investment by the company across its Irish sites over the past few years.
“We wanted to change the perception of how a forecourt should look and operate,” he said. “They’re not just a great place to buy food, but they are also an opportunity to top-up on essential products for your car.
“It’s a place where you can refuel yourself and your vehicle, so we’re taking a different route in what a forecourt offers.”
Sean explained that people today are asking for different services from their forecourts. With cigarette sales taking a nosedive, phone top-up cards almost a thing of the past, online Lottery play increasing and dwindling newspaper sales, forecourts need to stay ahead of its changing role.
And one of the major innovations being offered by the Re.Store model, is its emphasis on health.
“Of course, it still offers the core products in our hot-food-to-go and plated-dinner offer, along with our baked goods, but Re.Store is going down the healthy route with things like protein pots, and freshly made porridge.
“We’re also offering alternatives to the traditional breakfast roll, and introducing a better range of fresh foods and salads, with a number of high-protein products too.
“It’s been an entire revisiting of the range.”
In 2013, Topaz saw its coffee sales surge by 20 per cent in two years, but Sean is convinced that a yet bigger market is brewing.
“We’ve invested a lot in coffee, and we have a brand that’s worked well for us,” he said. “We’ve held onto our filtered coffee, which has done very well. But at our 25 Re.Store sites, we’ve done something unusual.
“We’ve brought in new machines that offer a better range and more flavours. They are full barista machines – not semi-barista – but authentic machines, and we’ve provided our staff with dedicated training on using them.
“It’s been a big investment for us.”
Sean tells us the scope of the new forecourts has rocked some of their competitors.
“They look at it, and say ‘this is too far’, but that’s what we wanted – it’s a brave step forward.
“We wanted to do something big, rather than the tired, standard refit.”
And it seems that with Re.Store, Topaz has thought of everything.
For the long-stay customer, the forecourt includes high-quality restrooms, expansive seating areas, and quality coffee.
But Re.Store is also optimised for the quick-stop “dashboard diners”, with the introduction of pay-at-the-pump services.
What if you are in a hurry, but still want to sample a barista coffee takes a little longer to prepare?
Well, Topaz have thought of that too, with the reintroduction of what was once a common sight in Ireland’s service stations – the forecourt attendant.
“We have attendants at a number of locations, depending on demand, and it’s something we’re seriously looking at bringing in across the board,” Sean said.
“On specific days, they give general maintenance checks on things like oil, and screen wash levels for customers.
“We want to go back to that great old-style of service, combining that with an ultra-modern forecourt and high-quality services.
“We’re really taking a giant leap forward.”
Topaz’s ambitions on the forecourt are just as impressive as their ambitions for expansion, which Sean confirms is major priority for the firm this year.
“We have plans to further expand this year,” Sean said, before hinting the company’s horizons may be growing beyond the Irish border.
“We’ll be expanding throughout the country, and then see what takes place after that – but the number one priority is to improve our forecourt experience in Ireland.”
With both stations already proving to be a huge success for Topaz, 2015 could be their biggest year yet.