2015’s fuel retail hero, Supermac

One of Ireland’s most successful businessmen speaks to Ireland’s Forecourt & Convenience Retailer on his receipt of the Lifetime Achievement Award and keeping up the pace in the forecourt market

Picking up his Lifetime Achievement award it seemed the fast-food Tsar of Ireland, Pat McDonagh, is on his way to becoming its forecourt Pharaoh.

The Supermac’s founder and Papa John’s magnate has built an impressive hot food empire, and is pouring the knowledge and experience gleaned from that business into a growing portfolio of top-of-the-range fuel and convenience plazas.

Since opening the award-winning Barack Obama Plaza in mid-2014 between Dublin and Limerick, another two have followed, including the Tipperary Town Plaza (more on pages 24 & 25), with a third opening soon.

Speaking to Ireland’s Forecourt & Convenience Retailer magazine, Mr McDonagh said although he felt that at 62 he was a little young to receive the award, he was honoured to accept it.

Pat McDonagh
Pat McDonagh

“Part of me felt a bit too young to receive the award, but to win it, and for people in the industry to recognise me for the contribution you have made, it’s very humbling,” he said. “I’m sure there are people out there who have achieved equally as much as me, but yes, it was great to be honoured in this way.”

Ireland’s forecourt industry is recognised internationally as one of the best in the world, so creating two leading sites like Tipperary Town Plaza and Barack Obama Plaza was no easy task. Pat told us his motivation for creating any business is pushing the boundaries and listening to the customer.

“You have to keep moving forward and seeing what’s happing on the ground, what’s the next big trend” he said. “The new motorways around Ireland have created new opportunities and created room for facilities such as these large-scale forecourts.”

With changes to the Republic’s infrastructure making its impact felt on the domestic forecourt network, we asked if there were plans for Pat to enter the northern market.

But with his new development on the M6 in Kiltullagh (between Galway and Dublin) preparing to come on line, Pat said their plans for the north remained in their infancy.

“It’s ever-changing and we have been very busy with the Kiltullagh site and opening more Supermac’s,” he said. “We haven’t really looked up north, but there’s plenty of opportunity around the country.”

At the front of Pat’s mind, however, is ensuring that his customers get what they are looking for in every aspect of his businesses.

“It’s about having the right services, and having forecourts that match expectations throughout,” he told us. “It’s making it easy for the customer to use, not just those in vehicles, but the facilities instore as well. There’s a lot of competition out there, so everything has to be perfect.”

To achieve that aim, Pat has a number of clear priorities for each forecourt.

“I think you have to make them attractive and provide facilities that customers want: food and comfort, where they can enjoy a meal and relax, and they need to be able to get in and out as quickly as possible,” he said.

“You always need to be in touch with what the customer wants and not just provide it, but ensure you bring them back – that’s the big one.”

It’s a philosophy that remains the same in both fuel retail and fast food.

“They are completely different businesses in some ways, but there’s also a lot of crossover. Many of the same rules apply, like providing value for money, and convenience. They are both service driven and need to move quickly. People using these businesses always think they’re in a rush, whether they are or they’re not.”

But with customers returning in their droves to the existing plazas, there needs to be something more on offer than the facilities being offered by the competition. According to Pat, personality plays a role.

“Different companies definitely have their own personality, and some are more rigid, or more accommodating than others,” he said. “The values of those in charge of course reflects on the ethos and aims of the business, and that feeds right down to the customer experience.”

With his tried and tested formula and philosophy for success all in order, Pat is already drawing up plans for another plaza, which is on its way to the Ennis area of the M18 in Co Clare.

And he tells IF&CR that his plans are not stopping there.

“We have planning permission in for the Ennis site already. We’re looking for other sites around the country, and looking forward to the next challenge.”