Business as usual – Topaz’s Jonathon Diver speaks to IF&CR

Following a strong year, network director at Topaz Energy Group Limited, Jonathon Diver, speaks to IF&CR during a period of radical change for the fuel retailer

“Will we continue our expansion strategy? Absolutely,” a strident Jonathon Diver told IF&CR during our recent interview.

“There’s to be no change in that regard. Over the last 12 months we’ve added a number of new sites to our network, and we opened two landmark sites.”

Saying Topaz had a busy 2015 is quite the understatement.

Ireland’s biggest fuel retailer, it hit the headlines in December with the news that Canadian retail behemoth Couche-Tard had bought the business – including its 30 depots and two owned terminals.

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Jonathon Diver, network director at Topaz Energy Group Limited

However, Topaz is still focused on growing its number of dealer sites, and developing its current forecourts. That includes its Ballacolla site in Co Laois, which won last year’s NACS Insight International Convenience Retailer of the Year Award – the most prestigious prize in the world for the forecourt industry.

Topaz now has some 240 dealer owned sites, including 60 Esso forecourts, which it acquired in October after the deal was cleared by the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission.

“Last year we also started building more sites, such as the City West Business Campus, and redeveloping a store in Limerick, which is to open in the next couple of weeks,” Jonathon said.

“After securing the Esso business, we’ve also had the task of integrating it into our network, which is going extremely well.

“Acquiring Esso has added a lot of sites to our network, and all of them are strong stores with good reputations. The additional network also helps us provide more coverage for our fuel card holders, while many of the new dealers have been in the business a long time and have a lot of experience.

“It’s provided a bit of excitement around the Esso sites, as they’ve lacked a bit of investment recently, but all that is changing since the deal.”

Jonathon also said many of the Esso site dealers were extremely experienced, and that Topaz was learning a lot from the new members of the network.

But Topaz’s growth won’t stop at the Esso acquisition.

“In the year ahead, we’ve got a number of motorway sites we will be building this year, which will be in Cork, Carlow, and another in Leinster,” he said.

The new sites, according to Jonathon, will be in the style of the successful Ballacolla service station and feature an equally strong food offer as the award-winning site.

“They’ll feature the Re.Store brand, and include trucker and restaurant facilities,” he said. “They’ll provide a strong service offer, and are in good locations that form natural stopping points for motorists on the road.”

Topaz will also be busy redeveloping a number of new sites, and rolling out their rebranding of the Esso estate, along with continuing the roll-out of the Re.Store offer.

“There’s a lot going on, so we’re at full steam ahead at the minute,” he added.

Topaz led the market in open sites in the Republic of Ireland last year, and had made significant inroads in Northern Ireland too. So what was so attractive about their offer that had dealers sign up in their droves?

Jonathon said: “It’s the essentials – a good quality product and continuing to advertise our Quality Fuels Plus fuel additive that adds value for motorists, making it a product they can trust. Motorists can recognise that our fuel is not the same, and our customers know they are at the centre of everything we do.

“It’s that reputation and recognition of the brand that’s key for dealers. There’s also a strong fuel card network which continues to grow. For dealers, that provides an advantage in knowing fuel card users will come into their stores, which have a strong food and beverage offer. So it’s not just fuel transactions, as fuel card customers tend to spend more in the shop.”

Jonathon said the brand as a whole was “exceptionally strong”, while their clubs promotion, which provides funds to community groups and sports clubs, provides a significant point of difference compared to other brands.

“Our dealer customers are also fantastic representatives for the brand in their local communities and our clubs promotions really work for them.”

The Topaz network director also talked about the strength of Topaz’s sales team, which has grown with the addition of two experienced members from the Esso network.

“We have a team there that works with our dealers and supports them with day-to-day operational challenges; anything from health and safety issues to inspections,” he said.

Jonathon added that the strength of the organisation also provides savings in procurement, with the company passing on rates at which the company purchases services and equipment.

“They get the benefit of that as well,” Jonathon said. “Advantages like that are important, as everyone is cautiously optimistic about the economic recovery. At times like this you’ll see dealers spend more money on their forecourts, so an organisation offering procurement benefits is very valuable.

“We work with dealers any way we can, which is why we continue to grow.”

Topaz know that growing their brand involves constant innovation, which is why it invested €11.4 million in a deal to bring Rocket’s by Eddie Rocket’s to 40 forecourts over the next seven years.

Following the deal in October, the first new outlets were launched in Douglas, Co Cork, Dublin Port, and Brennanstown, Co Wicklow.

Topaz already has a strong relationship with Supermacs, and has opened a number of Mexican inspired food sites. But speaking about the deal, Jonathon said the addition of Rockets will help drive further growth.

“As we continue to grow, we want to increase our variety of strong food options, and Rockets is a very exciting addition to that range,” he said. “We have Supermacs at some of our other sites, which has performed very well, so it’s not just about one brand. Every store is different, and if you look across our dealer network, that’s evidenced as well.

“Different areas want different things, so that’s what this deal will help us achieve.”

Food is not the only area in which Topaz is innovating, as the company has been leading a technological charge as well.

Along with pushing their digital presence online, the company has been rolling-out online training schemes, allowing busy forecourts time to carryout valuable training programmes with staff.

Meanwhile, their continuing close work with wet stock specialists Fairbanks is also providing considerable savings for the firm.

“They continue to modify the functionality of their fuel management software, which really helps give you control over your wet stock and saves a lot of costs,” he said.

For the year ahead, Jonathon said he expected it to be a challenging 12 months.

“The big challenge will be maximising the opportunity we have,” he said. “The integration of Esso is a great project, and we’ll continue to drive the brand and add more stores.

“We had a really strong year in Northern Ireland, and have opened up to 50 sites now – that’s up from just 16 sites five years ago.

“The Re.Store roll-out will continue, and we’ll be supporting our dealers through the legislative changes ahead, such as the new regulations on the sale of alcohol.

“All in all, most of the challenges ahead revolve around our continued growth in the industry, so that’s a positive thing.”