Captain of industry – Donal O’Grady speaks to IF&CR

Running a forecourt and performing as captain of Limerick’s senior hurling team can’t be easy, but Donal O’Grady somehow manages to make it look that way.

The service station in the village of Ballingarry, south of Limerick, has been in his family for over 30 years, and for 34-year-old Donal, the support of his fans off the pitch has been a big help.

Speaking ahead of his team’s weekend defeat at the hands of Tipperary in the Munster Championship, Donal said: “I get good support in the business; there’s plenty of fans that come in, especially closer to the big matches.”

Donal joined the Topaz brand in March; the spruced-up forecourt joining his already successful adjoining Spar supermarket.

“It needed refreshing,” Donal said of his decision to join. “Topaz is very much a premium brand and well recognised around here and the rest of the country, so they were an obvious choice. I was really keen to be part of their fuel card offer, and with Play or Park and Cash for Clubs, it has turned out to be huge help bringing in customers.

“I had the feeling that they [Topaz], more than anyone else, were a lot more ‘customer centric’. They have more promotions for customers than anyone else and it is a good draw for new customers.”

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Donal joined Topaz in March

Play or Park has been a sensationally successful campaign for Topaz, resulting in over 330,000 people signing up to the promotion that sees customers collecting points with every fuel purchase made at participating Topaz stores.

Points can be spent in-store, or used to enter a regular draw featuring major prizes that include family cars worth up to €30,000 and trips to Las Vegas.

Every time customers decide to play, they are guaranteed to get a free Topaz treat, such as a coffee, pastry, or winter car care kit just for taking part.

Topaz’s Cash for Clubs competition, meanwhile, finished in May, and gave customers the chance to win thousands of Euro for sports clubs in their local area.

For a sportsman like Donal, helping local teams was a big part of his decision to join the brand.

“It shows Topaz is interested in the local community,” he said. “We’ve got that association with sports clubs now, and people come in looking for sponsorship for their sports teams. When they see Cash for Clubs, it means customers stay more loyal, so we get a return for that.”

Nestled in the small village of Ballingarry, O’Grady’s Topaz is now an integral part of the local community, something that engenders a certain amount of pride in the county hurling captain.

And with the Topaz promotions setting out a path for further community engagement, Donal said his new brand was setting his station apart from the rest.

Inside the Ballingarry garage
Inside the Ballingarry garage

“With some of the forecourt companies, it’s hard to distinguish what they offer. Of course, fuel price is a big part of what draws in customers, but with Topaz, their price is right and that combined with their fuel card offer is for me unbeatable.”

But it’s with fuel card customers that Donal has seen the biggest changes since erecting the Topaz sign. He tells us that his forecourt is seeing a new type of customer, and they are proving to be a lucrative addition.

“We are seeing a lot of business people, commuters, and executives who use fuel cards for work coming into the shop for the first time,” he said.

“Ballingarry is a fairly small area, and a lot of the time, those sorts of customers would have passed by, but the fuel card is bringing them in. We refer to it as the business within business. It’s great to have opened up to a new market.”

With so many years in the industry, Donal has picked up a few insights along the way, and tells IF&CR what he feels makes for an outstanding forecourt.

“It’s really down to the services that are on offer,” Donal said. “Air, water, car wash, shop… it’s all about being a one-stop-shop.”

Donal’s station is also flanked by a Chinese take-away, off-licence and has an ATM on site, and the 34-year-old said he believed these additions were a big draw to customers.

“It’s also important that your fuel represents good value, and Topaz fuel is of course well-known as a high-quality product,” he said.

“The price is right and people believe in the brand. I think we are very competitive now.”

“All these things add to our supermarket, and standards are high. There is so much competition now that every aspect of the forecourt needs to be of high-quality.”

Donal said he felt the range of products and services available made forecourts like his tough competition for even supermarket multiples like Asda and Tesco.

“When you’re competing with big shops like those, you have to be able to offer that same level of value, and being a one-stop-shop like us gives us an edge,” he said.