As Frank Gleeson prepares to leave Topaz after 12 years with the company, he talks to NR about his time in convenience retailing and how the industry will fare in 2014…
Last year was a positive one for Topaz. The dealer business grew successfully, a number of company owned were integrated in to network with the flagship new forecourt at Dublin Airport opening in December last year.
Sales were up too and Frank believes there has been a definite improvement in the retail market.
“We are seeing an improvement in the figures; some of it we would attribute to market change i.e. laundered diesel coming back into the legitimate channel,” he said.
“Some of it is down to the very good driving summer we had thanks to the good weather in 2013 which saw consumers spending more. We also had a strong launch of our play and park loyalty programme and we have seen an improvement in our fuel numbers on the back of that.
“Our convenience store numbers were very good through July, August and September – it’s amazing what couple of good months of weather can do for business.”
With more than 330 forecourts across Ireland, Topaz signed 16 new dealers in 2013 with 30 per cent being in Northern Ireland.
“Dealers are very much sought after and today they have a great choice with multiple suppliers,” said Frank.
“However, my view hasn’t changed that the supplier who can give them a very strong brand and overall value proposition will win out against price.
“We have the ability at Topaz to put a lot of customers on forecourts. They know they can trust our fuel; it gives them more efficiency so we have more USPs than our competitors and we also gave a very strong sales force who, to my mind, can offer more solutions.”
Offering solutions includes innovative products and services – all of which are being showcased at the new state-of-the-art service station at Dublin Airport.
Topaz is currently in expansion mode and the redevelopment at Dublin Airport is a key part of that. Earlier in 2013, Topaz announced details of two new motorway sites on the M8 and M9 and there are more planned this year on the new road networks across Ireland.
The Dublin site showcases how far we have come as a business in terms of our offer and development both externally and internally,” said Frank.
“It’s a very modern and well executed site. All our new service ideas are featured such as our new pump technology and canopies; we have tried a substantial amount of new ideas.”
Investment has also gone into software and the launch of Play or Park has been a huge success for Topaz.
With more than 200,000 registered members and almost half a million game tags in circulation it has been widely received by Topaz customers and the company is looking to improve the offering even further in 2014.
Play or Park registration and the amount of dealers signing for Topaz are all growing in Northern Ireland too – an area where Topaz has a lower market share.
“We will continue to add more stations in NI as it’s a great hunting ground for us,” said Frank.
“Our share is growing quite aggressively as we are finding a lot of unbranded operators are thinking of branding now. It makes sense, especially when motorists are considering fuel credentials. Dealers can build a long term sustainable businesses that way.”
This month sees Frank leave Topaz and join Aramark Ireland, where he will take up the role of managing director of food services.
Looking back over his time at Topaz, Frank has enjoyed many challenges ans successes and singles out the
The integration of Statoil and Shell businesses and later the challenge of unifying two companies under one brand is something Frank is particularly proud of.
“I led that project from start to finish and to now see Topaz as one of the most recognised and well supported brands in the country is a great feeling.”
Looking ahead to the next 12 months, Frank says Topaz certainly won’t be resting on its laurels and will continue to invest and innovate in the future of convenience retailing.
“The competition is always snapping at our heels and industry standards keep improving. I just had some visitors over from CBX, a consultancy business in New York, and their view on the Irish convenience market is that it is the most competitive in the world. So for Topaz to be where it is presently is has taken a lot of hard work and good people in the company and I’m confident they will maintain this position for many years to come.”