Gerard Boylan, Top Oil

In 2012, Top Oil announced it was investing in its retail business and launching a new modern forecourt brand that certainly caught the eye of retailers up and down the country.

In fact, the new look and level of support for retail partners has been a big success which saw Top Oil add 20 new dealers sites to its network in the past 12 months.

“The brand has been very well received and in addition having good sales people on the ground has helped significantly,” said Gerard Boylan.

“We have a local team in every county and retailers still want to do business with local people. Retailers want to be able to get hold of someone on a Friday evening or a Saturday and that’s
something we can provide, in addition to a very strong brand.”

He added: “All the sites were new to the Top Oil network, so retailers have opted to brand with us over the competition which is a great endorsement.”

Looking at the wider retail forecourt market, Gerard is pleased to report a good steady year for Top Oil in what has remained a challenging 12 months.

He said: “Volumes have steadied in the market. They have not increased but it’s the first time in five years that overall market volumes have stopped declining.

“We had a cold March/April which was positive but a mild Autumn which impacted on our home heating business.

Top Oil, Newbridge, Kildare
Top Oil, Newbridge, Kildare

In terms of transport fuels they were much steadier. During the year we made good progress on internal projects rolling out a new IT platform in Northern Ireland and Scotland as well as rolling out our new brand. In summary it was a good steady year for us.”

In Northern Ireland where Top Oil has a growing presence, the company branded a new greenfield site on Belfast’s Boucher Road, an official launch is planned for the coming weeks.

As well as signing 20 new dealer sites, Top Oil also won the tender to brand the former Tougher Oil business which included eight sites in the Kildare and Carlow regions. “The flagship site is the Newhall site in Kildare,” said Gerard.

“It’s great news for us that we were successful in winning the business and we look forward to working with the owners to continue to develop the sites.”

The dealer market has always been competitive and with new names entering the mix each year– there is more choice than ever for forecourt operators and winning the new sites we have is a major plus for any oil company.

Gerard said: “The forecourt sector has had a tough few years; the fuel side has been OK but there has been a decrease in shops and deli sales, however, a good site, with a good location and a good operator will always do business.

The biggest challenge in the market as Gerard sees it is the continuing impact of the recession. Whilst it’s acknowledged that consumer confidence is going in the right direction, he says that the home grown economy is still finding it difficult.

Top Oil, Galway
Top Oil, Tuam Road, Galway

“The forecourt and oil markets are all in the indigenous economy, that’s where we operate and that’s in a very tough place. Other sectors have kicked back into recovery mode but the indigenous Irish economy is finding it hard.

“There is still a credit squeeze on and banks are now focusing on their smaller customers which will no doubt put some of them under pressure – and some will be our customers. We will work with them but it will inevitably lead to some receiverships and liquidations in terms of sites but that in turn presents opportunities for other retailers to get extra sites.”

Back in 2010, Top Oil was part of a consortium that opened Ireland’s first Motorway Service Areas (MSAs). Business on the MSA forecourts is good and Gerard is confident of Top Oil being involved in similar motorway sites.

“The MSAs are performing well and they have now become destinations. The diesel rebate scheme will pay dividends in this area and bring in more business to the sites. There are to be further tranches of MSAs coming up
for tender and we will be competing for them.”

Illicit fuel is always an issue with forecourt retailers and 2013 saw the introduction of ROM-1 which has helped to combat the problem of fuel fraud. Authorities on both sides of the border have also had success in shutting down fuel laundering plants which has been welcomed by the industry.

“The ROM-1 licensing system is definitely working. There is a significant amount of administration with it but it is working and we would be supportive of all these measures. Good progress is certainly being made
by the authorities,” said Gerard.

“We have rolled out our new quality assured fuel location scheme. If retailers sign up to that they will be named a Top Oil quality fuel location and we will give them advice on forecourt practice, fuel management, housekeeping and we guarantee the quality of fuel on that location.”

Looking at the coming 12 months, Top Oil will continue to roll out its brand across the country and whilst Gerard says there will be pressure on margins, hopefully the continued recovery of the economy will feed into
the indigenous economy and will drive growth and volume.

“We will continue to focus on giving service and support to retailers through our teams on the ground and we will be aiming to add further sites to our forecourt network in 2014.”