How Circle K met the challenges of 2021: MD Gordon Lawlor

How Circle K met the challenges of 2021: MD Gordon Lawlor

Despite the ongoing uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, 2021 was still a hugely positive year for us at Circle K. As we embark upon 2022, there is much to be excited about, says Gordon Lawlor, managing director of Circle K.

It’s just over six years since we joined the global Circle K family and the journey since then has been truly amazing – growth, investment, innovation and diversification in product and service offering all underpinned by our brilliant team, partners here in Ireland and access to the best minds globally.

As I reflect on last year, I take great pride in our achievements. 2021 was a story of growth and development, supporting communities across Ireland, innovations in our product range to make our customers lives easier, working with great partners and supporting our colleagues.

Every community

Circle K now has more than 420 locations across the island of Ireland. We are present in every community, supporting people with the essential products and services they need.

Our network has grown significantly in 2021. We are fortunate to work with outstanding retail partners across our dealer and franchise operated models, all of whom who are integral to the success of our business. Over the past year, many more independent retailers have joined the Circle K family – so much so that we have doubled our number of franchise locations and even more new dealer locations are now part of our overall network.

We have developed a unique and bespoke approach to working with independent retail partners which sees us offer full end-to-end and tailored solutions to meet their business needs. The strength of our product and service offering across our food range, Circle K Coffee, K Freeze drinks and ice-cream as well as our next generation miles fuel and car wash is key to this.

Our retail partners share in our vision of serving customers brilliantly and making their lives easier every day. They are trusted, renowned and highly regarded within the communities they serve, and we are privileged to support them with our local and global capabilities and extensive product range and service offering.

New partnership

Last year, we also agreed a new five-year partnership with Musgrave MarketPlace. This deal will see Musgrave MarketPlace supply the Circle K network of company-owned and franchise service stations while Circle K will now also supply fuel to 14 service stations owned and operated by Musgrave in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, with these forecourts rebranding to Circle K over time.

2021 also marked a significant moment for our business as we took our first steps onto the high street in Ireland, acquiring 10 standalone stores from the Griffin Group. The physical rebranding of these stores to Circle K began in early January 2022 and will continue over the coming weeks. Some of the locations are already rebranded, including Westmoreland St, College Green, and Upper and Lower O’Connell St in Dublin City Centre.

This marks Circle K’s first multi-site acquisition of standalone stores in Europe and is part of our ambition to deliver our convenience and food retail offering to customers in standalone locations as well as our established and extensive forecourt network. We see great potential for our offering in these locations and are really excited to welcome customers to our new stores.

In particular, we believe this is a really positive development for our company owned and dealer/franchise locations and feel it will bring increased visibility to our brand in high footfall areas, which we hope in turn will benefit our forecourt network.

Ambitions to grow

2022 is set to be another exciting year for Circle K. We have ambitions to grow our network further across our company-owned service stations and convenience stores, as well as our franchise and dealer locations, expanding our footprint so that we can serve more customers and communities across Ireland. We hope to double our number of franchise locations again this year alongside additions to our dealer network as well as looking at other potential opportunities in standalone and forecourt settings.

We will look to evolve our product and service offering again this year and enhance the experience for our customers. Rewarding customer loyalty is also a key focus and we now have half a million registered loyalty members in Ireland and were recently awarded the Irish Loyalty Programme of the Year at the 2021 Irish Loyalty Awards. Delivering on our customers’ needs, gaining their trust, and engendering loyalty is a major priority for our business.

EV network

Our sustainability journey will also continue in 2022. In recent years, we have significantly developed our EV and alternative fuel capabilities across our network and have the largest network of EV charge points through our strategic partnerships with ESB, IONITY and Tesla. We will introduce our own EV charge points in the coming months and years.

We are very fortunate at Circle K to have access to the very best EV insights globally through our global network. In Norway, for example, we see EVs outsell traditional combustible engine cars and as a result, forecourts that only retail electricity while in others EV chargers sit alongside petrol and diesel pumps. We have an insight as to what the future might look like in this regard and liaise regularly with our colleagues in Norway which will be crucial to our own EV journey here in Ireland.

We are also supporting the commercial freight and HGV sector with our Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) refuelling stations at Dublin Port and Cashel with two new CNG sites added at Clonshaugh in Dublin and Ballysimon in Limerick. Circle K has longstanding ties to the commercial transport and freight industry and a key priority of ours is supporting this sector as it endeavours to reduce its carbon emissions.

Low carbon fuels

In the meantime, we are committed to ensuring that our existing fuel products are as environmentally friendly as they possibly can be and are continuously looking at solutions to achieve this. We look forward to the introduction of E10 which we feel can have a significant impact in this regard, as well as other low carbon fuels, which we hope to introduce to the Irish market in the very near future.

The past couple of years have been challenging for the country but I am extremely proud of what our retail partners and Circle K colleagues achieved. While we still need to be vigilant and keep our customers, colleagues, and suppliers safe, the current external environment gives rise to real optimism for the year ahead.

Recent easing of COVID-19 restrictions and the gradual return to workplaces will see commuter traffic increase again and people will turn to Circle K and others for fuel, food, coffee, and wider convenience offerings. We kept the country moving during the pandemic and now we need to get the country moving again. Our sector has a critical role to play in this.

For me the past two years has demonstrated the importance of our relationships – personal relationships with family and friends and professional relationships with our colleagues, partners, and suppliers and of course our customers. Relationships predicated on years of trust remained strong and now in what we hope is a more normalised environment, we can look forward to building on the strength of these relationships into the future.

To read the full article, visit the Ireland’s Forecourt & Convenience Retailer yearbook.