Staying on Top – Martin Daly speaks to IF&CR

Martin Daly, head of sales & marketing at one of Ireland’s largest fuel retailers Top Oil, speaks to IF&CR about the company’s winning strategy.

Top Oil scored a major success at this year’s Ireland’s Forecourt & Convenience Retailer Awards when their Top Oil Mace Park Road site in Waterford claimed a major award for the Top Oil brand.

The site, owned by Brian and Siobhan Mooney, was named Forecourt of the Year in the up to 1,100 sqft category, impressing judges with its “immaculate presentation” and “smiling staff”.

“We’re delighted as it is the second year in a row a Top Oil Service Station has won this particular prestigious award following on from McCaughey’s last year,” Martin Daly told IF&CR. “We visited Mooney’s recently and you could see the staff were thrilled and proud. This award has given a real boost to staff morale and proved to everyone connected to the service station that they are doing their business in the right way. This award has given Mooney’s a great sense of achievement and an opportunity to improve the impact of the service station locally in Waterford and we do expect to get plenty of positive traction for our entire national retail network with this win.”

Martin joined Top Oil in 1999 as a business development manager before progressing to regional sales manager.

He was promoted to Top Oil commercial manager in 2007 and to head of sales & marketing in 2011.

Top Oil head of sales and marketing, Martin Daly
Top Oil head of sales and marketing, Martin Daly

It is the third year the company has entered the IF&CR awards, impressing the judges each time. However, Martin said Top Oil is planning to up their level of engagement with business awards in the future.

“This win is very positive for Top Oil, retailers considering joining our brand will certainly take notice, our contracted Top Oil retailers are going to strive to win these awards and we have been engaging more with retailers in focus groups to improve our Top Oil Fueling Ireland brand profile at the IF&CR Awards,” he said.

“We are certainly giving serious consideration to entering additional categories, such as the Forecourt Facilities category next year. When you see the hard work, dedication and commitment given by staff at Top Oil Service Stations, it is important to see that they are deservedly rewarded with relevant business awards.”

Asked if Martin believed winning national awards transferred to the company’s bottom line, he told us: “Yes, absolutely. When you enter a forecourt or a shop and see awards prominently displayed in the store, it gives customers an instant positive impression and reassurance that this is a quality service station to purchase from.”

In terms of branding, Top Oil’s Mr Ted and bright emerald fascia is one of the most recognisable in the country. The company is also working hard on its social media presence, but Martin points out that sometimes less can be more.

“We are very proud of our new Top Oil Fueling Ireland brand and it certainly helped us sign up our five most recent retailers in Galway, Limerick and three in Dublin, which is the most difficult city to penetrate. It was particularly satisfying to welcome these sites into the Top Oil retail family,” he said. “We have come a long way in a short space of time with our social media presence, and we use it to communicate relevant content that we know will be useful and beneficial to our followers.”

Martin added: “Within two years from a standing start we now have well over 34,000 followers on Facebook. Social media, including Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram are working really well for us, they are easy platforms to use and they are helping us to build our Top Oil Profile in a very cost effective and efficient manner. We made the conscious decision to manage these platforms internally, rather than outsource to a digital agency, because we feel that we can communicate our own Top Oil Story more genuinely.

“We are achieving extremely satisfying engagement numbers and receiving very positive interactions with our online connections. We also understand that social media is still in its infancy and will only get bigger and louder with each passing day for ourselves, our retailers, our business partners and we need to prepare for this on an ongoing basis with continuous improvements.

“We try consciously not to over-do it on social media and our strategy is that of a brand reminder when it comes to Facebook – less is definitely more. It means we’re easy to follow, and we’re not bombarding our followers every five minutes and our followers understand this and appear to respect us for this posting strategy.”

One of Top Oil’s most popular competitions this year was a free tickets giveaway to September’s National Ploughing Championships.

The company was official fuel sponsor for the event and Martin told us the tie-in had been a successful way of reaching out to their rural customers, who form an important part of their customer base.

“We have a strong presence in the agricultural sector in Ireland, which is the primary reason why we sponsored this iconic three day event and it certainly has delivered an immediate return on investment for Top Oil from an increase in direct sales, a significant conversion of new customers, building Top Oil brand awareness, and appreciation gained of our sponsorship from the agricultural community,” he said.

As one of Ireland’s biggest fuel importers, Top Oil has big decisions to make on many fronts, not least the international price of oil.

Crude prices are currently predicted to slide further towards the end of this year, despite speculation it would rise due to falling inventories in the US.

We asked Martin if he had any insights on how prices were likely to behave in the near future.

“One thing I do know is that nobody can accurately predict the future,” he said. “Some thought the price would reach $200 a barrel four years ago, and now it’s around $40. The good news for our customers is that it’s currently low, and in the short to medium term it should stay that way. You never can tell though, and if you could, Top Oil would definitely hire you!”

Martin said that while oil prices played a big role in the industry, forecourts had undergone a significant evolution, with more investment in other aspects of the business, such as creating a wider retail offering, and more focus on the food-to-go market.

“It’s about meeting customer demands,” he said. “There’s more shopping on the go, and people have greater expectations from their forecourts these days. That’s been driving the change in the Irish marketplace. Customer expectations are high, and so each of the facilities on the site needs to be at an exceptionally high standard.”

And the market is changing in major ways, according to Martin, who points out that every aspect of today’s forecourt is now under the microscope.

“People are looking for better offers, and it has led to a really competitive environment,” Martin told IF&CR.

So competitive, in fact, that he believes Ireland’s forecourts are now leading the world in scope and design.

“It’s a good time to be in the retail industry,” he said. “You have got to be progressive, creative and thinking long term. Standards have always been high, but right now, Ireland has one of the strongest forecourt industries in the world.”

And with that in mind, we asked if he could reveal some of the ideas Top Oil has in the pipeline for the next generation of service stations.

“Our main focus is to continue the roll out of our new Top Oil Fueling Ireland brand and get more retailers to sign up to it. We are also working closely with our current retail partners and while we continuously focus on retail innovation I don’t see any major game-changers on the horizon, just yet,” he said. “We continue to develop our Top Oil Fueling Ireland brand to ensure that our offer to retailers is the best available in Ireland.

“However, we are hoping to introduce a new range of technical services and an improved Top Oil website in the near future. Our new website will have a customer portal that will have delivery requests functionality. It will allow our customers to upload new orders directly onto our system, which will greatly enhance our efficiency.

“There will be a number of other technical improvements coming on stream shortly and all of these should really help improve the customer experience, which is always at the forefront of our thinking in Top Oil.”