Applegreen and the black cats
Through a loyal customer base and a new Applegreen partnership, John Eivers has been able to succeed in the competitive Kilkenny fuel market. Peter Stears travelled to the thriving forecourt to learn more about the factors driving its success
17 May 2017 | 0
Spar Irishtown Service Station (Applegreen),
Site owner/operator: John Eivers
Staff: 14 – All full-time
Size: 1,500 sq ft
Kilkenny city is the historical heart of Leinster. Walking through the Marble City, a dedication to tradition, community spirit and the love of hurling is evident throughout.
Flags and bunting of the county team decorate the town houses’ windows; black and amber runs through the veins of the city.
It is against this background where we sat down with John Eivers, owner of Spar Irishtown Service Station in Kilkenny city and discussed his recent forecourt partnership with Applegreen, the impact the change has had on his business, and the importance of local business in the historic city.
After finishing his degree in DIT studying Business, Eivers embarked on a long and diverse career in retail spanning Crazy Prices, Musgraves, and SuperValu. Eivers began his career as a franchisee after purchasing a site from the existing owner in 2003 and took the first step of his journey to developing his store.
“This site in its current form opened in 2008,” he says. “I came in as franchisee in 2003 and then I bought the site from BWG so I’m here 14 years; it’s a very good site.”
Eivers recently opened his Applegreen forecourt in January of this year, believing it was the right move for his business. Being with a brand like Applegreen has boosted confidence in consumers and protected his business against the competitive Kilkenny fuel market.
“The goalposts have changed and the Kilkenny fuel market is ultra-competitive,” says Eivers. “There are about 11 stations, eight of them are company-owned and the brands leading the way in Kilkenny now would be Applegreen and Top Oil.
“We want to be busy, busy, busy, the whole time and we want to be selling volume, so when you look at all of that, going forward in the market, we thought we would be better off with Applegreen,” he tells ShelfLife. “If for example, a competitor was to open up beside you, at least you’re going to be with the best in the business.”
Eivers didn’t dive headfirst into partnership with Applegreen at the drop of a penny however; he did his research to make sure the decision was the right one for him and for his business.
“Before making the decision to go with Applegreen I went around for eight or nine months last year talking to guys like I, who would actually change over to Applegreen and it was all positivity,” he says.
After making the switch, Eivers saw a positive impact on his sales through being associated with a market leading brand like Applegreen. This not only carried with it the brand’s reputation, but also transformed the aesthetics of the canopy over his forecourt which has been in place for 20 years, adding a fresh and contemporary look to the existing structure.
“Switching to Applegreen has impacted on our sales positively,” says Eivers, “but at the moment it’s hard to quantify it because of road works, and the building of the new bridge.
“The traffic count for the current bridge is 15,000 vehicles every day. The majority of them are going to be coming over this way once the new bridge is opened so we will have more traffic than we ever had.
“Applegreen has done a serious transformation on our canopy outside,” he adds. “We are situated in a medieval conservation area and were never able to put up a traditional canopy when the place was built 20 years ago. Through talking with Applegreen, we all decided [on the current canopy] and it looks really, really good; at night-time it looks really well and really stands out, so we are very happy with that.
“Certainly the name and brand Applegreen have has added value to the forecourt,” Eivers continues. “It adds value but also to the look of the place, image-wise and brand-wise they have totally transformed what the place looks like, even at night time; Applegreen are leading the way in forecourt retailing and have done in the last five or six years.”
Beyond the fuel
While Eivers has never had to worry about the fuel direct debit bill, he still notes the added benefits of being with Applegreen and some of their policies. He believes that with Applegreen you have support there; whether it is thinking about updating your store or extending your forecourt, what comes with an Applegreen partnership goes beyond just fuel.
“The contract we have with them for the next five years and the supply of fuel, we’re very happy with,” he says. “They look after everything as regards the fuel, basically you don’t have to worry about the large direct debit for a load of fuel, it would be 3-5 days after you buy it. There is also less administration work to be done; it’s not that you aren’t always thinking about the fuel, you are always watching it, but there is a lot of time freed up in the week as regards that.
“Down the road, if you ever were thinking about expanding your business or if you got an extra bit of space, Applegreen would help you out as well with those plans; advice on what they think you should do, and there are other ways they can help you out as well.
“In dealing with their staff I found them very professional, very thorough, very knowledgeable, there was no bluffing with them and they were always straight up,” Eivers continues.
“I met some of the team inside head office and even just going into head office and having a walk around and seeing the buzz of the place, there’s a strong positivity within the company, everyone is working towards the same goal and I was very impressed with the team.
“You just know from talking to people in there that everything is for the cause of Applegreen and they genuinely love what they do and it’s an Irish company, it’s a young company and the success they’ve had since they set up their first store in 2004 is a serious pat on the back to them.”
The local touch
Local custom is vital for the site. As Eivers explains: “80% of our business would be local and 20% would be passing trade so our turnover would be fairly consistent week in-week-out; having said that, when I started off first in 2003 I have grown the business and I have invested in it year-on-year.”
Watching Eivers on the shop floor for even a short amount of time you can see the friendships he has established with his customers over the years.
“It’s very important that we have that local business element because, even though we are in the middle of the city centre of Kilkenny, there’s always been a filling station here before us and I suppose we would be known as the local shop for a lot of people in the area.
“It is important that we look after them, have good customer service, the right product for them, at the right time, and at the right price.
“At the end of the day, that 80% are coming back here regularly,” he adds. “As I always say to my staff, when we’re talking about customer service, it’s great to get somebody in once, but you need to get them back in for the repeat business and what makes you stand out is service, and if somebody has a positive time in the shop, they will come back.”
As all successful retailers know however, there is always room for further growth, and Eivers is keen to explore potential avenues for expansion. “The plan for the future is to capitalise on what we have here at the minute and I suppose going forward we would like to be selling a lot more product and maybe in time, there’s a possibility we can expand our forecourt and extend our offerings into the food sector.”
The site owner attributes his current success moreover to a loyal team. “We have 13 staff and they’re all full-time and the reason we have that is because we want to keep continuity,” Eivers says. “I’m here 14 years now, my manager 11 years and the majority of people would be here around 8-9 years.
“Back in the Celtic Tiger days when it was roaring ahead, people were staying here, they weren’t chopping and changing jobs,” he continues. “The staff are the crux in any business and what I see down there on the shop floor is that we have regular customers coming in 2/3 times a day, or 6/7 times a week.
“The customers like to see a familiar face and to have staff on-board for that amount of time shows that everyone is happy. Staff are very important; they’re crucial to the success of any business and the fact that people are here so long, I would hope that would be a testament to how we’re running our business and that we’re looking after them.”