On the main road to success

Topaz currently holds 25% of the market
Topaz currently holds 25% of the market

Barry Gillen has been trading on the main roads in Trim, Co. Meath for nearly 14 years. His two forecourt stations have recently been rebranded to the Topaz brand and he is noticing a significant difference in his business since the change. He spoke with Fiona Donnellan



10 September 2013

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Dublin Road,
Co. Meath

Size: 3,000 sq ft



Navan Road,
Co. Meath

Size: 1,500 sq ft

 Staff: 40 in total, both full and part-time


A different career path 

Barry Gillen is a primary school teacher by trade. The Meath man taught for 13 years before deciding that he needed a change. Surprisingly, Gillen didn’t like the school holidays and having so much time off. He says the family connection to the retail trade may have played a part in his choice to join the ranks of shop owners across the country. "I’ve a sister and a brother in the retail business so I took a career break and decided to give it a go. I don’t regret leaving teaching. I decided to leave it before it left me." First up for Gillen was a shop in the small village of Kilcock which he leased for three years. An opportunity then arose on the main Dublin Road in Trim. "The site on the Dublin Road came up for sale so I took the plunge and bought it. I developed it over time. It’s been nearly 14 years now."

Two is as good as one

Five years after he had taken over the Dublin Road site, another opportunity came to Gillen’s attention. "A friend of mine was an engineer in the town of Trim and a site came up for sale. It was on the Navan Road. We decided to buy the site and we put in a convenience store and a petrol station. We also built a Supermac’s beside it. We don’t run that, we lease it out but it definitely adds to the draw. The two elements combine very well on that road." For the last seven years, Gillen has run both sites on two of the busiest roads in the town. Despite their similarities, the two stations are very different from each other.

The Navan road site is the smaller of the two. At 1,500 sq ft, this Londis is a smaller convenience store but it certainly draws the customers. The fresh offering, along with the positioning of Supermac’s on the premises is a great way to attract passing trade. The Dublin Road store is nearly twice the size at almost 3,000 sq ft. Both stores are under the Londis brand and have been from the beginning. "I’ve been with Londis since the very start of my retail career. I’ve a brother with a Londis in Summerhill and then I’ve a sister with a SuperValu in Mullingar." Both stations were also with the Texaco brand up until a few weeks ago when Gillen switched over to the Topaz name.

Fresh new look

The decision to rebrand took several months for Gillen. After meeting with several operators, he decided that the Topaz name, brand and ethos were the way to go. The work was carried out in the first two weeks of July and caused the minimum of disruption. "There was quite a bit of work in the rebranding for Topaz. They changed the canopy, the pumps were branded, the goalpost signage was all changed, the car wash, everywhere really. Not only that, but they have put in all the safety signage as well which is great. They’re very much into health and safety." The construction process did not interfere with the trading hours of the businesses, for which Gillen was grateful. The Dublin Road site trades 24 hours a day while the Navan Road site opens at 6.30am and closes at 10pm. "It didn’t affect the business at all; we didn’t have to close anything down. It was done very neatly and very quickly. It was all finished in the first two weeks of July so I’m open about six weeks now."

Match made in heaven

The combination of Londis and Topaz is working very well, says Gillen. "The whole branding with Topaz is very good because Topaz have the loyalty element and Londis have the ‘Local like you’ initiative going on at the moment and the two of them are blending very well." The colour schemes of both brands are bright and fresh and instantly recognisable for passing potential customers. "The marriage of Londis and Topaz seems to be working for me anyway. Londis has always worked for me, in fairness, but the timing of the new marketing campaign at the moment is great. The fact that we’ve gone with Topaz, we’ve changed, along with the Londis campaign, it’s all working. The Topaz branding is so new and fresh, it’s good and bright. It draws people in and looks great at night, all lit up. The colours are great."

The reaction of the customers has been extremely positive so far since the completion of the rebranding. Both sites have seen an upturn in traffic since the rebranding at the beginning of July. "The reaction is astonishing," says Gillen. "I’m actually genuinely astounded by the reaction of people. Our fuel trade is up; the fuel cards with Topaz are a fantastic draw." Due to Topaz’s established fuel card business, which is used by sales representatives and business people that travel for work, coming under the Topaz banner has created more business for the stores attached to the fuel stations. Deli sales have also increased in line with the increased traffic to the forecourt.

Growing the business

Last year, Gillen installed a seating area in the Dublin Road store. He says that this, combined with the fuel card loyalty business that Topaz has brought in, has had an effect on his sales figures. "That’s another reason why I went with Topaz because I knew that with the fuel cards, we would have a lot more reps coming in and because of the seating area added to that, our deli trade has gone up too." The locations of the sites are on two of the busiest roads in the town so along with a strong community customer base; there is a good deal of passing traffic that is attracted in. "We are on the main Trim to Dublin road so we would have a lot of business traffic. The last traffic count was over 12,000 cars going by here every day. Now that was a few years ago so it’s probably gone down a little but we would have a good mix of local and passing traffic."

Despite the huge passing trade for both stores, Gillen says first and foremost, he considers the main customer base to be the local community. "We would be a local shop but with serious passing traffic. We like to consider ourselves a local shop; we have local loyalty with the fuel." Loyalty when it comes to fuel is hard to come by. However, being a trusted source of quality fuel will pay dividends. The rise in illegal fuel is affecting retailers nationwide, some more so than others in certain parts of the country. Gillen says there is an issue in the local area of Trim with illegal fuel. "There is a problem in this area, we have an issue. Two places have been closed down in recent weeks but there are other operators. There would be a problem with quality fuel in the area but we have customers that, no matter what price the fuel is, they’ll come in because they know that it’s good. We’ve established trust." Gillen can only recall one incident of a customer questioning his fuel quality in his 14 years of retailing. It was a customer who had purchased a can of fuel for a lawnmower and they came back when the fuel turned out to be dirty. "It wasn’t ours at all and we were lucky that the customs officials had just been here a few days previously to that to test the fuel. We were able to show the customer all our records. We’ve never had an issue so we’re happy with that." 

Value offering

Gillen believes that the value offerings from suppliers for smaller convenience stores have improved in recent years. "A number of years ago, we weren’t getting the value offering as convenience stores, now those offers are given to us because the suppliers know that we are a good consistent trade. We have the fuel, it draws people in anyway and when the offers are there, our trade goes up. The fresh range is growing; we’re doing our own baking now. We’ve just taken delivery of a new oven so we’ll have our own bakery. Maybe people are staying local and buying more small things more often but we’ve found our fruit and veg sales have gone up. We’re having a great year this year." Despite his success, Gillen has no plans to take on another site. He says he would like to concentrate on the business he has now and build on it for the future. "I’m going to try and improve the offering and if I can expand in time then I will look at that. There are so many restrictions now but I wouldn’t go for a third site. I’d look at improving what I have instead." Gillen seems to have achieved that aim with the rebranding to Topaz.



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