Maxol is Accelerating into 2018

Huge investment over the past year has put Maxol in a strong position for 2018. CEO Brian Donaldson reveals to Neighbourhood Retailer how the brand plans to develop over the next two years.

2017 was not only an exciting year for the Maxol brand, but also for CEO Brian Donaldson, who in May, celebrated a full year at the helm of the company.

Over the past 12 months, Maxol has invested close to €22m in its retail business, bringing the total number of sites across the island of Ireland to more than 235, with 115 of these company owned.

Speaking to Neighbourhood Retailer, Brian said: “It has been an exciting year, and one in which we’ve made significant progress as a business.

“One of the key highlights was setting out a detailed strategic plan that outlined where we aspire to take the business in the next three years. The plan drilled right down into which of our sites we wish to invest and upgrade the offer as well as identifying new sites and land to add to our expanding company network.”

Any good fuel retailer knows that the industry is changing rapidly and that the best course of action is to anticipate the developments and to evolve with them. With this in mind, Maxol’s strategic plan aims to reposition the business model to bring food service and convenience to the fore, with fuel, while still important, a secondary offering in the overall income mix.

Despite an annual turnover in excess of €600m, Maxol is still very much a family business with two fourth generation McMullan family members sitting on the board of directors. With just 85 direct employees, 2017 marked a change as Maxol added 10 new company employees to enlarge their management team with varied skills. Part of the recruitment drive included the appointment of a Chief Operations Officer, John Paul O’Reilly, alongside a new Head of Marketing and Head of Business Development. Plans are in place to make a further five appointments to the team in the first quarter of the new year.

“Our strategic plan focuses on putting more resources behind developing our retail offer and improving our customers experience to ensure we are giving them what they want for all parts of the day at affordable prices in attractive and welcoming stores.

By increasing the level of skill behind our management team, we are better positioned to achieve this.”

Brian Donaldson and Ulster Rugby

This level of investment has not gone unnoticed by consumers either, as Brian tells of a recent encounter with a taxi driver, who unaware he was speaking to the CEO of the company, unknowingly commented that Maxol are consistently investing and making big changes in his local area.

“People are starting to see the changes we are making and this is reflected in growing sales and new customers visiting our service stations. With the support of our independent retailers, we are continually doing things better,” said Brian. “It is important to be creative in business and not stand still. The industry is undergoing big changes, driven by technology and consumer habits, and our strategy needs to continue to evolve and be ambitious.”

In addition to recruiting in-house, Maxol has added over 18 new sites to its network in the last 18 months, of which 10 are privately owned by dealers.

“Independent dealers remain a very important part of our business, helping to extend our brand into more towns and cities. Our Head of Business Development is focused on developing our offer and ensuring we continue to provide a quality service, business support and professional advice on the emerging trends in our industry, that present great opportunities” said Brian.

“Expanding our reach promotes the use of the Maxol fuel card which is a mutually beneficial arrangement. What is good for us, is good for the retailer. It is about creating a partnership that is valuable to us all.

“It’s not just about supplying fuel but helping retailers to plan for the future. We realise that we must continue to improve and work on our package for independent dealers – an area we will expand on in 2018.

Maxol's first subway

Credit – Press Eye

Gearing up for the coming year, Maxol’s momentum shows no sign of dissipating as Brian excitedly tells Neighbourhood Retailer of plans to launch its own convenience brand and range of private label goods that will replace Mace in Ireland.

“We are in the advanced planning stages, working closely with leading store consultants Tap in Dublin, creating an instore concept and a design that is unique to Maxol. The brand will have a strong focus on freshly prepared food, quality coffee, good range of affordable convenience lines, clear in-store messaging and comfortable seating.” he said.

Maxol will open two pilot stores in March to trial the new concept and gather customer and retailer feedback before final sign off.  It will be unveiled at Maxol’s retailer conference taking place on April 19, at an exclusive location just outside Dublin.

“This is one of the biggest changes to our retail offer. We are extending our brand reach in-store and turning our vision backed by extensive consumer research into reality. It is very exciting for everyone involved in the project, and a little daunting too!” said Brian.

Food-to-go and food partnerships is another area of the business that Maxol aims to nurture in 2018 with plans to increase among others, Insomnia, Abrakebabra, and Chopped offerings across many more of its stores in the network.

In May of last year Maxol launched their biggest site yet in Northern Ireland on the A26 between Antrim and Ballymena and introduced NI to the healthy fast food chain, Chopped.

Brian said: “The site has performed well in terms of core business and the reaction to Chopped and Abrakebabra has been very positive. We are planning to introduce a local, indigenous coffee brand to create a café style environment and a play area to enhance the site’s appeal as a weekend family destination.

Maxol Chopped

Picture By Phil Smyth Photography

“We have also taken great learnings from the development. There is a striking difference between customer tastes in Northern Ireland compared to the Republic. Consumers in NI have a lower disposable income, are more price sensitive and are more likely to support brands that they recognise.

To get a real sense for customer satisfaction, Maxol believes that investing in customer insight is key. A new smart interactive service, TruRating has been introduced at all company sites giving customers ‘a say as they pay’.

“It’s important to congratulate staff on good service as well as be aware of what areas we can improve on,” said Brian. “This system enables us to get closer to our customers and provides invaluable feedback for our retailers. We will also be supporting this with an ongoing mystery shopper initiative in 2018.”

Maxol's first subway

Credit – Press Eye

Investment is not just confined to Maxol’s retail network. In 2017 Maxol Lubricants opened a new manufacturing plant for Ad Blue at its Santry premises in North Dublin, where it markets a comprehensive range of lubricants, greases, anti-freezes and car care products.

“We have our own dedicated sales teams and plan to grow our sales in all of our markets on both sides of the border.”

Brian acknowledges that despite 2018’s fair prospects, it might not be without its challenges.

“Brexit remains a concern, and as an all-Ireland business we will continue to be open and transparent with politicians on our needs.”

Not letting this spur his enthusiasm, Brian looks forward to Maxol’s 100th birthday celebrations in 2020.

“Maxol is a company that has grown, adapted its offer and been prudent in approach for almost a century. The core values and strong corporate governance of the McMullan family have guided the business to where it is today and remains firmly built around respect, integrity, openness and truly valuing everyone involved, our staff, our suppliers and in our dealings with our retailers and business partners.

“Our sector is highly competitive and everyone is out to win more of the customer’s wallet and spend. By being more agile, innovative in our thinking and enhancing our retail offer in 2018, we can ensure that we are at the forefront to achieve this.”

Featured image: Credit – William Cherry / Press Eye

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