The rebranding of the Topaz chain of forecourt stores from Topaz to Circle K began in May this year. Jonathan Diver, senior director of retail sales and operations dealers (pictured above), talks about the impact on the store network and their plans for 2019.
The rebranding of 420 Topaz sites nationwide got underway in May of this year and, to date, over 160 sites have been rebranded. “The entire process is expected to be completed over 12 to 18 monthsas the rebrands are staggered throughout the country and each site rebrand takes approximately five days,” says Diver.
“The Circle K re-brand allows us to join forces with an established international player in the forecourt retail space, with over 15,000 sites globally. This means that Circle K in Ireland can deliver a superior level of service and product to customers locally, so the re-brand has had a very positive impact on our operations.
Circle K is the market leader in fuel and convenience retailing, and the recent rebrand has strengthened this position. The brand has a clear vision to become the ‘world’s preferred destination for convenience and fuel’. In Ireland, we intend to fulfil this vision by making each customer visit to our sites as enjoyable as possible. Our mission is to ‘make it easy’ for our customers.”
Diver says that the customer feedback on the new name has been great so far. “Our customers were first introduced to the Circle K offering last year, when we launched Ireland’s first additised fuel brand, ‘miles’ into the Irish market,” he says. “We have invested heavily in our deli food offer at our company-owned sites and our ‘Simply Great Coffee’ brand, introduced last year, is already a favourite among Irish forecourt and convenience customers.
Our customers understand that, although we have re-branded, we are the same people, with the same enthusiasm for excellent customer service. The Circle K advertisements have been one of the most striking campaigns on Irish TV in recent months.
Diver says that the presence of Irish Circle K internal ambassadors across the business, who featured strongly in their TV campaign, has reassured customers that they are the same people, but with a different name and new offerings. “Compared to seven other countries that recently introduced the Circle K brand, Ireland recorded the highest positive attitude towards the rebranding after exposure to the TV advertising campaign, which is fantastic,” he says.
The Circle K network includes 160 company-owned sites and 240 sites operated by independent dealer partners. “As part of the Circle K rebrand, we now offer our independent partners a comprehensive franchise offer, which includes both ‘miles’ fuel and the Circle K store offer,” he says. “We have seen hugely positive results from our first franchisees in Carrigaline in Cork and in Loughrea in Galway, and the business partnership is proving to be a win-win for the brand and the retailer.”
Jonathan Diver began his career in retail as a trainee area manager in Quinnsworth in Galway. “As anyone who went through the supermarket trainee role will understand, this was a challenging experience, but I learned a lot from my various roles in Quinnsworth and later Tesco,” he says. “In the late 1990s I went to Sydney for what was to be one year, and subsequently became four, working in several roles with one of the leading furniture retailers there, Freedom Furniture.”
In late 2002, Diver returned to Ireland and joined Statoil Ireland, working in the company-operated business at store and area management level, before moving into the dealer retail channel as business manager in 2007. “This was a very exciting time, as we doubled the size of our dealer business over the following eight years, as well as developing and building the Topaz brand,” he says. “During this time, I also had the role of network development director, acquiring and building new stores, while still driving our dealer business.
More recently, I have taken on the role of developing and launching our franchise model, and this is hugely exciting because we are building a new business model for our future.” Diver says that he has been “exceptionally fortunate” to work with “great people, great customers and some great leaders”, not only in Ireland but elsewhere. “From these experiences I have developed a few key principles that I feel really passionate about,” he says.
“I learn new things every day of the week, whether it is ideas, ways of working, or new approaches to various challenges. So, to me, retail is an environment that changes all the time as it has to constantly evolve to suit customers’ latest needs and wants. For me, this is what makes retail so exciting, as you never know what is around the corner.
I’m also very fortunate to work with some of the best independent retailers in the world, who are true leaders in convenience retail. “Secondly, it is important that we always strive to improve. Those who think they are the best will not be the best for long, and it is important for retailers to keep this front of mind, so as not to become complacent.
There are always ways to improve the way in which a business operates, including the offers it provides, and the ways in which it services its customers. I have worked with many who strive to continually improve and it’s something that I try to instil in my teams.
Finally, as the country nears full employment, the people that work for us in retail are more important than ever. Attracting, training, developing and retaining our people is one of the key aspects of retail.” According to Diver, one of the core aspects of the Circle K strategy is to develop new offerings that complement the fuel offering, whether that involves moving further into the food arena, providing alternative forecourt facilities, or becoming a truly mobile retailer.
“It is well documented that margins on petrol and diesel are razor-thin and we have needed to invest heavily in alternative revenue streams,” he says. “We have invested significantly in our ‘Simply Great Coffee’ offer and in food options for our health-conscious customers, as well as in upgraded car washes that incorporate the latest ShineTecs and RainTecs technology.
“Our fuel proposition, ‘miles’ was the first in Ireland to offer a higher quality fuel that is better for customers,” he says. “Circle K will continue to push the boundaries in terms of innovation in food and hot beverages. At our deli locations weoffer customers food and beverage options for each moment of the day.
From omelettes and breakfast burritos to premium wraps and hot pots, we have extended our range to respond to our customer’s preferences.” Is Circle K planning to roll out any more first to market services for the forecourt retail sector? “We will continue to innovate and offer customers Ireland’s only additised fuel brand, ‘miles’, Ireland’s only premium fuel brand ‘milesPLUS’, and our superior quality coffee offering, which has been developed to suit the Irish palette.
However, we will further enhance our existing food range with some exciting announcements in the coming months. We are also firmly focused on the roll out of our retail franchise offer, which is designed to help retailers meet the needs of an ever changing consumer.”
Looking to 2019, what impact is Brexit likely to have will have on the Circle K operation and on forecourt retail operators generally? “I don’t think any of us really have the answer to what impact Brexit will have on our economy,” he says. “We have already seen changes in the border regions, driven by currency movements and uncertainty, so it is important that our political leadership understands that.
Circle K have looked at various scenarios that could materialise and we would be confident that we can deal with any challenges that may arise. However, in the interim, it is important that, as an industry, we continue to voice our concerns so that our message is heard.”
While forecourt operators have diversified their service offerings considerably in recent years, Diver believes that there are further challenging and exciting times ahead for the sector. “It is predicted that there will be more change in forecourt retailing in the next 10 years than has happened in the history of the sector,” he says.
“Fuel has traditionally been the main footfall driver for the business. However, as the move to electrification gathers pace, we need to reinvent our forecourts. This challenge is not new and over the last number of years we have successfully introduced, developed and led the change in a convenience food offer for consumers on the move.”
So, given the strides that have been made in recent year and the predictions for the future, are forecourt operators set to seriously erode the retail spend that consumers are currently allocating to convenience and supermarket retailers? “No, I believe there is plenty of room for both to coexist and local convenience stores will generally retain their loyal local neighbours,” he says.
“Forecourt operators do not generate significant income from fuel and they have been forced to expand and diversify into many other areas in order to survive. We also see convenience stores as competition, but competition in our channel is good because it drives innovation and change - and it has created the environment that has developed Circle K as one of the best convenience offers in the world.”