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SPECIAL FEATURE - APPLEGREEN “Our industry has moved on from just selling fuel. It’s now all about high quality service and food to go; an evolution that continues everywhere you look.” - Joe BarreTt, Chief operations officer where Applegreen sees itself as becoming more of a major player, both in Ireland and mainland UK. Traffic on this site we came to visit in Northern Ireland is high with approximately 54000 vehicles a day passing both sides of the motorway. As we looked across to a duplicate site on the other side of the dual carriageway, due to be opened in a few days’ time, Joe told me that plans are in the pipeline to build a hotel on this location as it would be an obvious place for drivers to hold up for the night, being just a few miles from Belfast city centre. This sort of initiative underlines the fact that for developers like Applegreen, the business is becoming much less about fuel and more and more about creating a destination which motorists are happy to spend some time visiting. It’s fair to say that the major oil companies have been involved in projects like these for years, especially on motorway sites, but for upcoming independents like Applegreen and other fuel retail operators sharing similar visions in the UK like Eurogarages, Motor Fuel Group and MRH for example, it does feel like a new wind is blowing, bringing with it an enormous change in the way customers will view future service opportunities on filling stations. Locally, as Joe explains it to me, Applegreen plays a very important part in the community, which he says is all about putting something back, having set up a charity in 2009, aimed at benefiting charitable organisations such as Barnardo’s Children’s Homes, Child line, The Northern Ireland hospice and the air ambulance service in the UK. Looking ahead, I asked Joe directly about BREXIT, the UK’s decision to come out of the EU, which is especially relevant for Applegreen as the border between Northern Ireland in the north and Ireland in the south, is also a division between the UK and Europe. He told me “One of the key issues of concern is the fact that currently there is no hard border between North and South and nor is there likely to be. Once you get your head around that you can see what the real challenges are. The impact of BREXIT, will be huge on things like exchange rates and fluctuating prices of imports and exports. Generally speaking, we need resolutions on tariffs and customs controls as quickly as possible to enable enhanced customer confidence in our retail activities. Applegreen has had a long association with more far reaching parts of Europe, particularly when it comes to hiring staff for its retail sites. In early 2002 Southern Ireland was in full employment and it was very difficult to get anyone to come and work for you, Joe explained. “We linked up with a recruitment specialist and I flew to Vilnius, capital of Lithuania to conduct 50 interviews over one weekend. We subsequently made 10 job offers. This then started a very close bond between us and Lithuania and I am happy to say that today, Lithuanians make up 20% of our work force. Once the first uptake was in place, there was a kind of snowballing effect, meaning that when I wanted more staff, those already with us put forward their family members, which was I must say ideal for Applegreen from a business perspective. Going further I would definitely say Far left: Applegreen COO Joe Barrett with Nick Needs. Above: Applegreen’s Lisburn site. Left: Joe chats with Sandra Stroppel in the Applegreen Lounge. that there is a cultural bond shared by both Ireland and Lithuania in that both are in the shadow of a dominant neighbour, which ties us together even closer. With the opening of the new site across the road we’ve taken on another 80 employees, meaning that in Northern Ireland alone we now employ over 500 staff”. Not surprisingly, having listened to Joe about his long distance recruitment tactics, when we went to view the new northbound site, the first person that came up to me and asked if they could be of help was from Lithuania. Looking at even bigger things for the future, Applegreen is currently applying for planning permission on a retail site in the UK, close to Birmingham, which has a level of traffic flowing past it greater than its entire motorway network in Ireland. And then there is America. Applegreen has formed good and steady partnerships with convenience store leader 7 Eleven and linked in with property companies and oil companies, to take over 13 sites which are open already and it is looking to expand generally across the US. In a last word from Joe he says “It’s simple. The volume of traffic in the US is huge, so the right sites mean huge profits”. For a more detailed understanding of Applegreen’s journey, visit our website www. erpecnewslive.com and watch the video of our Belfast trip or alternatively come to erpec and idac 17 in Amsterdam from May 31st – June 2nd where Joe will be speaking. Visit www.idac17.com to register your place or for further information. erpecnews is published by McLean Events, Conferences and Media Ltd. 19


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