SPECIAL FEATURE - APPLEGREEN A gourmet lunch, a comfy chair and 50 litres of diesel The above headline definitely sounds more like I was visiting an airport club lounge, rather than writing a review about a petrol filling station on the M1 outside Belfast, although I might add I’m not quite sure why anyone would want 50 litres of fuel if they were flying first class with British Airways. Maybe this will be a new initiative for powering up the low cost carriers, with passengers having to bring their own petroleum spirit in the future! Joking aside, as I travelled up the escalator to the gallery level of this truly remarkable service station, my eyes drew level with a business lounge boasting all the trappings of a four star hotel on a Monday morning. Or any morning come to that. Suits, briefcases and laptops are the most common fixtures adorning this most comfortable meeting facility, which also has free Wi Fi, BBC news and all the daily newspapers thrown in for added measure. Our featured article this month, the first in 2017, took us to Northern Ireland, which for anyone not in the know and reading this on the other side of the world, is part of the UK and I must add for now anyway, still part of Europe. We had been invited to see a flagship retail site belonging to major Irish and UK retailer Applegreen, more recently known for introducing a network of high profile service stations into the market. Driven from the convenience retailing offers generally available in c-stores south of the Irish border, this brand new award winning concept in fuel retailing seems to have opened the eyes and wallets of Northern Ireland’s million or so drivers, who so far have been delighted to buy into this exciting new idea. Costing upwards of £8 million and situated on the busy outbound section of the M1 motorway running between Belfast and Dublin, this 20000 square metre site delivers a sparkling fresh green and glass appearance of modern design, shining out from the side of the road, on what is, to be fair, a very grey Monday morning in Belfast. We were told that earlier, between the hours of 06.00 and 08.30, the hungry ‘grab and go’ customers, as Regional Manager for Applegreen, Brian Thornton, aptly described them, had been forming steady queues of up to 20 people deep in certain places across the counters of their three main food offerings, Greggs, Subway and The Bakewell, Applegreen’s own brand. Brian said “Everyone is in a hurry at that time of the day. The popularity of our food offerings change from hour to hour. By 09.00 am we start to see the businessmen and locals come in, meeting up formally or informally and in most cases choosing to sit down and take coffees with ‘sweet treats’ i.e. Danish pastries and muffins. Alternatively they will order a full breakfast or lunch, bringing our 3 other food offers Chopstix, Burger King and Lavazza into full swing, alongside our own brand The Bakewell”. As we talk, members of the Applegreen staff are freely moving around all areas of the business lounge, offering to help customers where they may be of assistance. This site is one of twelve motorway sites Applegreen operate in Ireland, having three north of the border and nine in the South. In total The Applegreen Group has 116 company owned sites and 50 dealer sites in Ireland as a whole. Organic growth and investing heavily in the re branding and the re development of existing sites are the primary push buttons behind Applegreen’s drive for greater honors in Ireland. And let’s not forget the importance BY NICK NEEDS CHIEF EDITOR of offering premium quality petrol and diesel, which for Applegreen is huge in Ireland, due to an illegal scam there two summers ago, which flooded the market with a variety of low quality fuels and with them a deep seated customer mistrust in any retail operator associated with the oil companies. In terms of their forecourt shops, Joe Barrett Chief Operations Officer of Applegreen, told me, ‘Better Value Always’ or BVA as he puts it, meaning, everyday low prices especially in drinks and treats. “Good quality at the right price sums up what we do”, he said. “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, but nowhere more so than in the UK, where many fuel station groups have teamed up with established high street food retailers i.e. BP and Marks & Spencer, Eurogarages and Sainsbury and Motor Fuel Group and Morrisons for example. Very often though, to be able to do this properly, you need the right amount of space, which often is not the case with many of the sites made available to us. Acquiring new sites is always at the top of our agenda, with us typically looking for fuel stations which maybe have 1000 square feet of space, but more importantly, have the potential to be increased to between 2 – 3000 “The popularity of our food offerings changes from hour to hour.” - Brian Thornton, Regional manager square feet, allowing us to put in car parking, seated food areas and a more sophisticated shop. Planning permission though is always the hard part. Getting a decision on major trunk road in the UK can take up to two years!” It is the high volume sites though 18 erpecnews is published by McLean Events, Conferences and Media Ltd.
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