"This is one of the most important stories of it's kind in Europe."
The Irish Times
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Ciarán Hancock, Business Affairs Correspondent
Irish-owned fuel group Topaz Energy yesterday announced plans to spend €50 million refurbishing its forecourts and launching a new brand to replace the existing Statoil and Shell marques.
The company, which is controlled by Dublin-based Ion Equity and backed by media and telecoms executive Denis O'Brien and hotelier Gerry Barrett, has decided to use the Topaz name over its 350 forecourts across Ireland. It expects to complete the naming exercise by the end of this summer.
Topaz said it will expand the business aggressively. It aims to increase its current €3.5 billion annual turnover by 50 per cent over the next five years, with staff numbers likely to expand by 400 over that timeframe.
It recently opened large new service stations at Dublin Port and Citywest and is eyeing up a number of greenfield sites. In addition, Topaz has been shortlisted by the National Roads Authority to operate motorway service stations on the M1 and M7.
It said it also wants to double non-fuel sales within that period and indicated it could open standalone retail convenience stores.
"I wouldn't be surprised to see us operating on the high street in retail in the future," said Topaz's retail director Frank Gleeson. "I'm thinking about rail stations, airports and high-street locations . . . we feel we have the com-petence to do that."
Topaz has 105 company-owned forecourts that provide a retail convenience store offering. They conduct about 1.5 million transactions a week. The stores are currently supplied by Musgrave, BWG, Kerry Group and Cuisine de France, which is owned by quoted food group IAWS.
Mr Gleeson said the 245 other Topaz forecourts, which are owned by independent operators, would continue to be free to agree deals with other convenience store chains. Topaz said it would look at other extensions of the brand, including offering insurance products and a loyalty card for its retail customers.
Topaz was set up in 2005, the year it acquired the Shell business. It bought Statoil in 2006. It has now decided to ditch both those brands in favour of a new name.
The Shell brand has operated here for 106 years while Statoil entered Ireland in the early 1990s. Topaz said the decision to adopt a new name was fuelled by a "desire to break away from the big oil image of existing players".
"We want to deliver something specific for the Irish market," Mr Gleeson said. "Shell [ Ireland] was managed from Europe . . . it was silo management."
Topaz has a 35 per cent share of the Irish fuel market. It also supplies about 200,000 homes a year with heating oil.
In spite of its market leadership, Mr Gleeson said it would not necessarily offer the cheapest petrol. "We will be competitive, [ but] I don't see us as being the cheapest in the market . . . it will be added-value competitive."
© 2008 The Irish Times