Belfast Telegraph

Why it's all hands to the pump at Maxol

The family-run petroleum company is embarking on a recession-busting acquisition spree, writes Amanda Poole

Fuel retailer Maxol wants to buy more forecourts in Northern Ireland as it invests £40m in its service station network across Ireland over the next five years.

The investment, supported by Bank of Ireland, announced today, follows the first stages of the McMullan family-owned oil businesses rebrand and an investment of £12m in 2012.

Maxol has also put in place plans to invest a further £28m - intensifying the expansion of its retail network and re-imaging programme - which a spokesman for the oil giant said it expects will generate additional annual sales of around £80m.

The firm's project is expected to provide direct and indirect employment for around 400 people within the services and construction industries over the next five years.

The move follows a restructure of the company's assets.

After finding itself with debts of about €41m (£32m) in 2005, Maxol sold around 40 properties it did not need and with around €18m (£15m) now in the bank, it put the firm in a position to finance the expansion.

The firm, which has forecourts throughout Northern Ireland, has been something of an anomaly in industry in recent years.

While many businesses expanded rapidly during the Celtic Tiger boom years, it continued at a steady pace and while other firms have suffered or disappeared as quickly as they appeared, Maxol is charting a steady course.

The Maxol Group had an annual turnover of around £564m in 2011 and currently it directly and indirectly employs more than 1,000 people in Northern Ireland and the Republic.

It has been operating across the island of Ireland for more than 90 years and currently has a network of 225 service stations, with 100 of those in Northern Ireland.

Thirty are owned by Maxol and the rest are independently owned by entrepreneurs with a three- to five-year supply contract.

Group chief executive, Tom Noonan (62) has been with the company for more than 30 years, including 17 years in his current role.

He told Business Telegraph Maxol believes the worst of the recession is over and there is an "air of positivity".

"You have to seek it out, but it's definitely there," Mr Noonan said.

"We are bucking trends, our sales our growing and we think that the market in Northern Ireland is ripe for investment."

Mr Noonan highlighted Maxol's investment in Northern Ireland during 2012, which he says has been a great success.

"We opened two sites at Donaghadee and Holywood last year, with an investment close to £5m," he said.

"And we also opened two unmanned stations, run under Maxol 24, one at Carryduff and the other at Whitehouse on the Shore Road.

"Whitehouse is seeing us go head-to-head with Tesco, matching or bettering its prices.

"It had been closed for a number of years, but the unmanned idea is now working. It's a very handy tool in our armoury in Northern Ireland."

Maxol's headquarters are located in central Dublin and the family feel of the business, including a daily tea trolley, is in stark contrast with the stereotypical images of what a "big oil" business is like.

Mr Noonan added: "The McMullans are still heavily involved.

"Three of them - Max, his brother Malcolm and their cousin Noel - make up the board of the parent company.

"They come in and it would be unusual for me not to have a chat with them every day and they would regularly walk the floor and chat to staff.

"It's probably an unusual form of management but we would encourage the staff to speak to them and it encourages openness within the business."

An investment of £6m in the rejuvenation of the Maxol brand is at the heart of its new strategy, which sees the introduction of a striking new logo and brand identity.

Brian Donaldson, chief operating officer, said the team at Maxol developed the new concept following an extensive brand audit.

"The outcome reflects our aspiration to be the leader in forecourt and convenience retailing across the island of Ireland," Mr Donaldson said.

"We believe that Maxol's new image is much more vibrant and will allow the brand to relate much more effectively with all of our customers, both young and old.

"Our new positioning line 'At the Heart of It' resonates with us, as Maxol's business is totally Ireland centric and our model has always been hugely supportive of the very many local communities where we are providing much-needed facilities."

Around 20 of the 100 Maxol stations in Northern Ireland have already been rebranded with a new logo and imaging.

It's hoped the remaining 80 will get the same treatment, through a £750,000 plan, before the end of the year.

Maxol will also be redeveloping up to 10 of the defunct sites it owns in Northern Ireland and wants to purchase other service stations and greenfield sites here.

"We are interested in buying more stations in Northern Ireland and will be campaigning in the next few weeks, by direct marketing, to flush out sellers," Tom Noonan added.

"Our key message is if you are interested in selling your station or have a quality greenfield site come and talk to us."

A history of maxol

  • The Maxol Group was established in 1920 by William McMullan.
  • It had an annual turnover of around £564m in 2011.
  • The company employs more than 1,000 people, directly and indirectly, across Ireland.
  • Its range of oil and petroleum products are sold through its retail, commercial, home-heating and lubricants divisions.
  • In 2012 Maxol was voted the most reputable oil company in Ireland by Corporate Reputations independent survey.

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