This year was to have been 12 months of happy celebration at Maxol, the family-owned all-island forecourt retailer. But Covid-19 has meant that most celebrations have been put on hold - though chief executive Brian Donaldson, who is from Co Down, still feels it's been in a fortunate position.
He is also chairman of Retail Ireland, which gives him a further insight into the perils which have been facing his sector.
But he feels the pandemic has also led the public to value privately-owned retailers like Maxol more than ever. It has a network of 236 service stations in Ireland, of which 117 are company-owned. The business was founded by William McMullan and is still owned by the McMullan family.
Brian, who has led the company since 2016, says: "Certainly as a business we have been quite fortunate as we're always classified as essential retail so we've been able to trade from the early days of the pandemic in early March right through.
"We are a privately-owned business though many perceive us to be a multi-national because of the scale and the size we've got to. However, we're the last in our sector who are a private business. Our origins go back to the Ards Peninsula in early 1915 though the company was incorporated in 1920.
"The interesting thing is we've had to navigate many global and home challenges but I think for us the pandemic has been way up there when it comes to difficulty in how you do business."
The company immediately boosted health and safety at its service stations, adding Perspex screens and sanitisation stations, as well as retraining staff to make sure stores were kept at an even higher standard of cleanliness than usual. "And we had to go out and tell people, we are trading, we are here to service your needs. One of the focal things has been that we are a local business, serving local communities, employing local people.
"We don't directly manage any of our 117 company-owned sites in Ireland. We want to give opportunities to independent businesspeople to whom we give a licence to operate those sites and we obviously work hand in glove in finance, marketing and training.
"What we have found in this pandemic, if you can take a positive - and there are very few - is there's a much stronger solidarity now between supporting those private local indigenous businesses, versus the big box retailers and Amazons of this world.
"I think that has built even stronger solidarity to support those local businesses which largely give so much to support the domestic economy."
Maxol has 85 direct employees but indirectly employs well over 1,000 people. It has partnerships with Henderson in NI - where shops at Maxol stations are run as symbol retailer Spar - and BWG and Musgrave in the Republic.
The impact of the pandemic and lockdowns was instant. "With fuel sales, it was almost like turning a tap off when there were national lockdowns north and south.
"Fuel sales in our forecourts dropped by between 50 to 70% because there was just no activity. But whilst there were fewer people coming into our sites, the average transactional value jumped.
"It's usually between £6 and £9 but it probably more than doubled because people wanted to make less journeys and visits... But we also saw a considerable drop in our coffee sales and our food service sales like freshly-prepared deli sandwiches."
He says 2019 had been one of Maxol's most successful years, with a trading profit of around €17.9m.
"If we look at this year, we think it will be at best minus 10% or minus 15%. There's a big hit to the general economy, government can't continue to provide the levels of subsidies and supports that they had been putting in. And there's Brexit in January. No-one knows at this stage what the impact is going to be on business.
"I wasn't personally in favour of the UK leaving the EU for obvious reasons. We are an all-Ireland business, and it needs to be an all-island economy to achieve those economies of scale."
It's had a Brexit planning team in place since 2016 but "to be honest, in the last nine months our focus has been Covid-19 and we've really only gone back to Brexit in the last two months".
The last four years have brought a new strategy. "Traditionally we've been seen as a fuel-centric brand selling some convenience but what we want to do is flip that on its head to be a convenience retail brand selling fuel, which has become much more secondary. That's been quite strategic and takes a lot of investment to do that."
There has been major investment in Maxol stations in locations like Portrush, Glenabbey, Saintfield and in Antrim. "From 2011, we've invested over €200m on the island of Ireland."
In the Republic, it sells its own brand of coffee, called Rosa - though here, its deal with Henderson Retail means it promotes Spar's Barista brand.
"People here don't like the dark roasted beans that we put into our Rosa coffee, compared to the southern customer. But if we took a softer milder blend of bean and put it into the south, it won't sell there either. There's a massive difference."
The strategy of turning Maxol away from its fuel focus took another major step forward with the launch of new energy company Bright, a joint venture with brothers Ciaran and Stephen Devine. It provides 100% green electricity at what it says is the lowest cost standard variable rate tariff on the market.
"It really is first and foremost a tech-based company as we're using a very sophisticated IT platform which none of the other players in the Irish market operate on. The reason you have to get the technology right is that it's the only way you can operate on a competitive basis, ie, to keep costs down and streamline and automate as much of the process as you can in how you sell electricity and gas."
It's the sixth brand in the market here and number 13 in the Republic.
"We serve over 650,000 customers a week through Maxol stations in Ireland. Our aim with Bright after year three is to serve 150,000 households on the island of Ireland. Many suppliers throw in a fishing line and give you the lowest price for the first 12 months and then hike you to the most expensive price.
"Unless you're someone who's well organised, you eventually pay too much. We're going to be open and transparent about our tariff, as we only have one."
He says it's about keeping the customer in sight though events such as the pandemic shows that customer behaviour can gallop ahead. "In the pandemic, cash usage dropped and tap and go soared. So people did not want to be touching money so that accelerated changing behaviour and there was a massive change in people going online."
Brian, who joined the company in 1996 as a graduate trainee, is clear about the future. "It's expanding what we've achieved in 100 years and looking at how the landscape has changed and how we'll continue to service customers. We run our business through the eyes of our customers and it's important to know what they want and let's say, encourage them to think this is what they need."