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'Covid crisis is biggest challenge in 100 years of Maxol'

John Mulgrew speaks to Maxol chief executive Brian Donaldson about coping amid coronavirus, pivoting towards growing green energy, potential perils of Brexit delays but continuing investment across Ireland

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Brian Donaldson

Brian Donaldson

Brian Donaldson

The impact of coronavirus is one of the “hardest things” fuel and forecourt business Maxol has had to deal with in 100 years of business, its boss has said.

The company, like many other businesses across the island, was affected by lockdown and restrictions in both the Northern Ireland and the Republic.

“We saw a reduction in volume from 50-70% overnight,” he said. With travel restrictions most of that would have been on arterial sites.”

But as people began to stay within their own local areas amid lockdown earlier this year, Brian said those neighbourhood locations performed well in terms of sales.

He says there was an immediate impact on areas such as coffee and deli, with food service becoming less of a focus with more people eating and working at home.

However, over the last few weeks, the impact has been much less severe in Northern Ireland, with Level 5 restrictions having a greater impact in the Republic.

The business is also eyeing up changes to the future of energy here, and gearing up towards society’s gradual move towards electrification and the use of hydrogen as a fuel source.

He says an all-island approach to the business “would not be fit for purpose”. In Northern Ireland, Maxol partners with Henderson Group – which includes brands such as Spar. That relationship has been ongoing for 15 years.

He said the company will not hit the same levels of profit for next year, due to the impact of coronavirus. “It’s very challenging for us as a business and for our retailers,” Brian said.

“Because we are a local business, privately owned, benefiting the local economy, we are in a good position.”

He said around a dozen revamp schemes are still under way here, including those in Portrush, Saintfield and Glengormley.

But he said investment going forward would be paused until there there is more “clarity and certainty”.

“(Covid) is one of the hardest things we have had to deal with in the last 100 years,” Brian said.

Looking towards Brexit and the issues that may occur, Brian says it’s shielded by many of the issues, having fuel supply and food chains in both Northern Ireland and the Republic.

“We have UK supply deals and Henderson is our partner in terms of food and convenience,” he said.

However, like many others, there remain some concerns around what impact delays at ports here could have on the delivery of some goods.

“One thing is no one can legislate for is disruption at the ports. Even from getting fuel from ports could be difficult.

“There are still concerns over delays. But the terminal here is open 24/7, for us, it is less of a problem in NI compared to Republic.

“Dublin is a busy port and that is where some of the concerns would be about getting tankers in quickly.”

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