When the Forecourt Trader of the Year award winner was finally announced as the A26 Tannaghmore site in Northern Ireland, the stage at the glamorous Hilton on Park Lane erupted in applause and ticker tape, and everyone on the Maxol table fell off their seats.
They had been busy celebrating their success as the Best Site in Northern Ireland in the 4mlpa-plus category, but hadn’t even considered they would be in the running for winning the top award.
Site manager Patrick Bennett (known to everyone as Gerry), was dumbfounded. He has been running the site since it opened in May 2017, following a £3.75m redevelopment, and had been quietly confident of doing well in the regional categories. But not the big one.
"I was very surprised to win I didn’t even realise I was up for it," he said. "For me it’s recognition of all the hard work I’ve done here. I know I’m doing my job right. It’s a huge thing for Maxol, but it’s also a huge thing for the site and the staff. Everyone is very proud of the achievement and I’ve never been so photographed in all my life!"
Gerry has been in the business of retail for 30 years, and believes it was his early training in a big high-street store chain that has held him in good stead throughout his career as he has progressed through the ranks in the service station sector, including a period with Applegreen. He has been headhunted on several occasions to take on new challenges, plus his talents have also been recognised through his success at the Maxol Excellence Awards.
He says his strategy is straightforward: "I’m on the shop floor a lot more than most managers for at least 50% of the time. I’m always walking around, keeping things in order, not stuck in the back office. In my early training I was told to start on the outside, and get everything spick and span, ready for trade. It’s all about presentation and high standards."
Those high standards have also been recognised by the local council’s food hygiene standards scheme, which has awarded the site the highest five-star rating for two years running.
Gerry is employed by the giant catering organisation Aramark, which runs the site under licence from Maxol. The site was a traditional filling station with a small convenience store and fish and chip van when it was acquired by Maxol in 2016. It has been replaced with a spacious modern forecourt with dedicated truck facility, maxWash car wash, parking for 45 vehicles; plus an 8,000sq ft building using the latest technology to ensure a low-carbon footprint, and housing seating for 100 people, with convenience store and free wifi, and an amazing range of cutting- edge food options in a modern and welcoming environment.
"We always felt it was a great location on a main arterial route, where we could install a foodcourt model," says Maxol’s retail manager Kevin Paterson. "It targets the transumer people who are out and about in a car/van/lorry all day, who really want something more than the food-to-go market has traditionally offered them."
The site is open from 6am to 11pm and you could spend all day there eating and drinking coffee, with a catering option for every need from breakfast to bedtime. Maxol’s own food brand, Moreish, caters for breakfast and lunch, including traditional forecourt deli, cooked breakfasts and lunches, plus bespoke sandwiches. Healthy fast food chain Freshly Chopped starts around 9am serving its amazing range of salads; while from 11.30am Abrakebabra, Ireland’s leading quick-service restaurant chain, opens to serve its range of kebabs, burgers, baguettes and loaded fries freshly cooked and made to order until 10pm. Meanwhile, the Ground Espresso Bar offers a welcoming and relaxed atmosphere in which to enjoy bespoke quality coffee and freshly made cakes and pastries.
Operating in an industry that is experiencing dramatic change, Maxol believes it is vital to continue to offer the best service to its customers, hence the company is continuing to grow and evolve its offering to reflect the changes, with A26 Tannaghmore pioneering the way.
"The strategy here was to give them a top-quality offer, and not to compromise on the finish or the offer," stresses Paterson. "The cornerstone of our offer is that we will always deliver very high standards."
Tannaghmore’s outstanding achievement
Brian Donaldson, chief executive officer of Maxol, said: "Maxol is privately owned by the McMullan family and in 2020 we will be celebrating our centenary.
"To pick up the UK’s top accolade against some of the best retailers in the world is an outstanding achievement and one of the most memorable in our long trading history.
"Being recognised by our industry peers is fantastic for everyone involved.
"The island of Ireland is seen on the global stage as one of the leaders in cutting edge retailing and best practice and we have the vision and an ambition to continue to innovate and bring something new to the market here. We work hard with our independent retailers to provide our customers with the highest standards in choice, convenience and a great retail experience.
"Winning UK Forecourt of the Year is the icing on the cake and has provided an excellent platform for celebration across the business.
"It has also raised the bar and we are already working on new initiatives to build upon recent successes to ensure Maxol is the customer’s first choice."