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How the boom fuelled a forecourt revolution


An Applegreen station

An Applegreen station

An Applegreen station

It's not often that a petrol station chain floats on the stock exchange - in Ireland or abroad. For Bob Etchingham and Joe Barrett, the move has been a long time in the making. They started Applegreen in 1992, when even the first shoots of Ireland's economic transformation were barely visible.

Only with the boom were the seeds for success laid. Apart from resulting in more vehicles on the roads and more demand for fuel, the last decade also saw a revolution in forecourt retailing. Petrol stations upped their game, cashing in on busier consumers who were eager to eat on the run.

The boom also saw the motorway network evolve. That has seen the advent of Ireland's first service stations, and Applegreen was the first such operator, opening one near Lusk, in north County Dublin. It now has eight service areas in Ireland, out of a total of 12. The National Roads Authority has identified the need for a total of 23. Applegreen primarily operates company-owned and operated outlets, meaning it's not tied to one fuel supplier. That, it says, helps to keep the cost of fuel to consumers down.

And it's in the UK where the biggest opportunity lies. Applegreen has no service areas there, and is eyeing up opportunities.

The UK's highways agency recently changed legislation to remove minimum spacing requirements between service areas, providing an avenue of entry to the sector for operators.

Mr Etchingham (61) worked at Esso in Ireland and the UK for 10 years before co-founding Applegreen. He also capitalised on the downturn in Ireland and the UK to acquire sites for the business. Mr Barrett (48) worked in roles with Tesco and John West Foods before Applegreen and has been the frontman for the business.

They've proved a formidable team. But they're up against competition from the country's biggest petrol station chain, Topaz, which is controlled by Denis O'Brien. It announced last year that it's buying 28 Esso stations in Ireland, adding to the more than 330 in the chain.

Irish Independent