Friday 19 July 2019

Forecourts are now sucking diesel with expanded retail offerings

Business: McArdle Doyle

Set up: 2005

Founders: Ronnie McArdle and Noel Doyle

Turnover: €1m

Number of employees: 12

Location: Dundalk, Co Louth

Ronnie McArdle Director McArdle Doyle chartered engineers, architects and project managers, Dundalk. Photo: Tom Conachy
Ronnie McArdle Director McArdle Doyle chartered engineers, architects and project managers, Dundalk. Photo: Tom Conachy

Forty years ago, filling stations were destinations designed purely for you to get fuel for your car. Most were manned by a pump assistant and you remained in your car for the full experience.

Because the margin on fuel is so low, owners then developed their sites to become convenience retailers. Refuelling became a self-service activity which made you get out of your car and go in to the store to make a payment.

Forecourts up and down the country now often have two brands, one being the fuel supplier and the other a retailer such as Londis or Centra.

There is now another evolution as these destinations have to cater for a different mix of fuels and e-charging. The retail proposition is also changing from lower-margin convenience grocery products to a mix where profit centres can be maximised.

Also, the time required to charge an electric car is 20 minutes so the location of charging points has to be considered —and more charging points will be needed in the future.

If you are a developer investing for the long term, you have to plan ahead very carefully and ensure your site is as flexible as possible for the inevitable changes coming down the tracks.

McArdle Doyle is a multi-disciplinary design and project management team in Dundalk, Co Louth. It offers a project concept to completion construction service, specialising in the fuel forecourt industry.

Ronnie McArdle and Noel Doyle (now retired) had previously worked together for years on various fuel site projects. They each had specialist expertise in this sector and, with a great list of contacts, they founded their own firm in 2005. “Our aim was to become the strongest consultancy in this niche petroleum sector,” said McArdle.

The technical know-how required in putting together a petroleum facility is very specific, especially given the level of regulatory compliance. There is the added dimension of needing to understand retail trends, the science of footfall and movement, commercial needs and how margins can be maximised.

This all makes for a challenging mix and, despite the tough years, the team of two has now grown to 12.

The Business Model

Projects vary from new green-field sites to those where an owner wishes to expand. Recent examples include the Circle K site at junction five in Carlow and the Pelco retail site in Blanchardstown.

Clients can typically spend between €2m and €7m on these projects, so maximising return on their investment is paramount.

Because it is a complex process, spending quality time up-front to build trust and understand the client’s commercial vision and expectations is critical.

Those early discussions will ensure a commercially-viable design is created from an understanding of where the profit centres are — which are different for every site.

Forecourts are moving away from full large-footprint convenience store offerings and towards a more streamlined range of higher-margin products.

More space is now being allocated to delicatessen and in-house dining, often with multiple food offers. “Over the years, we have built a greater understanding and appreciation of the hierarchy of profit centres within the service station environment,” said McArdle. “We know that retail space is changing, while great car-wash is still essential and accessible parking for diners is all part of the future.”

Rather than just taking a square box and creating a design to fit, that thinking is turned on its head. I asked Ronnie how the right balance between form and function is achieved. “Design follows after we gain a commercial understanding of a site and our clients’ expectations. However, once we understand the vision and commercial expectations, we collaborate with the client and together we bring great design to the project,” he said.

The team project manage the entire construction process.

The Future

The company has a significant market share of construction services in the petroleum sector. Further investment by developers is a certainty, as the mix in forecourts will see a gradual move from fossil fuels to other fuels and electric-vehicle charging.

And as the national infrastructure continues to develop, the future looks bright. Having such a strong commercial focus gives McArdle Doyle an edge.

But, like any organisation looking to the future, other options are being considered. Given the skill-set the company has honed over the years, other projects have been secured in the hotel, leisure and broader retail sectors.

“Our commercial nous and knowing the psychology of customer behaviour enables us to build credibility in these sectors” said McArdle.

He also acknowledges that, as the business grows, he needs to be more hands-off regarding the detail in every project. Even with a great team, that’s really hard to do. In the article at the top of this page, read about how he will do that.

Online Editors

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