The Big Interview: Paul Dixon, Circle K Ireland Senior Director Of Retail Sales And Operations

By Donna Ahern
The Big Interview: Paul Dixon, Circle K Ireland Senior Director Of Retail Sales And Operations

In tandem with high profile re-branding programme, Circle K Ireland has been acquiring a reputation for being first to market in the forecourt sector. Paul Dixon, their newly-appointed senior director of retail sales and operations, talks to Maev Martin about their in-store personalisation platform and how electric vehicles will shape the forecourts of the future

The rebranding of forecourt stores from Topaz to Circle K began in April last year.

Circle K Ireland has now completed the re-branding of its 160 company-owned sites, while the re-branding of their dealer sites is ongoing.

“We are in line with where we said we would be in the 18-month window that we allocated to complete the re-branding of our entire network,” says Dixon.

“The re-branding has been a real success story for us. In the nine months since we started the re-brand, our brand scores are ahead of the estimated target and are in line with where they were with Topaz, which was a much more recognised brand. Over 70% of our customers score us a five on their visits, so they like the business.


Our fuel card has gone from strength to strength and we remain the largest fuel card in Ireland. We have changed the branding of our canopies and price signs – they are all re-branded to Circle K and we have invested in our fuel brands – Miles and Miles Plus, as well as in our coffee, which is now Simply Ground Coffee.

These are all under the Circle K umbrella, so we have created consistency with our sites throughout Europe.”

New sites, new concessions

According to Dixon, the Circle K strategy is to double their profitability globally in the next five years.

“Organically, every location needs to play its part in that,” he says. “So far, a year and a half into our five-year programme, our Irish operation is ahead of target.


We are one of the best performing business units in Europe. We have also invested over €100 million in the Irish business and created 240 additional jobs over the past two years and a lot of that is through our new sites.”

In the last two years, Circle K have opened six new sites, including City North on the M1 at Junction 7, a site in Fermoy in Cork, as well as Kill North on the N7 which, Dixon says, is one of their best performing sites since it was re-built 12 months ago.

“Our three new motorway sites at Gorey, Athlone and Kilcullen, which opened on 23 October,  represent a €35 million investment,” he says.

“We regard these new stations as destinations for our customers – all have Miles and Miles Plus, and we have AdBlue at the pumps, a technology that keeps engines clean.

All of the new sites have an AdBlue pump. In addition, they all have electrification, via our partnership with either Electric Ireland or Ionity, a global leader in EV chargers.


Circle K was the first retailer to offer Tesla chargers and we have just launched our first 350 KW an hour charge point – we have one in Cashel, Gorey and Athlone and we will also have one at our site in Kilcullen.”

New concessions are also an important part of the Circle K Ireland service mix. “We have a McDonalds in six sites – Cashel, Fermoy, Junction 5 in Carlow, and at three of our new motorway sites – Gorey, Kilcullen and Athlone.

Circle K also operate a Papa Johns and a Supermacs at their site in Clonshaugh in north Dublin and at Ballacolla at Junction 3 on the M8.

“This reflects the fact that our customers like to see specific concessions being introduced that will sit alongside our fuel and grocery convenience offerings,” he says.

First to market in forecourts


Circle K announced a partnership with retail technology specialists this month which, they claim, will re-invent the in-store customer experience through the introduction of’s in-store personalisation platform.

“The collaboration is a market-first for forecourt retail and creates an exciting opportunity to personalise the shopping experience of Circle K customers,” he says.

“This technology is bringing a new customer experience to sites across the country by automating the process for customers to provide feedback on their shopping journey and register for a Fuel Card or for the Play Or Park loyalty programme.

We have been working with for over 12 months, trialling interactive screens/self-service kiosks in four stores and we have been delighted with the results. Circle K Ireland have now invested in 54 screens for 27 stores and they are all live.

This is a real step forward in providing technology that enhances the customer experience. The next phase is to place ads on screen, including demographically geared ads.”

Additional innovative technology will allow Circle K to use artificial intelligence (AI) to recommend relevant products and promotions in real-time to their customers as they shop.

“The system will be enabled with self-learning capabilities, allowing it to self-improve from successful recommendations,” he says.

“We haven’t activated the AI aspect of the technology yet but we will work with to develop this.”

And technological developments aren’t confirmed to Circle K stores - there will be more terminals outside forecourts allowing people to pay for fuel without entering the store.

“Circle K has invested in 80 outside payment terminals at our sites,” he says.

“All of our new sites will be fitted as standard with an outside payment terminal.

I know that Intouch were trialling this technology with Musgrave but Circle K are the first to market with it in the forecourt space.”

Electric vehicles
Dixon says that 50% of vehicles in Norway are electric.

Circle K has as large presence in Norway where, over the last 18 months, they have been testing EV chargers, including home and apartment charging. “Circle K in Ireland will take those learnings and adapt them to the Irish market,” he says.

“We believe that the cost of an electric vehicle in Ireland will soon be close to the cost of a petrol vehicle.

In the US it is predicted that this will happen in 2023. We are still in the fuel business and it is an important part of our business but we will continue to be proactive in the EV market and we will be ready when it takes off in Ireland.

The switch to EV will be the biggest change in the forecourt business over the next 10 years. It will change how people behave on the grocery convenience and foodservice side of the forecourt business.

It will, I believe, lead to a further re-configuration of the forecourt retail model – it will soon be about electric fuel, more convenience, and an even greater emphasis on food to go.”

So when are we likely to see the big switch in Ireland that will usher in this new phase of forecourt retailing? “The big shift in Norway so far can be attributed to government support,” he says.

“When the tipping point comes in Ireland so that the cost of fuel powered and electric powered vehicles is equal you will see a big shift in behaviour in the Irish market.

Of course, fuel won’t go away and it will continue to be a large part of Circle K’s business, even when that tipping point is reached, but we are excited about moving into the EV market in the coming years.”

Dixon points out that Circle K has been moving increasingly into foodservice and grocery convenience.

“And, as we move away from fuel in the future, it will be even more important for forecourt retailers to have the grocery convenience market as a core part of their business.

Forecourts have moved from being petrol stations to acting as a convenience destination where customers are getting fuel, buying food and coffee, using our facilities, including WiFi, and that will continue to grow.

The forecourt of today has really evolved and will evolve further and electric vehicles will be at the heart of that evolution.”

Coming attractions

Innovation is a crucial part of the Circle K business in Ireland. An example of this is their new carbonated slushy, called Froster, which has Coca-Cola and Fanta branding and is available in 90 of their sites in Ireland.

“We took this initiative from our operations in Europe and, now that it has been successful in Ireland, a lot of other business units are looking to launch this concept,” says Dixon.

“Froster has generated a lot of interest from school children and young adults and is being shared on social media.

It brings an element of theatre to our stores for customers.

We trialled it for 12 months in our operation in Douglas in Cork and we rolled it out to other stores in April 2019 and the plan is to have it all in all of our stores by April 2020.

When it comes to future innovations, we are investing in new outside terminals for car washes and these will be introduced to 70 sites in the next 12 months.”

Circle K also launched its ‘Here for Ireland’ initiative this month, which has been developed to support Irish athletes on the road to Tokyo 2020.

Since 24 October, Circle K customers can show their support for our homegrown champions by simply scanning either the Circle K app or their Play or Park loyalty tag in-store. In so doing, digital coins will be generated, which Team Ireland athletes can then use to fuel their journey to Tokyo.

Athletes who sign up to the initiative can use the coins to redeem complementary miles fuel at all 410 Circle K service stations, as well as food or refreshments at any of the participating Circle K stores, between now and the 2020 Tokyo Games.

It is estimated that approximately €250,000 worth of digital coins will be generated over the course of the initiative, all of which will be shared evenly among Team Ireland hopefuls.

Growing the franchise model

Dixon says that the most significant new format for Circle K over the next 12 months is the franchise model, where they enter into partnership with another company.

“We have one in Carrigaline in Co Cork and in Loughrea in Galway – these were both selling Topaz fuel and the grocery end of these operations was operating under other well-known grocery retail symbols,” he says.

“We plan to add another franchise operation in Castleisland in Co Kerry and in Fairyhouse in Co Meath and the aim is to have 30 of these franchises by the end of 2021.

We give the retailer all of our branding and innovations, as well as the support that is required for all aspects of their business.

We are giving retailers a model that is strong in the convenience market, as well as in fuel. The roll out of these franchise operations will be a large part of our growth strategy over the next five years.”

A seasoned retailer

Although Paul Dixon is just 35 years of age, he has already spent half of his life working in the retail business, starting off in Marks & Spencer where he filled wine shelves during his college years.

“During that time I realised that retail, rather than accountancy, was the career for me,” he says.

Dixon worked his way up to positions as store manager and commercial manager with Marks & Spencer, before moving into a food trading role.

“This was my last role before making the move to Circle K and it was a great preparation for the work that I’m doing now,” he says. “The food trading role with M&S was a big opportunity for me to grow by working with the UK business to bring their innovations into the Irish market.”

Dixon joined Circle K as their retail operations manager in 2017 and, in his new role, he says he will continue to drive traffic into Circle K stores and to drive cost efficiency.

“A lot of what I talk to my team about is to keep things simple, have fun, and win together,” he says.

“We are a young brand, so I see myself and the team as being in a great position to help Circle K continue to grow its presence and service levels in the Irish market.”

© 2019 Checkout – your source for the latest Irish retail news. Article by Maev Martin. Click sign-up to subscribe to Checkout.

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