‘This was a wide-open opportunity’
2008-02-07 15:39:25 -

 In the latest instalment of Metro Eireann’s Meet The Boss, SANDY HAZEL speaks to Adeola Ogunsina, a petrol station franchise operator based in west Dublin 

Adeola Ogunsina is originally from Nig-eria, and has been in Ireland for eight years. He has a degree in Economics and an MBA from the University of Lagos.

“I had worked in marketing for petroleum companies in Nigeria,” he says. “[In contrast] my initial employments in Ireland included selling vacuum cleaners and telemarketing.”

However, Ogunsina found the experience helpful: “I was in constant contact with people all day; it was way of interacting with and getting to know other people. I made some good contacts and friends from those days.”

Ogunsina found that the Irish way of doing deals was “not always completely direct”, and that haggling was not uncommon. “But it is like anywhere in business, you must be patient and be satisfied that you also are getting a good arrangement,” he says. “Both parties must meet in the middle to be happy with a deal.”

It wasn’t long before Ogunsina found a position with Shell Ireland. “They were looking for retail managers and I was well qualified for this,” he recalls. “When I started in late 2002 I was trained up. This involved travelling to Aberdeen in Scotland. Most large companies will comprehensively retrain their new recruits, even though you might already have full knowledge.”

Ogunsina was trained up as a manager for a Shell petrol station retail unit. “After three years, Shell Ireland changed strategy and decided that they did not want to be involved directly in running the garages,” he says. “This was a wide-open opportunity for me. Shell would retain the site but the managers would take on a full operational function.

“This type of franchise doesn’t levy a rate for using the site, instead it is a commission.  I would have the retail business agreement to run the business. I took on all the costs of this, too.”

Ogunsina saw the opportunity early and took advantage of getting in at a good time. “When this change of strategy by Shell happened, I was managing a site in Finglas,” he explains, “but when I decided to take the commission I was living in Dublin 15. I calculated the locations and the distance and I negotiated a site that was nearer to our family home.

“This enables me to dedicate longer hours to the business, time that could have been spent commuting. It also allows for flexibility in family life and doing the school run.”

It seems like this was a shrewd move, as the opening hours that were originally 7am until 10pm soon expanded to a 24-hour operation. But Ogunsina could not operate as well as he does without a committed staff.

“Without my staff I could do none of this. Initially I would go to Fás to find people. For the retail positions, when applications come in, I look for people who can apply attention to detail and a customer friendly approach is vital. 
“Working at a petrol station is not like aeronautical engineering, I can teach anyone to do it, but they need the right attitude.”

Ogunsina is proud that his staff are a diverse crew: “We are like the United Nations in my company. We are from everywhere. I find that students in particular take these jobs as the part-time hours suit them.”

But one petrol station wasn’t enough for the ambitious Ogunsina, who quickly expanded into west Dublin.

“I was one of the first to apply for this franchise commission,” he says. “I believe the company were using this as a trial for other petrol stations. It took off well and made sense to take on other sites.”

At one point in 2004, Ogunsina operated four garages, though he is currently back to three. “Some garages are not as profitable as others,” he admits. “Location and management are factors. Occasion-ally the company has to rationalise. The value of the site is more than its potential as a going concern.”

Ogunsina is “consolidating” his forecourt commitments for now, but has other plans up his sleeve.

What advice would he have for other prospective entrepreneurs? “Start small. Look inwards. Find something that suits your aspirations and lifestyle and get some experience in the industry that you are considering.”
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