Maxol is a leading fuel, coffee, car wash, and convenience store brand in Ireland, which has been operating at the heart of Irish communities for 102 years.
In June 2022, it achieved international recognition when it was named the European Convenience Retailer of the Year by industry body NACS, so we are thrilled to bring you their exciting history of creating innovative loyalty models and mechanics over many years.
Listen to hear my conversation with CEO of the Maxol Group, Brian Donaldson, to hear how this fourth-generation family-owned Irish business has become such a market leader in the convenience retail sector globally, and how Maxol is leveraging the latest digital technologies to drive competitive advantage and customer loyalty.
1) Brian Donaldson – Chief Executive Officer at The Maxol Group
4) New Maxol Loyalty App Launches – Youtube
5) Maxol Loyalty App: FuelPay – Youtube
6) The 100-Year Story of Maxol – Youtube
7) Maxol Launches First-of-its-Kind Loyalty App With FuelPay in Ireland – Global Convenience Store Focus
8) CIRCLE K FAST TRACK CAMPAIGNS – Liquid Barcodes Article
9) CIRCLE K SPIN and WIN – Liquid Barcodes Article
11) Feedback Link
Welcome to Let’s Talk Loyalty, an industry podcast for loyalty marketing professionals. I’m your host, Paula Palm, and if you work in loyalty marketing, join me every week to learn the latest ideas from loyalty specialists around the world.
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Hello and welcome to today’s episode of Let’s Talk Loyalty, which is very close to my heart for several reasons. Firstly, my guest today shares the history and insights of building customer loyalty with Maxol, all one of Ireland’s leading fuel, coffee, car wash, and convenience store brands in Ireland. Maxol has been operating at the heart of Irish communities for 102 years, and as you’ll hear, the business has an exciting history of creating innovative loyalty models and mechanics for many years.
The group is now a fourth generation family-owned business. A market leader and it was celebrated and recognized for excellence internationally this year when it was named the European Convenience Retailer of the Year by Industry Body Max, as well as its Irishness and its awards. Maxol are working closely with some great friends and a former client of mine, a loyalty technology company called Liquid Barcodes who specialize in building loyalty programs in the convenience retail sector.
So what’s really exciting for me to see their latest award-winning loyalty projects. Joining me for this conversation is CEO of Maxol. Brian Donaldson, I really hope you enjoy the conversation as much as I did.
Paula: So Brian Donaldson, welcome to Let’s Talk Loyalty.
Brian: Thank you very much indeed. Paula been looking forward to this.
Paula: Likewise, absolutely. The story of what Maxwell is doing in Loyalty’s. Incredibly inspiring, Brian. So I know it’s still early days, but I’m super impressed with the approach that you’ve taken with your whole loyalty proposition.
So we will have plenty of questions and stuff to chat about today, but before we get into the Maxwell story, please do tell me, as you know, I always love to know your favorite loyalty program. .
Brian: Yeah. Look, when you live in a household with two girls, you’re sort of directed towards a certain area of loyalty.
I think the most favorite one we have in our household is Boots Vantage card. Mm-hmm. . And again, I think it comes down to the fact that you get really good value when you stay loyal with boots. Uh, you know, you get four, four points for every pin that you spend, so you’re getting a 4% discount. Yeah. And that’s, that’s big value when you’re buying cosmetics and healthcare products.
Yeah. I also like the way that they use social media, uh, for these special promotions. Mm-hmm. , where at times if you spend 50 pins in certain products, they’ll give you a thousand points. . Mm-hmm. , which is another 10 pounds, which you can use to buy another product. Yeah. Uh, I just like the style of communication.
It’s very, it’s very simple. Mm-hmm. , I think that’s what I like about it. It’s not overly complicated. Yeah. You know what the value is. It’s very straightforward to redeem those points. And also one thing I would say is whether you shop online Mm. Or whether you actually shop in person and physical stores.
Mm. The customer service is also good. Yeah. So that’s how we sort of view it. Mm-hmm. , uh, so I’d have to say Boots Advantage card is probably number one in our household. Okay. But recently would’ve been followed by another, which would be Tesco Club Card. I think they’ve been quite ingenious in terms of how they have adapted their loyalty scheme.
Yeah. Where they give better value to their members. Mm-hmm. . And, you know, we’re going into a very difficult time in the economy, not only in the uk, but also in Ireland. Mm-hmm. . So people wanna seek out that value. And I think that’s where loyalty schemes, particularly loyalty online on where you can instantly see that value, people will be attracted towards it.
And particularly if you go in store, you know, you can buy this item for 10 pounds, but if you’re a club card member, you’ll get it for six. Yeah. Me. That’s going to accelerate more people. Yeah. To shop within Tesco. And also I think, um, people appreciate the fact that they genuinely are getting value.
Mm-hmm. And I’ve been a long time in this business. Loyalty becomes more important when you get into difficult economic times. Yeah. Whenever our economy is booming mm-hmm. people are less focused in terms of discounts and rewards. Mm-hmm. . So the timing of our own loyalty scheme is Yeah, absolutely. Perfect.
Yeah, because one of the things that we want to be doing over the next 12 months is how we go better value. to the Maxwell loyalty customers. Mm-hmm. . And you know, we’ve been studying lots of loyalty over the years. Yeah. And we’ve done lots of loyalty over the years ourselves as technology has evolved.
Mm-hmm. and our, our view, and we’ve already started to try this, is give discounts within the convenience range of goons that we have within our stores, from our biscuits range to our bread range, to our freshened chilled range, to our take home meal solutions. And the acceleration in redemptions is phenomenal.
Wow. Wow. You know, the percentages are well over 800%. Wow. So that tells me people are really looking for,
Paula: They really are. My goodness, there’s so many points to pick up on Brian. Um, really, it, it is going to be, I think, a masterclass in loyalty. Just having this conversation because you’ve done so much study on it, and again, as you said, you’ve been doing it, practicing it, and I know you’ve been researching globally, uh, within the industry.
Um, we talked before we came on air about the fact that Ireland particularly has an exceptional reputation in terms of particularly convenience retail. And as somebody from Dublin, myself who spent many years working with liquid barcodes as well, I just think it’s extraordinary to see Ireland really punching above its weight.
And I loved your perspective on that. I’ll ask you to talk about that maybe in a second, but just before we move, From, uh, the two, uh, favorite case studies that you mentioned there, Brian, for me, uh, boots, as you said, they do everything so well. Uh, but particularly for me, what stands out is the experience at the point of sale, and I know it’s something that you’ve applied as well in the Max Hall loyalty program and strategy.
And I think anyone who’s ever been in a booth store has of course been, first of all, impressed with the fact that it’s always something. Guys just seem to believe in, you know, they actually do kind of recommend the Advantage program and as soon as you have a reward that’s available to use, they’ll offer it and apply it instantly.
Yes. So Closing the Loop is an exceptional experience with Boots and we’ve had them on the show, so we’ll make sure to link to that in the show notes and in case anybody wants. And then of course, club card from Tesco, as you said, it’s uh, another masterclass. Yes. We haven’t yet had them on. Let’s Talk Loyalty, but, um, really great to see that they’ve inspired you along the journey.
So let’s just get into, I suppose, first of all, Ireland and it’s convenience, um, industry, Brian, because that’s just a starting point for, I suppose, the standard of what you’ve had to build in order not just to be the best now in the Irish market, uh, but the best going forward because it’s a very ambitious country.
So I’m quite sure you’ve got a plan to stay ahead of everybody. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. .
Brian: Look, we’re 102 years in business that we’re a family business, so we always tend to take a more medium to longer term view in terms of investments. Yeah. Uh, and we’ve been on, probably in the last 10 years, we’ve made significant change in pivoting our business.
Mm-hmm. Uh, you know, traditionally we would’ve been seen as a quality fuel retailer. Mm-hmm. . Um, and what we have pivoted is now being seen as a quality four court convenience retailer with a big focus on coffee, fresh food, and also introducing food franchises. Uh, and fuel is becoming more secondary. In terms of what we mean for our customers.
Mm-hmm. . Um, and I suppose, look, we are trying to prepare ourselves for the day whenever internal combustion engine vehicles are banned. Yeah. All new cars within Europe and the UK and Ireland for i c e petrol or diesels are banned from 2030. Hybrids are gonna be banned from 2035, so Wow. Wow. We have to start replacing that last income from fuel and that’s why we have been investing very heavily in terms of our own Maxwell shop concept in the Republic of Ireland.
Mm-hmm. . And we judge our success by how we perform in global convenience awards programs. And this year we were absolutely blown away whenever we won European Retailer of the Year by next national Association of of convenience stores in the States. Yeah. And. for the team. That was an amazing, uh, accolade and it was a tremendous pat on the back, but you know, that’s nice.
But our results have actually shown that what we’ve invested in mm-hmm. has worked mm-hmm. and we are probably only at the early stages of where we would like to go to. Yeah. Uh, two weeks ago we held our first annual in-person staff event. Wow. Uh, where we launched our new strategic plan up to 2027 mm-hmm.
and that was really sort of building on the goods foundations that we’ve already put into our business. Mm-hmm. . Um, and there’s a big focus now looking at why we continue to improve our coffee offering. Mm-hmm. , why we continue to improve our food service offer. How we actually can introduce more products into our stores.
Mm-hmm. , how we can encourage more local producers mm-hmm. to come into the supply chain. Mm-hmm. , because I’m a great believer, like we are a family business, we work with families, we serve families, our businesses are run by families. Yeah. We should be supporting the domestic economy and particularly when you’re going into such a difficult economic times mm-hmm.
Even more, there’s a need to do that. Yeah. And you know, in conjunction with Champion Green, which is supporting locally, it was a campaign set up about two years ago. Mm-hmm. We hope to be bringing in a number of new suppliers and giving them exclusive space within our stores in the south of Ireland.
Mm-hmm. to sell their products. Mm-hmm. , and again, it’s another way of, of creating a point of difference. Mm-hmm. , because as you said earlier, the standard not only by us in terms of Maxwell, but the standard by our competitors Yeah. Is phenomenal. . Yeah. And we are no longer competing just in the forecourt convenience sector.
Mm-hmm. , we’re competing with those symbol brands on the high street and those without fuel. Yeah. You know, we’re competing with the quick service restaurants. You know, we’re competing with the Costas of this world in terms of their standalone coffee hubs and so forth. Mm-hmm. So the bar is indeed extremely high, and that’s why we have to be best in class.
Yeah. And to do that, it takes a lot of investment. Mm-hmm. It takes the right people with the right skills, but also you need to have a point of difference. Um, and one of the things. we have been trying to do, and I, and I think you mentioned this in terms of the complete circle, in terms of boots, in terms of that experience and how their staff are so well trained and how they believe in what they’re doing.
Mm-hmm. , we put a phenomenal amount of time and effort into that as well. Mm-hmm. , but we work hand in glove with them in terms of giving him the right tools and the training. Yeah. And we make all of that upfront investment in terms of technology. Mm-hmm. . And we run regular webinars in terms of things that are being launched and we create the point of sale in conjunction with their guidance on advice too.
Mm-hmm. So my view over the next two years, economic times are going to probably change consumer behaviors again. Yeah. And we have to be able to adapt to those. And as mentioned earlier, that’s why I think Tesco Club car are, are, are gonna remain very relevant certainly within the big shop sector. Mm-hmm.
that’s how we can take the learnings from what they’re doing to encourage people to stay local. Mm-hmm. support local. Yeah. If we can give them that value back. Mm-hmm. . So look, I think like anything in life people can see it as a challenge. Personally, we see it as an opportunity because in the last five years as a family business, we’ve invested over 100 million euros in the island of Ireland in upgrading our assets.
Wow. Uh, and the experience, the look and feel. Mm-hmm. , one of the big areas we really have focused in is washrooms or seating areas. Also in terms of lighting. Yeah. But also before we get on to what we’ve been doing with our new loyalty app is technology. Mm-hmm. , um, , we’ve all come through 30 months of having to deal with the pandemic.
Yeah. If we hadn’t have made that investment, uh, before the pandemic came in, in March, 2020, it would’ve been very challenging for us to run our business. Yeah. Uh, you know, because we’d made that investment, we were able to stay. in touch real time with all of our retailers, we were able to track everything that was happening within our business, and then we were able to make, hopefully, informed decisions mm-hmm.
Uh, to support our retailers through those very tough times. Mm-hmm. So, so technology’s a big part of what we’re gonna do going forward and, and hence why we launched our own loyalty.
Paula: Yeah. Yeah. Well, we, we’ll certainly get into that story now, but it would be remiss if I didn’t congratulate you first of all on the 102 years.
You know, I mean, there’s people listening to this show all over the world, Brian, and that’s just a remarkable achievement. So you’ll probably hold that record, I think, for a long time, . So that you’s, uh, that, that’s incredible. Um, and I know you’ve been there a long time as well, Brian, so I think that says a lot for the family and for the brand.
So, so that’s incredibly exciting to see. And then of course, the Knacks Award, um, as I said, I mean, I know how hot the contested it is, um, because Nax, you know, literally has a whole continent to choose from. I think from memory, there’s only three or four awards given in the whole continent every year. So from AAL to get that, um, again, it’s absolutely extraordinary.
So times of celebration, as you said in the mid. Of lots of other chaos going on. Um, but the focus on loyalty I think does come through and, you know, it becomes extremely important. And I’m pretty sure your loyalty initiatives will be up for some awards as well. So we’ll talk about that another time. But, um, so listen, let’s get into the history of the thinking of loyalty.
Brian, again, you’ve been with Bax for a long time, so what kind of, uh, loyalty initiatives have you run over the years?
Brian: Yeah, look, I joined the way back in the, in the late eighties. I’m not gonna give you the Pacific here, . Um, I’m, I came straight into this business as a graduate trainee who had done, um, he really wanted to be a chartered accountant.
Um, but wow. Anyway, I didn’t finish my exams to do that, but. really our business has always been in loyalty in some form. Uh, what are the initial projects we worked on and people on listening to this podcast might recall the days of the catalog, promotions, of course. Um, and four courts are fuel. You know, the fuel sector was, was renowned for how do they build a loyalty, whether that was coin schemes for world cups or card schemes.
I can remember working on a very first one towards the end of the late eighties called Maxwell Magnet. Mm-hmm. , uh, where it was a paper-based stamp scheme. Mm-hmm. . So I think if you spent five pounds on fuel, you got a stamp. and if when you collected a certain number of stamps and filled a card, you could redeem that then for a gift in terms of of, of what was there.
Mm-hmm. You initially started off with maybe a choice of no more than five to six items. Yeah. And those gifts would’ve been held actually on site. Okay. It then moved into much bigger, um, operations where we actually set up a redemption facility mm-hmm. , uh, where we then moved to a very large catalog and it was under the theme of choices for people.
Wow. And everyone tried to like, do everybody else. Yeah. So we were, we had the most choice of gifts. , and again, it was still a stamp based promotion and we outsourced it. Another company managed the redemptions and so forth. Mm-hmm. . Mm-hmm. . And that would’ve ran right through until the mid, mid 1990s, which would’ve been your traditional paper-based loyalty schemes.
Mm. Everyone will know the challenges of security fraud and everything. Yeah. And also how you manage your redemption liability. Sorry, your, yeah. Your contingent liability, which you’ve gotta provide for, cuz you actually don’t know what the cost is gonna be until you actually close it down. Yeah. So we’ve had a lot of experience in terms of dealing with promotions.
Um, probably one of the most exciting ones we did was initial tile with Marks and Spencers in Ireland a way back in 19 97, 19 98. Mm-hmm. , when we were looking at closing diner paper-based promotion, we gave the option for our customers to take. their full cards into Marks and Spencer’s stores and redeem those foreign marks.
And Spencer weer for two kinds. Nice. Okay. Wow. Uh, it was such a success. Yeah. Uh, with Marks and Spencer’s, they then agreed to become a partner with us in our next promotion. Mm-hmm. , which was the first electronic promotion in Ireland. Wow. So it actually moved away from stamps Yeah. To electronic points.
Wow. And it was a standalone terminal. Mm-hmm. , which linked into our pause system. So we had much better security. It was live, and we were able to track it. Okay. And what we did was there was three offers. Mm-hmm. , uh, we partnered with Marks and Spencer, we partnered with Argos, and also we offered fuel back.
So this is where you could take, uh, your points and redeem those for a discount of Maxwell fuel? Yeah. Uh, I have to say they were pretty equal in terms of redemptions. Okay. Interesting. Uh, cause I, I think if you can appeal to more people in terms of the choice of redemption Yeah. That’s a good thing. Yeah.
Um, but it worked extremely well and it put us away up there in terms of like, when you’re working with companies like Marks and Spencers and Argus. Yeah. You know, it adds a lot of value to the promotion. Yeah. Um, and also gives the customer fantastic choice. Mm-hmm. without having to run a warehouse or even having to hold the kids and all of that hustle.
Yeah. Yeah. You know? So it moved away from gift based to value based. Yeah. And our customers loved that. Uh, but to be quite honest with you, we then got to a certain point where, Customers in the south of Ireland because of the Celtic tiger became less interested. Yeah. And this goes back to my earlier point.
Yeah. Loyalty is important at a certain time, depending on the economy Yeah. And where household budgets are. Mm. So it started to tailor off and we then decided, well, look, it’s tailoring off in the South and what we do as a business we normally try to do on the island of Ireland. Okay. Even though there are two different jurisdictions of course.
And different currencies and different VAT rates and everything. Yeah. Um, we then closed to dine on the island of Ireland, I think early two thousands. Uh, 2002. 2003. Mm-hmm. . , we then didn’t go back into any national loyalty promotion until what we’re going to talk about now. Wow. Um, so we’ve had a long history and a long experience in, in, in understanding how loyalty can grow your sales.
Mm-hmm. . Uh, but I think it’s important that people understand there is a big cost in running loyalty. Yeah. And it’s making sure that that cost is more than covered by the growth that you’re saying through your business, through the users of those schemes. And, you know, we are a family business, you know, we’re very much p and l focused.
Yeah. Uh, we measure and monitor everything. Mm. And when things start to change, , there’s no point continuing with the program unless it’s going to have value Yeah. And benefit to the business. And at that point in time, we didn’t think it was, and that’s why we withdrew from it. Mm-hmm. . Um, but certainly as I’ve said, look, we’re going into very different economic times and I think loyalty is, is, is, has been growing and important certainly in the last two to three years again.
Yeah. I think if there hadn’t been covid, we probably would’ve launched our loyalty. much sooner. Mm-hmm. , uh, rather than April this year. Uh, and again, we’ve only launched it in the south of Ireland until we sort out some issues in the north of Ireland. Yeah. Um, so the, that’s, that’s a little bit of our petree in terms of, of marketing.
You know, we used to have a very large, well, not a very large, we used five or six dedicated people mm-hmm. Just managing and over oversee some of those large catalog mm-hmm. Electronic points based promotions because it, it, it, you still need to be able to control it. Mm-hmm. , uh, and you still need to be able to make sure the messaging is right and you’re, you’re running your special offers and how you’re keeping in touch with your customers.
Yeah. And in those days, social media was nowhere near where it is today. Yeah. You know, you had been using hard sheets, you know, you’ve been using television, you’d been using radio. Yeah. So even the forms of how you communicate Yes. Where promotions is gonna be very different today. and very
Brian: Very expensive .
Paula: Well, I’m, I’m so glad you managed to, um, find a, a clever and incredibly impressive way actually, beyond the need for the warehouse, because I mean, that’s everybody’s worst nightmare I think, in terms of the overhead required. And I think we’ve all, you know, witnessed it. And I do remember the days of catalogs and field stations in Ireland, of course, as a child as well.
Um, so I really didn’t realize it had to have that level of operation to make that work. So thank God you moved past. And I suppose just for people listening, Brian, I think what’s important to, to acknowledge as well in terms of those partnerships with Marks and Spencers and Argos. Is the incredible amount of respect that those two retailers have.
So, I mean, I worked in loyalty, um, for example, Telephonica back in the kind of, you know, coming into the, the big crash as we all know, 2008, 2009. But we always had that same approach of let’s pick, uh, partners where there’s a halo effect, you know, where everybody’s truly benefiting. And as you said, max all is so well known in the Irish market, but to be positioned with the best of the UK in terms of Mark Spencers and Argus, I mean, there’s just immense credibility.
And to get that operational and again, eliminate all the other overheads, that sounds like it should have been a case study. You know, way before, let’s talk loyalty, and . It’s.
Brian: Yeah. Yes. But there were super people to work with, you know, uh, they were very professional from the start, uh, until you actually wrapped up the promotions, you know?
Sure. And, uh, you know, we built a lot of friendship there and, um, yeah. You know, you know, that’s what business is. You, you know, you have to decide what’s right for your business at the right time, and then you have to be prepared to make that investment, but, uh, you need the right partner. Yeah. And really since then we’ve done other sort of smaller loyalty schemes where we’ve ran hotel weekend breaks as well.
Sure. Uh, you know, where we would’ve worked with some of the larger chains on the island of Ireland and if, if, if customers Mm, you know, purchased or had a certain amount of span, but that’s not just on fuel. Yeah. Uh, but also on other items. And I think that’s where it’s shifting the dial. Yeah. You know, in terms of all of those promotions that I spoke about there, they were purely linked to fuel.
Oh, okay. Where we of move to now are much more focused in terms of what you spend in store. Yes, yes. And of course what you spend on the four core, but the big focus now is high. We can encourage people Yeah. To shop more with us in store. Mm-hmm. and when you think about it mm-hmm. at best, if you are um, buying fuel, you might visit one of our sites twice a week for fuel.
Yeah. But what we are finding within in store, people might visit us twice a day. Yes. Get that coffee or to get that breakfast or to get that lunch. Mm-hmm. are, if you’re in good neighborhood locations because of the range and choice that we now have within our storage Mm. Those ready meal solutions to take home.
Yeah. So that’s why we want to build on the good work that we’ve done. Yeah. To try to increase that from maybe an average of two to three or four. Yeah. And so effectively we become, The complete center of the community. Mm-hmm. , you know, whenever we were repositioning our business and we did a, a full brand audit way back in 2011.
Mm-hmm. with, with an agency called New World, uh, in, in in Dublin. Yes. And Pat Kinsley is the, the, you know, the owner, the director of the creative director there. Mm. He told us some pretty harsh things about our business, you know, and my view is, wow, if that’s what customers are telling you, that’s what we have to work upon.
And that’s where we were perceived, we were being described. How would you describe Maxwell as a brand of motor car and a Volkswagen? Most people might be quite happy with a Volkswagen. Very reliable. Yeah. Um, very, very reliable. Very trusted. Yeah. But not terribly exciting. So we, we had to add a bit of excitement into the brand, the Luke and feel, and that’s what started us on this journey.
Nice. Um, and that happened in 2011. We then launched our first new design, new concept in 2012, and it’s just evolved from there. Yeah. Um, so there are so many different aspects of what you need to be doing, particularly when you’re Yeah. Trying to drive a retail brand and a retail business, uh, ahead. But it, it’s still fundamentally, Paula comes back to the locations that you have of course.
And the space that you have. Yeah. Uh, if you don’t have the right locations, no matter what you do, it’s gonna be a struggle. Yeah. Uh, and you know, we, we spent a lot of time and effort, a lot of science. , uh, in terms of trying to pick the right sites, cuz really in the last 10 years mm-hmm. , we probably have acquired over 25 new properties.
Mm-hmm. , uh, we would’ve invested in over 85 of our existing sites. Mm-hmm. , so it’s been a massive investment going back into reposition where we want to be. Yeah. And again, that goes back to us trying to prepare for the day when maybe fuel sales post 2030 or by 2035 may only be 50% or 40% of what they are today.
Yeah. So all of these things combined will help to support the business in the future. and loyalty. We believe NAI is the right time to be really investing, to really be connecting. Mm-hmm. , not just in terms of loyalty, but for services. Mm-hmm. , but also how you communicate and tell your story. Yes. That’s.
That’s, that’s why we’re starting this journey. Mm. Which we will start to ramp up quite significantly over the next 33 to four
Paula: years. Yeah. Well, we’ll definitely get into talking about the proposition now in a minute, Brian, but just to pick up on the few things that landed there. I always think that, you know, loyalty has to follow, you know, getting the basics right.
So I love the fact that you did the brand audit and you got the honest feedback. And you were brave enough to hear, you know, what, um, mightn’t have been easy to hear. At the end of the day. It, it really takes, I suppose, a brave brand to sit down and go, okay, you know, yes, whatever. I’m sure there was plenty you were doing right at the time, but clearly there was a lot of room for improvement.
And what was striking me as you were talking about the, the focus on obviously being the center of the community and a place where people can obviously spend more frequently. is even the value proposition obviously had to change because again, in my, you know, youth, we would not have gone to the local petrol station as we would call it, to buy anything unless we literally were kind of stuck because, you know, I think my parents would’ve thought it’s probably overpriced, you know?
And definitely the washrooms wouldn’t have been great. Like it definitely wasn’t a destination unless you were kind of desperate. . Yes. So you’ve had to reinvent, you know, as you said, to make it a beautiful place to shop. And somewhere people actually want to go and pick up a nice meal or a bottle of wine or, I know you’ve a range of gin you mentioned as well before, which is my beverage of choice.
So there’s a lot of work on inter fixing the
Brian: basics. . Yeah, very much so. Like in the early days, you know, you, you might even remember the old movie in, in terms of the Christmas holidays with Chevy Chase and oh my God, we might even have to stop here and get a sandwich. Yeah. Uh, but, but those days are long gone and, you know, today the consumer’s perception of, of modern day four called conveniences is, is, is, is at a high bar.
Yeah. And, you know, Ireland has been very good at that. Uh, and I, and I think one of the key reasons for that is look in population size, it’s relatively small. . Yeah. And therefore, volumes and four courts are relatively small as well. Mm-hmm. compared to, you know, our, our counterparts in England or Europe where you’ve got these large populations.
Mm-hmm. So we’ve always had to duck and dive and we’ve always had to find new ways of generating income. Mm. And that’s where I think we got into convenience and food service much earlier. Yeah. So there’s been a need to do it, but also I think even in terms of our culture and the psyche of of, of the Irish people, we like to travel.
We’d like to go to different parts of the world. And, you know, a good friend of mine, Henry Armour, I, I out of Max always said, Brian, the future is already out. It’s just not where, you know, you need to go and find it. Yeah. And then you can bring it back to your particular country and he’s absolutely right.
Yeah. Uh, you know, the precursor to what we have done in now with liquid barcodes followed a visit, uh, that I went to Hong Kong and Shanghai, uh, with a study group from Max mm-hmm. . And, uh, I met Matts there from liquid Barcodes, and we seen firsthand by Circle K in Hong Kong, the rally off their loyalty app and their program that they were running mm-hmm.
in Hong Kong. Now it’s a very different market, of course, to, you know, to Ireland. Uh, just even the density of the population, uh, and where they are in technology is way ahead of perhaps even where we are as a, as a population in, you know, in Ireland. Yeah. Um, that sows the seed in my mind that we really had to get into it.
Mm-hmm. some very key learnings where you’ve gotta keep control of the promotion yourself. Mm-hmm. , you’ve gotta stay very close to the communications. You’ve gotta decide when you want to run your special offers, what those spa special offers will be. And, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s just having the right information Mm.
Uh, real time. Mm-hmm. to tell you what’s working, what’s not working. Yeah. And, and actually just seeing firsthand when we went around, a good number of the circle says Circle K stores. Mm-hmm. You could see the people using it. Mm-hmm. . And the thing that surprised me the most, and I maybe it shouldn’t have surprised me the most, was how important.
gamification was in Hong Kong. Yes. Yeah. Know people like to go in for a draw or people like to enter a competition. Yeah. Uh, to see what they can win. And, and that was a big part of what they were doing. Mm-hmm. . Uh, but I think the surprising statistic for me was in Hong Kong, I think the price of milk.
Mm-hmm. is set by the government. Okay. So therefore you can’t play tunes with it. Mm. But they were able to run a promotion on milk mm-hmm. or would support the, the sales of milk. And they held the highest market share for milk sales in Hong Kong. And I’m sitting going, oh my goodness. How did you do that?
Wow. Yeah. And that was just highly used, their loyalty promotion Yeah. To encourage people to visit their stores. Yeah. And, and to maybe give rewards in a slightly different. .
Paula: Yeah. Yeah. You’ve reminded me I need to get Circle K from Hong Kong onto the show. Absolutely. Brian, I did, um, write a couple of articles, um, about all of their incredible work, um, with Liquid Barcodes.
I’m not sure if you know, I was the chief content officer for three years, so I also have this, you know, incredible, uh, joy of, of looking at best use cases around the world. So again, we’re linking the show notes to some of just the, the articles about that. And I love that approach, Brian, because I think, you know, Henry’s absolutely right.
You know, there are brilliant ideas out there, and of course you can’t lift and shift them, but you can plant a seed and go, oh, gamification has a role to play, and how does that translate to an Irish consumer? You know? So it’s going to be a completely different experience, but when I look at the Maxwell proposition and the app you’ve built, I can see the elements and, you know, the learnings coming through.
Tailored to your customer base. So maybe you tell us a bit now, ma, um, you know about the Max Hall app, Brian, like, what did you build, what did you prioritize? Because I know first of all, the strategy’s very holistic and to me that’s what I love. So, you know, the fuel pay proposition and the loyalty proposition, you have so many elements.
So I’d love to understand your thinking and the way through.
Brian: Yeah. Look, we took, we, we spent a lot of time doing research and, and looking at different markets, different offers. Yeah. And what we tried to do is identify each of those elements and different markets and by different, uh, loyalty programs, which we think would work within our market.
Mm-hmm. . And what we want to try to do is to give better convenience to our customer. Mm-hmm. . And let’s be honest, uh, the mobile phone is the third hand. Totally. . So what we wanted to do was to put Maxwell’s retail window. Mm-hmm. in the pam, your ham. Nice. So it just wasn’t about giving rewards and loyalty, it was about how we promoted our services.
Mm-hmm. , how could we make your decisions easier. Mm-hmm. . So before I talk about the loyalty aspect of it and the rewards Yeah. Which were fairly similar to many other programs out there, albeit them slightly tweaked differently. Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. For us, one of the first things we wanted to do was how do we give more convenience for people to pay for their fuel.
Mm-hmm. , we were one of the first companies in Ireland to put in pay at pump technology. Yeah. Uh, cause again, we see that mission or that shopper mission very different to going in store. Mm-hmm. . And so we invested very heavily, uh, it’s quite expensive. Mm-hmm. and whenever we put it into sites, we measured, these are gonna be a negative dying turn and shop sales.
If anything, shop sales went up. Because that’s
Paula: amazing. That was exactly my question, Brian. How do you align what you’ve said earlier about the focus on in-store sales with the fact that you’re letting them not go in store?
Brian: It it, you’re simply clearing congestion on the forecourt. Those people who want to buy fuel wanna get in and out quickly.
Okay. They don’t want to be stuck in a long queue with people with baskets of goods. And it leads to a lot of frustration. Yeah. In the early days, you may recall people had fuel lanes then to grocery lanes, but people don’t really read the signage and it becomes quite chaotic. Yeah. And it leads to a lot of Mm.
Aggravation. Yeah. Uh, and that’s not what you want to create. So we decided we would trial it at about 10 locations. Mm-hmm. . So we put all islands, uh, pump and we measured the shop sales. Mm-hmm. , our fuel sales went up. Yeah. And our shop sales went up. Fantastic. And then we then started to roll it out on an all island basis.
Wow. And that showed us that there really is a clear. Different mission in the eyes of those wanting to buy fuel or car wash. Mm-hmm. . And that’s what led us to put PayPal pump technology. But also when you drive up to the car wash, you can tap your card and go, yeah. You don’t need to go into the shop.
Amazing. And the old teaching would’ve said, don’t do that. You gotta bring them in the shop for impulse. Yeah. For me, if you’re relying on impulse sales, you haven’t set your store up. Right? Yes. You want people to come into your store as a destination because they know you’ve got the range. It’s well priced, good service, really nice environment.
They feel safe and uh, you know, it’s a pleasurable experience. That’s where we have moved here. Mm-hmm. . So in, in, in talking about fuel pay, what we wanted to do on this was again, to enable people to pay for their fuel using the app. Mm-hmm. , that was quite complicated. Okay. In terms of setting up. , you know, the back office systems, making sure that there was the right security and, and all of the controls that are required in that particular area.
Mm-hmm. , so we worked very, you know, very closely with, with liquid barcodes, oeo mm-hmm. as well, and Toim. Mm-hmm. in, in, in making that actually happen. Yeah. And that is the first in Ireland. So anyone who drives into our for core with the loyalty app mm-hmm. if they’re registered mm-hmm. and all the car details are there, we have a little number on the pump mm-hmm.
which they just put in mm-hmm. . And then the pump will be authorized and all they’ve gotta do is get out of the car and put then also in, and the transaction is then sorted. Wow. It’s completely seamless. Beautiful. that is starting to build quite nicely, I’m sure. And no, one of the things we need to look at is trying to understand the profile of those customers who are using it.
Okay. So then we can start to target that particular demographic or gender Yeah. So that we can continue to grow that. Mm-hmm. What we did find, uh, cuz we’ve done this quite in depth with pay at Pump. Mm-hmm. ladies and young mothers really like pay at pump technology cuz kids are in the car, they’re safe, they’re there, and uh, they’re not leaving the kids when they have to go in to pay for it or bring the kids out of the car to go in.
Yeah. To convenience. It just wasn’t about the business customer, it was very much about the ladies and young mothers, uh, with families. Yeah. Yeah. So fuel pay has been a good success for us. Yeah. Uh, and it was difficult to get it to work. Yeah. But it now works. Uh, and obviously we wouldn’t launch it until we had Yeah.
Breast tested. Yeah. But, uh, you know, three key parties in that EO Tarim and Liquid barcodes, making that happen. The other thing that people really want is, is store locator. You know, and, and this isn’t just for tourists coming in to count, uh, you know, into Ireland, but also for people going outside of their local areas.
Yeah. Um, you know, we spent a lot of time upgrading our C R M system, which links into store locator. Mm-hmm. , uh, we’re working with a company called Yext, uh, which, which makes sure that our engine optimization. So we’re, first up, if someone puts in fuel carwash, coffee, food service, Maxwell comes up first on that search.
Ah, we spent a lot of time and effort, uh, in, in making this happen.
Paula: You mean on Google, Brian, is it? Yes, absolutely. Excellent. Okay. Sorry I didn’t pick that up. Search engine optimization. Yeah. .
Brian: Yeah. So again, it’s a way of directing more business into your stores. Of course. And also what we spend a lot of time doing is photographing all of our sites.
Mm-hmm. . So the profiles are very much the same. Front elevation in-store elevations. Yeah. We’ve checked all of our range of services. Mm-hmm. and really, you know, this key words there that we want to be first, if someone’s looking for car wash, we wanna be the first that pops up at Blue. We wanna be the first company that pops up.
Mm-hmm. , electrification. If you want to charge a car, we wanna be the first up. Yeah. So it’s how we’re using technology to drive more business into our stores. Mm-hmm. , so store locator does all of that. And that’s on the app? Mm-hmm. . The other is Engine Oil Finder. Look, we have one of the largest lubricants business on the island,
Okay. And albeit engine oils is a declining market, uh, just with the performance and the quality of engines today. Yeah. But again, very simple. You just put in your vehicle registration and it tells you what engine oil you need. So again,
Paula: I saw that in your YouTube video and I was. So excited, Brian, because I really, you know, I’m, I’m somebody who struggles when I have a car.
I don’t now here in Dubai, but the idea of refueling, and again, I love Ireland, but it’s always cold and rainy outside. So to be able to use the fuel pay, you know, from the comfort and warmth of my car is genius. And then I always struggled when I had to put oil in and when I didn’t put the oil in, I’d be worried about it until I did.
Uh, but I never knew. I used to have to go and look up the book and try and figure out. So I’m thrilled that you’ve, uh, fixed that ridiculous pain point. Like it always felt really silly, but if you can just put in the registration and go, tell me what to buy, I’ll buy it. You know? I mean, it’s just an no-brainer.
I love it .
Brian: It is. It just keeps it so, so simple, you know? Yeah. Yeah. And um, yeah, obviously we’re able to, All of those, uh, various services that are provided on, on, on our app. Yeah. So really it, it, it, it was about putting the retail shop window of Maxwell just in the pan of your hand. Mm-hmm. So those, those services have been great and, and, and then we moved into the loyalty piece of it, which sort of goes back to traditional thinking.
Yeah. Uh, but one of the big differences on this particular program is you earn stars when you spend in store. Mm-hmm. , and, you know, in, in Ireland, um, the benchmark point is five euros and above. You get a star if you spend 30 euros or more in fuel. Mm-hmm. , which has been easy to do since, since the war in Ukraine.
Um, you know, yeah. So really, stars are what digital stars are, where people are. And, and you earn it on your shop purchases and you earn it in terms of off your fuel and car washing. Yeah. Uh, car washing is a big part of our business in Ireland. Mm-hmm. and, um, so it’s very important we reward those customers.
Yeah. Uh, and also we work very closely with Easy Tripp, who’s one of the big roads, our tool road operators. Yes. Yeah. Uh, where we give better value to their users and also their users don’t need to come into our stores either. Their little tag on their car is recognized that our car wash mm-hmm. , they drive up and their charge at the, the improved price level and they used the facility.
Wonderful. Another way. , removing the friction. Mm-hmm. , but also another way of gaining access to a new customer base. Mm-hmm. and bringing them into the Maxwell community. Mm-hmm. . So, you know, we’ve done various things like that. But in terms of our loyalty program, look it, it’s, again, we’ve tried to pick the best of what we’ve seen out there, so, Whenever you register with us mm-hmm.
Mm-hmm. , you know, you get your free cup of coffee, you’re gonna get your birth treat if you give us your, your email details and stuff like that. Mm-hmm. , you’re gonna get a free coffee once you buy, you know, if you buy five, you get the six three. Same in car wash. If you buy five, you get the fourth one free.
And then we’re introducing what we think Tesco club card if done really, really smartly. Mm-hmm. So whenever you come into our stores now, you’re gonna see all of those cards. If you’re a Maxwell loyalty app, you get that packet of biscuits mm-hmm. Cheaper. Mm-hmm. Yes. You get that milk cheaper. Yes. Get that cereal cheaper, you get that take home meal cheaper.
And it’s been phenomenal. Wow. The growth that we have seen. Yeah. So that’s a very clear indication. Yeah. Value is important. Mm-hmm. and, and you know, it means we perhaps maybe have to ease a bit of. our margin, but equally we try to get that margin shared by the supplier or the manufacturer. Yeah. So it’s, it’s about adapting and ensuring that we remain agile and we use the technology and our loyalty platform mm-hmm.
in which to communicate that. Mm-hmm. . But I think the other thing which is special in this is once you collect 10 stars mm-hmm. , within a 90 day period, you become a gold star customer. Okay. So then we give you additional rewards. Mm. And you’re en entitled to different treats. If you buy a coffee, you might get a muffin or you might get some other piece of confectionary.
Mm-hmm. Um, and also like what we’ve tried to do is to use. our platform as a way to help some of the new product developments coming in and soft drinks even coming in and confectionary. Mm. So all of those products, if you are a loyalty app customer, you come in and you buy something, you’re gonna get that item free.
Wow. But it’s a great way also for us to be a test bed for new products that are gonna come through into the market. Yeah. And we also get exclusivity on that. Nice. So nobody else can actually have products. Nice. So look, it’s very much work and progress, but it, it’s, it’s, it’s got off to a tremendous start.
Yeah. And to be honest, we have a news television. Okay. We haven’t, we have a news radio. Mm-hmm. all what we have done on this is social media. Mm-hmm. and onsite activity. Mm-hmm. , we put a lot of time and effort into training and working very closely with our retailers and their staff. Yeah. Reward them.
Mm-hmm. , um, if they can. Build and grow the number of app users within their particular area. Mm-hmm. . So yeah. Look, it’s, it’s, it’s very much exciting from what we’ve achieved in a very short period of time. Mm. And next year we may well be looking at above the line marketing. Okay. Uh, cuz we really wanna start telling the story of how we have changed.
Yeah. And, and Covid has probably delayed that by about three years. Yeah. Uh, because I’m a great believer you don’t start shouting about something until you know that you actually have it. on a nationwide basis. Totally. You do not want to underperform or disappoint. Yeah. You wanna have it right. Yeah. And genuine Wiley, I think we have the best independent retailers under our brand.
Mm. Uh, you know, we’ve worked very closely too, and during some very tough times with Covid. And it is a partnership, it is a, a very healthy business relationship. Mm-hmm. And, and they really have been the frontline workers. Yeah. As indeed all of the staff and retailers right across our industry have been.
And um, you know, I think they deserve. an awful lot of praise and thanks for what they did during some very, very, very difficult years. Yeah. But, um, no, the program itself is, is, is exceptional. Yeah. It certainly exceeded what we felt that we were going to achieve at this moment in time. Yeah. One of the nice things we’ve been doing is, is, is highly use social media, how we use influencers to try to promote.
Okay. Uh, we use this guy, he’s a comedian radio broadcaster called Keith Mullen. Yeah. And, uh, he’s a bit tongue in cheek and we do these sort of drive-throughs, uh, on, on Keith sites where we build this big inflatable, uh, winners en closure. Okay. So you drive through. and you may win a free cup of coffee, you might win a vi or you might win something else.
Mm-hmm. . And then we post all of this, uh, using social media and the following has grown quite dramatically. Wow. Um, so we’ve used a lot of social media, digital. Yeah. Uh, we, we, we haven’t done anything above the line. Yeah. So, so what we’ve achieved with that has, has been very, very encourag. Indeed.
Paula: Yeah. And often it is the case, Brian, where above the line is what is expected to drive the results, the engagement, the excitement.
So really exciting to hear that social media’s managing to do that and obviously below the line. And again, the focus on the, the people in store. Yes. So I know you take a lot of pride in, um, I suppose almost having them compete as well against each other. Yes. I think you mentioned before there’s a league table to see who’s, uh, who’s signing up the most customers.
Brian: Yeah. Yeah. We measure this and even at, at our monthly board meetings, we have our top 10 and we have our bottom 10. Wow. Okay. And, uh, you know, it’s a KPI in terms of how we measure performance. Yeah. And, um, thankfully the bottom 10 are becoming a lot better. Okay. , uh, and the top 10 are continuing to do extremely well.
Um, but you know, what gets measured gets done and Totally. And that’s always been our way. So Yeah. Yeah. Look, you, you have to stay close to these things. There’s no point launching it and walking away. It, it becomes a new role. A new responsibility. Yeah. And it’s a new division effectively, really within our marketing team.
Mm-hmm. So between Nick and Ailish and Pauline. Yeah. And Kira, you know, it’s a big area of, of, of focus today and, uh, you know, with some quite exciting plans to what we want to do with it in 23 and beyond. Okay. So I think one of the first things we really want to do is we’re going to introduce some competitions, some gam.
Mm-hmm. . Uh, and that’s a bit of a follow on from what I learned. I think it was Henry who was in charge of Circle K over in Hong Kong. Yeah. Uh, and I know it’s a slightly different demographic and a slightly different culture, but I, I, I do think the Irish people do like to have a bit of a fun For sure.
And, uh, yeah, like to see what they can win. So we’re gonna introduce some new competitions for some quite big, exciting prizes. Mm-hmm. . Um, we certainly are gonna look at our marketing, probably looking at something above the line as well. Mm-hmm. And then what we really want to do is launch it in Northern Ireland.
Okay. Um, there’s a big, a big amount of work going on there really in terms of technology. Mm-hmm. Uh, you know, we write, we need to have the right platform in which the technology sits on. Mm-hmm. So again, we’re making that investment so incredible, exciting plans and all of that, you know? Absolutely. Yeah.
And all. And also making sure we pick the right products in, in which we. Offer to our customers in terms of giving that value or that improved, improved price. So lots to do.
Paula: I mean, the job will never be done, Brian. Um, but what I’m hearing is, first of all, I suppose the support from your partners in industry.
So I, I really loved that aspect, I guess, of convenience retail because the manufacturers I think are finally waking up to the power that you have, the customer connections you have, and whether it is sampling or any of the other marketing activities they need. They actually do need partners like Bax all so thrilled to hear that they’re fully on board, of course, and supporting the loyalty program and it’s giving them a channel to market, I guess they’ve never really had before.
So even that piece on its own is something again, just kind of registering in my own mind. Another episode I need to, uh, need to explore and. You’ve already actually answered what was going to be my next and probably final question, which was the future. Um, so you’ve talked a bit about that one that I’d be curious about and, and you may or may not be interested in that model, but I know Liquid Marcos does a lot with subscription as a particular approach.
And again, I’ve interviewed Circle K with car wash subscription, for example, in other markets. And just wondering, is there any kind of thoughts you’re having about the appeal of subscription for your business or can you say, or any thoughts would be, would be interesting? Yeah, look,
Brian: I think it’s a great question.
Um, yes we are. Looking at subscription. Okay. Um, and as I said, look, car washing is a big part of our business on the island, both north and south. And yes, we’d be very keen to develop a subscription model on the roadmap. Okay. And, you know, we’ve just finished and signed off our strategic plan to 2027. Okay.
And one of the key projects that we want to be doing is rolling out a subscription model for car washing. We don’t think it’s, it’s, it’s right for coffee. Okay. But we do think it is right for carwash. Interesting. Um, so we’ve been doing a little bit of research, a little bit of work, and all of this mm-hmm.
and yes, we will be introducing subscription and car washing, uh, probably on a trial basis initially, and then see how that works. Yeah. Uh, we’re very much aware of the model by Circle K, which is very good. Very impressive. Yeah. because most of the background work and technology is already being developed.
It’s, it’s, it’s much easier to bring it into the market. Yeah. Um, so, so yes, that would be something else we’d be keen to, to actually develop out. Mm-hmm. . Uh, because even in terms of our carwash offer mm-hmm. , we’ve been looking at different ways of adding more excitement, more whistles and bells, just by looking at what happens in different parts of the world.
Yeah. And it’s amazing just by having different lighting that comes on at different times and different foams and different chemicals that, that are actually used. Yeah. But it’s, it’s about the quality of wash. Yeah. And, and any of the washes within our site, we control all of the, the chemicals. Okay. We come in through our lubricants business and again, everything’s closely monitored, real time in terms of telepathy, in terms of, of how we see what’s actually happening.
Mm-hmm. , because it all comes down to the quality and the consistency of the offer that you’re giving. Yeah. And you know, it’s the same with coffee. Uh, that’s why we invest in the best coffee machines. That’s why we invest in the, the best coffee beans. We actually test and sample the beans that are coming into our, into our sites on an ad hoc basis.
You know, cause it’s very important to make sure that Yeah. What we. Are getting, are is what we actually have asked for. Mm-hmm. Um, so control and continuing to stay on top of, of, of the quality of the offer that we bring. Mm-hmm. But genuinely the loyalty app is our communication tool. It’s high organic connect to our customers.
It’s high. We’re going to, to start pushing more communications to them in terms of what we are about, what we’re doing, how we give them more value. Mm-hmm. And why we should be, you know, we should be their destination. You know, our positioning line is at the heart of it. Ah. So we’re very much a community driven business.
Mm-hmm. Um, we don’t have a lot of sites on arterial roads. Mm-hmm. , and that’s quite deliberate in our strategy. Okay. Uh, we typically invest where we have large reside. or whether there’s a large hinterland of light commercials, you are always gonna have a large footfall Mm. Of either traffic that drives in or people can walk in.
Yeah. And we think once you get into the next decade, that’s, that’s going to stand and our favor mm-hmm. rather than against mm-hmm. . Um, the other side that we’ll be doing on loyalty as offering rewards for ev charging, um, on super. Yeah. On Tuesday we opened the first dedicated EV hub in Ireland, in kinder, in Hollywood, in Northern Ireland.
Wow. So it’s, it’s the first. That we will do and which we will launch, and we’ve created a new sub-brand within our portfolio. It’s now a Maxwell recharge. Mm-hmm. . And again, we’ve been testing this technology for well over 18 months. Okay. We have our own payments platform. and, uh, it looks superb. Mm-hmm. So I will send you a picture and a video of what we do on Tuesday.
Paula: please do Brian. Absolutely. And by the time this episode is released, um, absolutely. That will already have happened. So we’ll make sure to, to share the story. And what I definitely want to say is I really want to have a follow up maybe this time next year, Brian, because I feel like this story is only getting started and Maxwell is something that’s just, you know, an incredible iconic Irish brand and really want to stay close to what you’re doing in the loyalty space, just to make sure that our global listeners get to, to hear the continuing story.
So that’s it from my side. Are there any other points, Brian, that you want to make before we wrap?
Brian: No. Again, just to thank you for the opportunity just to share some of our history, some of our story, and, and also to thank you for your very kind words. You know, we’re a family organization. We’re very humble.
Yeah. And, uh, we just want to do the right thing. Yeah. Uh, by everyone. We want the scene to be a fair, a fair retailer, and we just want to continue to grow and, you know, we’ve plans to invest and also plans in terms of how we pivot. So our business remains relevant once we get into the next.
Paula: Absolutely. That’s the key. So with all of that said, Brian Donaldson, chief Executive Officer at the Maxwell Group. Thank you so much from Lets Talk Loyalty.
Thank you, Paula.
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