It began with belief
Now a multi-faceted business, Bangor Fuels is where it all started, and where Damian clearly still feels the greatest sense of pride. Damian takes us back:
“Most local people will recall Rayker Fuels, a coal business. Well, I managed them from 1994 and, after a few years there, I saw an opportunity to buy the business.”
It turns out that ‘buying the business’ was a different arrangement to the way it would usually be understood. Damian didn’t have the ready cash to invest in the way he wanted to but he did have sufficient belief in the future of the business to propose a bolder arrangement.
“I offered the owners the opportunity to sell to me and for me to pay them back out of annual profits. Accepted, I took over in 2001, and so it began. I had just backed myself to make a success of it and be able to make a living as well as paying for the business!”
A lot of hard work followed over the next 12 months leading to two major developments. January 2002 saw the purchase of a first oil tanker and then the business moved to Gransha Stores later that same year.
The years that followed were about keeping his head down and building a reputation.
“There is no real secret to those years,” Damian admitted. “It was largely down to hard work, making sure that our service was second to none, and holding a keen price. I didn’t have a grand vision of where the business was going, and none at all of me being where I am now.”
An unspoken testimony to the personal graft that Damian has invested over the years is that his hands are black. They are, in fact, ‘permanently black’ due to the number of times he lay under lorries and vehicles until the early hours of the morning putting in new clutches or doing what was needed to keep the wheels moving.
“If it needed done I just did it myself, whatever it was.” A commitment well understood by other self-made businesses but, as Damian is first to acknowledge, family and friends were also a ‘massive support’.
Constant investment and growth
As the company has grown it has continually looked for ways to improve and diversify through investment. By 2007, a new home was needed, and 5 Balloo Way was purchased, which is where Bangor Fuels remains now.
With the rapid growth experienced under his ownership, we asked Damian to explain the principles the business was so successfully built on and he answers without hesitation:
“Quicker, cheaper and more reliable. That’s what I set out to be and how we’ve succeeded. Furthermore, we are now renowned for our respected ‘one price promise’ – irrespective of distance.”
This approach proved to be a successful growth strategy, very popular with customers and, having started in North Down and Ards, BT1 to BT9 and BT16 were soon incorporated, and in time, greater Belfast and beyond as Damian confirms:
“We now go to Antrim and Larne, as demand has pushed expansion.”
Diversification came naturally
Another driving force is the desire to add value to the local area and employ people who are willing and keen to work. Constantly regarding challenges as opportunities has led to natural diversification and the business became businesses, with Damian now proud owner of not only Bangor Fuels, but also Fusco Vehicle Sales, Maypole Garden Services, Maypole Construction Design & Build, Maypole Lawnmowers and, most recently, Wolseys Bar & Restaurant. All are now prosperous, well-known local brands important to the local area with Bangor Fuels employing 35 people and 85 employed in total across the companies.
When asked how these other businesses came about Damian explains:
“What do you do with drivers in the summer when orders are down? How do you keep seasonal factors at bay and keep paying people? Well, we put an ad in the Spectator and opened a gardening company!”
And this ability to create an opportunity from a challenge wasn’t a one-off.
“What happens when you build a fleet of vehicles that need replaced, and need repaired, and lawnmowers that need updated and fixed. Well, you get the drift.”
At each challenge the business has evolved and grown, and we wonder what other developments may be coming.
“The challenges of the future are not just operational, such as the fact that it is now much harder to get qualified tanker drivers, but also how far to expand and develop the business.” Damian replies thoughtfully.
“I’m not necessarily going to grow province-wide, but the business is expanding organically as new customers continue to come to us. And I’m still very passionate about Bangor. All my businesses are in Bangor and I try to support the local community where possible. It would have been easier and less rick to tick along as Bangor Fuels, but I’m keen to invest locally, which is why I’ve expanded into other local areas”.
It seems that Damian is not a man to rest on his laurels and our suspicions are confirmed when we ask about his out of work passions. Damian thinks for a while then admits: “When I’m not working, I’m in work”.
Given this passion for the business and the area we have no doubt there will be more developments to hear from Bangor Fuels soon and we will look forward to sharing them.
The hands may be black, but the future certainly doesn’t appear to be so.
It began with belief