Dubai's service station giant EPPCO plans to open six more Pronto bakeries by the end of this year and another 20 in 2008, fuelling convenience as a central focus of its future growth strategy.
The 1988 launch of Mini Marts in Dubai and the Northern Emirates marked the company's entry into the convenience store sector, followed by the more spacious Star Marts in 1997, with a product portfolio ranging from fast food, emergency purchases, fresh juices and dairy products to baked goods and newspapers.
Aqua Mart was introduced in 2000, attached to the launch of ENOC brand which will cover the entire network within a few years.
"We went in with a readymade concept, but now our business and the market has matured. We now have Aqua Mart stores which are just in line, if not one step ahead, of Star Mart. ENOC is already a global brand, but retail will complement the circle," said Zaid Alqufaidi, chief executive officer - Retail Business Stream, EPPCO.
Alqufaidi revealed EPPCO/ENOC is focused on Dubai and keen to launch more community centres, where the forecourt is part of a larger set-up that includes drive-thru fast food outlets and other amenities, such as pharmacies.
The firm is in the process of finalising a location at Emirates Hills and three more are in the pipeline.
"I dreamt about this [concept] four years ago. Now it's going to happen - people will be able to get everything on site rather than drive anywhere. But land is a big issue; you need a good sized area. What makes convenience works is the availability of parking," said Alqufaidi.
Other plans include two-storey Aqua Marts, which would maximise revenue earning capacity on the maximum 1500ft² sites.
"There could be a bakery, café, WIFI - somewhere to relax or do some work while your car's being serviced."
Having the leading developers on song is extremely important, although it is not always easy promoting petrol retailing in a market where the emphasis is on luxury lifestyle, Alqufaidi commented.
Despite the abundance of forecourts, Alqufaidi rejected the idea that the market is becoming saturated.
"At some point, there will be scarcity of land on which to build, so the only growth is with convenience stores and make them stand-alone, in a tower or shopping mall."
The only drawback of handling over to the dealer, he added, is ensuring standards.
"At least when it's completed, there will be rules and guidelines. In order for the business to expand, we can't operate the whole network ourselves," Alqufaidi added.
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