New life for Black Bull
Naeem and Honrata (Honey) Butt are just nine months into the running of their new Mace store in Black Bull in Drogheda, Co. Louth and so far, business is booming. It's not the first foray into retail for the couple; they have run the nearby Wheaton Hall Mace for nearly two years. The couple, who have been in Ireland for over eight years, took over the run down store in April of 2012 and are slowly but surely building back up consumer confidence in the Black Bull area of the town.
22 April 2013 | 0
Mace, Black Bull, Drogheda, Co. Louth
Owners: Naeem and Honrata Butt
Size: 1,500 sq ft
Staff: Seven plus owners – three full-time and four part-time
The Black Bull area of Drogheda has been one of the many victims of the recession. Once a booming local food market, the economic difficulties have taken its toll on the area. The opening of Mace Black Bull in June 2012 has given the area a new lease of life and the support of the local community has been paramount. The couple run two Mace stores in the town, Black Bull and the nearby Wheaton Hall.
A tradition of business
Naeem and Honey Butt moved to Drogheda two years ago, taking over the Mace store in Wheaton Hall. Before they came to Ireland, Naeem was involved in the family business – fuel stations. The Pakistan native says: "We had our family business in our home town but that is more on the fuel side, so I used to work in that. I came into retail when I came to Ireland so it’s my first time working on the grocery side but it wasn’t a complete change for me. You’re still providing a service for the customer."
When Naeem first came to Ireland from Pakistan he began working in a Spar store, being promoted to store manager within six months. It was while both Naeem and Honey, originally from Poland, were working at Spar that the opportunity of Wheaton Hall came up. "We had Wheaton Hall for about a year before this shop here became available. When the previous store closed down, we went to BWG and asked to have a look at this site, it has great potential. BWG came in and agreed. In April of last year we took over the store and we opened for business in June, so we had around a month and a half of renovations."
Getting back on its feet
The premises was previously a Londis store but was closed down due to lack of business. A great deal of work was carried out before the shop was reopened. Naeem says both him and Honey were heavily involved in the new layout for the store: "We changed the floor, painted the shop, and generally transformed the premises. We kept the old fridges from the Londis but the rest of it is all new. I had an idea of where I wanted things to go and where things should be and it was a joint operation between us and BWG."
One of the main changes made to the structure of the building was the installation of a third window at the front of the shop to brighten the interior and also let customers see inside. "We put in the third window to brighten up the shop and so people who were driving past outside could see how high our standards were. When we opened the third window, we increased our sales. The windows are key to displaying the store and bringing people in."
Retail operations advisor with BWG Barry Flynn says that opening of the store has brought new life to the Black Bull area. "A recent analysis of the main road outside the shop showed that there are 10,000 cars per day passing here so it’s a very busy road. You can see the signage that Naeem has out on the road and that’s definitely helping to drive people in. It’s building confidence in the business as well because it was such a run-down store and now it’s growing every week, people are getting confidence again shopping with the store."
Fresh is best
The focus of the Black Bull store is clearly on its fresh food offering. Naeem says it is something they have worked on from the beginning: "The previous owner had closed down his deli, but we reopened the deli and it’s working fantastically for us. We began our own scratch bakery and sales have increased since we began that. We’re growing every week, sales are up." Along with the scratch bakery, the deli and off-licence sections of the store continue to grow. Honey believes that the quality of their stock is what brings repeat business: "People are looking for quality, of course the price is important but they also want the fresh, nice food and they can pay a little more if it’s good. We have lots of multiples in the area; Dunnes, Tesco, but people are still coming here because we are good. They know that they will get great food at a reasonable price, there are nice people that they know and they’re supporting the local community by shopping here."
Naeem is happy with the range and prices coming down the line from BWG: "We think that we are better in fresh food compared to anywhere else; you can see that at any site belonging to BWG, they have a great amount of people that come just because of the deli. The standard is very high."
Customer service is a key element of Naeem and Honey’s management style. "When I first started the shop, I got the feeling I am not familiar with this area, they are not familiar with me. We got together, started to build relationships and now they know me by name and I know them." says Naeem. Along with building customer relations, the value image is central to increasing business. "The value message is important, we all know there’s a recession, everyone is under pressure, and you need to put value into your store. We want customers to be able to get everything in one place."
Along with the standard offerings in store, the Mace also carries the additional services such as Lotto and billpay for customers. Both of the Butt’s stores provide toll services so people can pay their toll charges in store. Naeem says providing the retail add-ons are essential "to bringing people in. The customer will more than likely pick up something else in store when they come in for that service."
While the value message is essential in bringing in customers, Honey believes that the appearance of the shop and products themselves also plays a large part. Working with BWG on the layout of the new store, the emphasis was on bright colours and fresh offerings. "I think it’s the attention to detail. BWG bring the nice boards, they bring the nice leaflets, and they try and make it more colourful and eye-catching for the customer. Everything is set out properly and looks really well." Naeem believes there is a certain "wow factor" in BWG shops. When you enter you feel it; presentation, customer service, everything."
"Community involvement is key," says Naeem. He and Honey are already well established within the local community but they want to do more. "Every time there is something on, we all get together and get involved with the local community. We get involved with the local kids and they come down to the shop when they’re off and help us out, help elderly customers with their bags and things like that." The next step for the store is to get involved with BWG’s Community Initiative. Barry Flynn says it’s a way to further build the confidence of the shop in the local area. "From Naeem and Honey’s point of view, they want to get connected with a local GAA club. When it comes to sponsorship, the GAA are a very loyal group. We generally find with any stores around the country that connect themselves with a GAA club that the people in the club become loyal to the store. So that’s our next step, that or a local soccer team or other sports groups."
For Naeem, getting to know his local customers and building relationships within the area is a big part of running the shop. "I see this place developing when you build a relationship with the local areas. If you don’t have relationships, if people don’t know you, if you are not involved in the local community, the customer will come and go but they won’t come routinely."
The couple plan on continuing with their philosophy and hope to grow their business. More stores are a possibility and something the couple would relish taking on. In the space of a few short months, the Mace in Black Bull has gone from strength to strength and with this couple at the helm, the community is in good hands.