New look, new approach
Since opening earlier this year, the impressive Gala store on Dublin’s Long Mile Road has been aiming to integrate itself into the business and residential community through highest-quality offerings and through partnerships with other local businesses. Doug Whelan visits to learn more
26 July 2016 | 0
Long Mile Road
Size: 3,000 sq ft
Staff: Eight full-time
There’s an interesting thing that happens whenever a new business, product or service comes along. Those who avail of it will say “why didn’t somebody do this before?” Whether it’s convenient, innovative, original, or a combination of all three, one always ends up wondering how we got along without it.
This may be the case with Colm O’Brien’s Gala store, a new state-of-the-art convenience store and deli that opened on Dublin’s Long Mile Road back in February. The Long Mile is one of the busiest roads in the city, connecting the M50 motorway with the western suburbs and the city centre. It is lined with industrial units occupied by furniture and other homewares stores, while there are two schools at one end and the popular Drimnagh Castle tourist attraction. As a result of these elements and more, the road sees very heavy traffic, morning, noon and night.
So then, it should come as a surprise to readers that there was no convenience store on the road before Colm O’Brien decided to go into business in the area. It has been quite a journey for him, having never been in the business before. He purchased the building, which also contains a bathroom showroom and a flooring showroom, and decided to use the vacant unit (a former tile store) to go into business for himself.
“I saw an opportunity,” Colm tells ShelfLife as we take a seat in his store’s 40+ seating area, “with the volume of traffic the road gets, the castle and the schools. It was the first thought I had, and it’s gone quite well so far.
“It’s all new to me,” he adds, “I thought it would be easy – far from it!”
O’Brien’s first steps into the convenience store industry involved some market research, and sitting down with the various symbol groups to decide which would be the best fit for him. This is where Ray Conboy, retail operations executive for Gala, chips in to the conversation. “In doing his due diligence,” Conboy says, “Colm made sure he was talking to all the symbol groups. They were all in agreement that there was a huge opportunity, but the most important thing for Colm was the fit.”
Being new to the retail industry, O’Brien agrees with Conboy that which symbol group to go with revolved around his being new to the industry. “What made him go with Gala as opposed to another symbol group, was because of how we’re structured as a business. Gala has GRS, which is the operations arm, and then there’s the wholesale arm.
“Thus dual support system gives wholesale support to Colm locally,” Conboy explains. “That means that the wholesale support he receives is store specific, not just a national line.”
O’Brien adds that he is indeed delighted with the support he has received from Gala since going in to business. “Any new venture,” he says, “you need to have the support.”
As for the store itself, is has that just-opened feel still. Across its three thousand square feet, everything is brand new. The furniture is pristine, there isn’t a scratch on anything. This is most apparent, of course, in the large seating area and highly impressive deli, which O’Brien says was a key part of the plan from the beginning.
“Because of the location we’re in,” he says, “we always knew that our seating area would be key, say for sales people or anyone meeting for a coffee.”
With an ample seating area combined with a clutch of car parking spaces right outside the door, Colm O’Brien believes that his store will have the edge in attracting foot traffic as well as passing drivers. As we have seen in ShelfLife before, the past couple of years has seen so many convenience stores and forecourts convert to include large seating areas, that anyone without is now seen as being behind the curve with their business. O’Brien and Conboy agree, citing that they were acutely aware of the competition that exists in their area when deciding on the features Gala Long Mile Road should have.
“We were lucky with our point of difference,” Conboy says. “There’s another brand new convenience store down the road, with a coffee chain attached to it. Straight away we had to – we had to – match what they were doing there with our own barista offering.”
Deli focal point
O’Brien believes that the deli is the heart of the store, and Conboy recalls how he was impressed at the clarity of O’Brien’s vision for the deli area, despite being a newcomer to the business.
“Despite his lack of experience in the business,” Conboy says, “he was always very clear with what he wanted. He wanted a deli concept that was, put simply, the best in the area, something that was going to drive his margin and his business.”
And the deli area is certainly impressive. With full hot and cold offerings, carvery, evening meals and dinners all cooked fresh, it’s more than simply a place to grab a snack, but a bona fide destination for customers to have a sit-down meal.
“These are all things that Colm’s competitors in the area don’t have,” Conboy says.
As we have observed above Long Mile Road is a unique location, with a large concentration of industrial units nearby, as well as schools and tourist attractions. It’s a unique place to set up shop, but like any store in 2016, Colm O’Brien knew that innovation would be key to driving his new business. That’s why a state-of-the-art deli and seating area was high on his list, but he’s determined to make it go even further too.
The Long Mile is also a unique area because of the variation in business and foot traffic it attracts. On weekdays it attracts local residents, passing vehicle traffic and school custom, while at weekends, the area is busy with visitors from far and wide shopping at the multiple interior and homeware shops along the roads – two of which are actually Colm O’Brien’s tenants in the adjacent units beside the Gala.
“People shop in the area for furniture, kitchens and tiles at weekends,” O’Brien explains. “They might spend a busy couple of hours along the street visiting each of the stores, and with us here now they have a chance to break that time up and take a break.
“We can see customers paying a visit to take a seat here,” he adds, “have a coffee or take breakfast or lunch and look through some brochures before making a decision or getting back out there to do more shopping.”
In fact, Gala Long Mile Road plans to capitalise on that potential for weekend shoppers by organising a free coffee offer whereby the nearby furniture shops can channel customers to the Gala during busy periods.
“If there’s a rush in one of the shops,” O’Brien says, “the staff can give them a card and send them down to the Gala here while they’re waiting.
“We’re designing the cards at the moment,” he adds, “so hopefully we’ll have that up and running by next week.”
It’s an inventive way of engaging a business community in the area as well as driving foot traffic further. But when it comes to this new business, another innovation is the decision to – since the hi-tech kitchen equipment is in place – stretch the provision of food out the door and into the surrounding area. “The quality can’t get much higher,” says deli manager Maxine proudly, “so we’ve started looking outside the shop to get the best out of it.
We’ve started to do some office catering,” she says, “and we also catered a first communion party just last week too.”
It seems the team here at Gala Long Mile Road – which includes store manager Robert Cunningham – are all very much on the same page and dedicated to making it the best the area has to offer by not only what they do in-store, but how they build a reputation and build the brand outside it, in the surrounding area. Don’t be surprised if this store makes a strong showing at the ShelfLife C-Store Awards 2016 later this year!