A buzz about Birr
Jimmy Buckley’s Supervalu in Birr, Co Offaly has managed to hold its own against competition, through good, old-fashioned attention to detail.
13 August 2009 | 0
Jimmy Buckley’s Supervalu
Manager: Pierce Gordon
Size: 13,500 sq ft
USP: Over 32% fresh food participation
It’s hard to overestimate the value of a solid local reputation. The sort of reputation that comes through belonging to a chain such as Jimmy Buckley’s, a group of five stores throughout Offaly and Westmeath with a proven track record when it comes to delivering customer service.
However, that does not mean Jimmy Buckley’s Supervalu in Birr has been content to rest on its laurels. Far from it, as store manager Pierce Gordon explained, the store has actually been on a journey of evolution between June 2008 and May of this year.
New look store
An extensive renovation taking the store from under 7,000 sq ft to an expansive 13,500 sq ft was completed in two phases, in time for an official relaunch on 29 May. Carrying out this work in two phases, before and after Christmas 2008, allowed the store to keep trading during the essential festive period, and benefit from extra floor space as it did so. Store manager Pierce Gordon also highlights that trebling the number of available car parking spaces, from 20 to 70 spaces, has proven another essential customer draw.
The timing of the renovation was fortuitous moreover, given that Tesco first entered the small Co Offaly town of Birr in September last year. Although Gordon concedes it wasn’t ideal to be in the middle of a revamp when the well-known competitor first arrived in town, he says that, “the dust has since settled and we’re pulling back a lot of customers.”
According to Gordon, Birr’s close proximity to towns such as Athlone and Tullamore however, meant a stiff level of competition existed in the area prior to Tesco’s arrival. “Athlone and Tullamore are within driving distance of Birr,” says Gordon. “In 30 or 40 minutes you could arrive in either and do a good shop in the shopping centres there. Competition is tough, which is why the revamp has been so crucial for our business.”
A personal touch
Several factors, such as the store’s various personal touches, have enabled it to hold its own within the local marketplace however. Gordon describes the supermarket’s award scheme, whereby customers are entitled to a weekend get-away upon collecting 50 holiday tokens, as “a major success,” which has again enabled the supermarket to differentiate itself from Tesco.
Gordon believes customers also appreciate the store’s friendly atmosphere and obliging staff, four of whom have actually worked there for over 30 years. “People are looking for a personal customer shopping experience, and that’s what we deliver,” he comments. The store prides itself on good customer service, such as helping customers to their car with their groceries. And while Tesco offers an online delivery service, Gordon explains that the store offers its own delivery service free of charge: “a service which people really rely on here.”
Jimmy Buckley’s Supervalu is also involved in the community through its support of the annual vintage week each August, and initiatives such as pensioners’ coffee mornings. This type of activity is very much in keeping with Supervalu’s “Real Food, Real People” ethos, which is flagged up by a welcome message from owner Jimmy Buckley at the store’s entrance. However, this is not the only message the customer receives about Supervalu upon first entering the store.
Beside an image of two trolleys and receipts illustrating the savings Supervalu offers, customers can pick up a leaflet informing them on how they can save over €30 on an average trolley shop. Gordon believes this concept has proved successful, because “people like to see clearly what items they can save on.” He adds: “We also have a lot of weekly wow offers and multi-buy deals, such as chicken with free vegetables, and these are constant offers which customers love because they’re very strong and they’re aggressive against the competitors.”
Gordon states the store’s partnership with the Musgrave group has proved beneficial, as other supermarkets know “we’re not just an independent retailer, they see us as a major competitor.”
On this topic, Supervalu regional manager Jeff Nolan adds that, of Supervalu’s recently introduced 2,000 price cuts across 194 stores, “We’re not phasing them in like Tesco has been county by county… These price cuts have been across the board, in all departments. Customers can see savings on brands they actually want, rather than UK own brand products.” Gordon notes however, that Supervalu’s own brand line, Nice Price, has also grown increasingly popular, expanding from one to four metres of shelf-space.
Keeping it Irish
Another advantage for the Supervalu group, according to Gordon is that, “the customer sees we’re keeping it Irish, and we’re helping retain Irish jobs as well by keeping everything within the buying power of Musgrave.”
“65% of our fruit and veg is Irish,” he says, although this figure would be higher if supplies were not so affected by seasonality. The store also has a number of local suppliers which have been well received by customers, such as Hannify’s Caesar Salads, Stapletons bakery in Roscrea and O’Donohoe’s in Tullamore.
Another concept which makes Jimmy Buckley’s Supervalu unique is its in-store bookstore. Gordon explains that although this is part of a franchise agreement with Eason’s, it nevertheless has its own name: First Chapter. The team decided to include the bookstore concept because “it’s been done in other stores and has proven a success,” and helps fulfil another local need.
The inclusion of the bookstore was certainly not the only carefully thought-out element of the design process however. Gordon explains that many site meetings with the Musgrave store design team took all important points into account. “Everything from the flow of the shop from the customer’s point of view, to how the customer gets from the entrance into the store and to the checkout, and how much space there is between the aisles, was taken into consideration to ensure that the customer will have an enjoyable experience in the store.”
Nolan says it took approximately two months for a drawing of the store’s design to be signed off, in order to ensure it delivered the most practical solution. Fresh food areas featured prominently within this design, as fresh food participation accounts for over 32% of the store’s sales. Conversely, Gordon feels that food-to-go is not as major a category within the store. “There’s not really a big convenience customer that comes in to get their sandwich and bottle of water before heading back to work, because there’s a coffee shop next door and one directly across from us as well, so much of the demand for food-to-go has already been catered for.“
Nolan confirms that “each fresh food department except bakery has out-performed the Supervalu average. Bakery is a work in progress that we’re really trying to push at the moment. However, fruit and vegetables, poultry, meat and fish have all outperformed the average.”
On the bakery section, Gordon adds: “We’ll develop that with Musgrave, but we want to examine carrying more lines and see exactly what we have to add, because we already carry some of the lines within the bread section, which duplicates the bakery. We have a lot of offers on at the moment, and they work, but we’re still working to offer a greater range.”
The off-licence also performs well by showcasing an impressive range of wines from different regions. According to Gordon: “Australian is our biggest seller and our promotions are also very popular.”
Gordon has built up the experience which can deliver results through a solid career in retail. He started as a staff member with Dunnes at the age of 16 and progressed through the ranks as a trainee manager in various locations. He last managed a store in Thurles, Co Tipperary, before joining Jimmy Buckley in Birr in February 2008.
When asked what the most useful lesson he learned during that time was, Gordon replies: “The customer is king …If you get on great with your customers and keep a good customer rapport, sales will start to happen and then you can develop your business.”
This attitude has stood him in good stead during his time at Jimmy Buckley’s Supervalu. He notes: “Sales figures have experienced between 15 and 16% growth week on week since we launched the revamp. Although Tesco has had an impact since it opened, we’re now closing the gap back to the figures we had before Tesco opened, so it’s looking good for the future.”