A capital investment

Tadgh Holmes outside his Dorset Stree store in Dublin
Tadgh Holmes outside his Dorset Stree store in Dublin

Limerick native Tadgh Holmes tells Fiona Donnellan how he has expanded his empire in the country’s capital with the franchise of his second Spar shop on Dorset Street



11 July 2012

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Dorset Street,

Dublin 1

Owner: Tadgh Holmes

Size: 1,500 sq ft

Staff: 8 full & 10 part time


Years ago, the shop at 1 Lower Dorset Street was owned by Spar but changed hands to an independent retailer. However, the economy took its toll and the store became available earlier this year. Spar took back control of the store and turned to the experience of Tadgh Holmes to take over the franchise. The shop re-opened for business on 6 March 2012 and so far, business has been improving week by week. The Mater Public, Mater Private and Temple Street’s Children’s Hospital are in close proximity to the 1,500 square foot store making it a prime attraction for passing customers. 


From Limerick to Dublin


Originally from Murroe in Limerick, Holmes has worked in retail for the last 25 years, a long stint considering he says he “fell” into it. After completing his studies in the Limerick Regional Tech, as it was known then, Holmes took his marketing qualification into the retail industry. He began his career in Quinnsworth, spending time in both Limerick and Tralee. After a number of years he made the move to Dublin where he worked in SuperValu. Over the next four years Holmes moved around to different locations including Dalkey, Naas, Deansgrange, Carlow and Hartstown. Holmes then got a job managing a Spar store in Coolock and began his relationship with BWG. From Coolock, Holmes took a franchise in Blackrock before moving to the Phibsboro store which he franchised until 1997 when he bought it outright. 



Location, Location, Location


When the chance of the store on Dorset Street came up, Holmes had no hesitation in putting his hat into the ring for the franchise. With the shop less than a 10 minute walk from his Phibsboro store, he is easily able to keep an eye on both without driving between them. 


Holmes says the location of the store is ideal. “It’s a really interesting store because you’ve got huge footfall from the hospitals and you’ve got the local business as well. In the summer with concerts and gaelic games, you’ve got great footfall. It’s a good location; it’s a good strong corner,” he says.


The familiar Spar branding stands out on the street among a sea of ethnic shops and cafes, now a feature of this part of central Dublin. The location of the store, right on the corner, means potential customers can see it from two different streets. For Holmes, the location was one of the main attractions of the franchise. 


A new facelift


Before re-opening the store major refurbishment was carried out. The entire premises was re-bulbed and re-tiled with the focus on fresh food. Holmes says the layout change of the shop floor was important to him. “We put huge emphasis on the deli, and made sure people could see that. I put in a third till; we had two tills, but a third speeds up customer service, especially at lunchtime. We made customer service a real focal point of the whole thing, that people could come in here from early in the morning, from 7 o’clock and get the same level of service they can right thoughout the day.” 


All the renovations were carried out while the shop was closed which, Holmes says, makes things “that little bit easier”. Less than two months later, the doors were once again opened to locals, eager to see what changes had been made. All 18 staff were retained as part of the changeover. The shop has eight full-time staff and 10 part-time. Four of the full-time staff hold managerial positions and so far everything is working out well, says Holmes. “We retained everybody, that’s just good business. A lot of them are local so that helps and they’re good people. As an employer, either myself or BWG, we have a moral responsibility to people as well so I’m very happy with everybody and I’m sure they’re happy to have their jobs back.” 




The relationship between Holmes and the BWG group has been going strong for the last 25 years. Holmes says he got great support on the refitting of the Dorset Street store and there’s no difference in his relationship with the symbol group in the new store. “I don’t think they treat me any differently. I certainly don’t treat them any differently. Spar is still my image and Spar is my brand. I can’t talk highly enough of them and BWG in fairness did a really, really good job on the renovations.”


Being part of the BWG family takes some of the pressure of deciding on suppliers off the owner’s mind. Investment by the Spar brand in a new distribution centre is testament to its commitment to its stores says Holmes. “Basically we’re nearly going down the road of the breadman and the milkman being the only independent guys,” he says.


Value for money


Along with a focus on fresh food, the store also has a strong coffee trade, especially in the morning. The newsagency side of the store is performing well since the re-opening. Customers can also avail of a range of services including Lotto, toll payment, Leap cards and bus tickets. Holmes says although many would argue about the margin shop owners make on these kinds of services, he believes that they’re essential to getting bodies in the door. “If someone comes in here, they want to be able to get everything in the one shop and chances are they’ll buy something else if they come in here to pay their toll.”


Value offers are something that Holmes is very familiar with from his experience in Phibsboro. However, he thinks that in today’s economic situation, value is not just getting something for a euro but rather an overall experience. “You can’t operate in any way without the value image now but it’s more than the price. It’s about the service, the product and the offer.” 


Holmes says that symbol groups are the way forward for convenience stores and the support of BWG is not something he takes for granted. “We’re a strong brand, we’re a really strong brand. Since we’ve re-opened here as a Spar it’s been a huge success. Spar has as good an offering as anybody else as regards value.”


The affiliation to a symbol group is essential to success in today’s economy says Holmes. It’s a tough market out there for independent retailers and the support and security that a symbol group gives is not something to be underestimated. “It’s survival of the fittest now. There are too many convenience stores out there, that’s a known fact. You have to be proactive and you have to work hard.”


“I’ll be there in five minutes”


For Holmes, the day is spent between the Phibsboro and Dorset Street stores. He employs 18 staff in both shops, although the Phibsboro location is a larger store with an off-licence attached. It’s something he’d like to see in Dorset Street but space is at a premium. “For a store this size, the business we’re doing is good. I do wish it was bigger but that’s life.” He adds that it’s busier per square foot in Dorset Street than in Phibsboro. Throughout the day, Holmes either walks or cycles between the two locations; “more time efficient and no parking,” he says.


Given the economic situation, businesses are finding it difficult to compete and get the customers in the door. Holmes believes that retailers, in general, have “refocused on business” since the downturn and this seems to be working. Hard work and a good team seem to be the winning formula. 


What the future holds? 


So far, so good. Holmes is happy with the refurbishment and the opening trade in Dorset Street. For the future, he’s not ruling out more shops. “I’d take on another franchise, you might as well have three as have two. If the right one came along I wouldn’t say no!” 


Hopes are high among retailers that planning for the new children’s hospital will get the green light and the opportunity is there for a retailer to move into the premises. As for Tadgh Holmes, he’s keeping his options open! 







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