A deserving winner

First starting his career with Superquinn in 1979 as a summer job, this year’s National Retail Manager 2014, Paul Dunne of SuperValu, the Pavilions Shopping Centre in Swords, has amassed a huge amount of industry experience. The type of experience that allowed him to oversee a €2.2 million revamp last year, requiring ‘military precision’ to ensure customers weren’t inconvenienced



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10 July 2014

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Summoned into the Superquinn boardroom by Feargal Quinn back in 1999, Paul Dunne faced some nerve-wracking news. Finding himself facing the entire board, he was told the group had received a very serious complaint which they needed to talk to him about.

Fortunately for Dunne’s flourishing career, after making him sweat for an appropriate period, Quinn eventually told him: “No, I’m only joking!” The actual reason he’d been called in was that he’d just received his first store manager post at the Sundrive Road supermarket in Dublin 12. Undoubtedly, the newly-appointed manager breathed a huge sigh of relief at the news. As Dunne says of the stress-inducing scenario: “You always hope that when you’re called up to the boardroom it’s for a good reason but I wasn’t so sure then. But it worked out well in the end!”

‘You start in the morning’

Originally starting his Superquinn career in Blanchardstown with a summer job back in 1979, Dunne has another humorous anecdote to relate about his first request for a full-time position after leaving school. “The manager’s reply the first time I asked him was: ‘Yeah, get your hair cut, you start in the morning’. So that was it.”

Dunne hasn’t looked back since. After five years in Blanchardstown, during which time he worked in various areas and progressed through the ranks, he got his “first step onto the junior management trail” at Superquinn Naas. At the time, Dunne says there was no official title for his position, although it was widely referred to as ‘the third man’, ie, the third in a store’s chain of command, after the manager and assistant manager. Throughout his career with Superquinn, Dunne explains: “I moved around quite a lot of stores; I’ve worked in all of the Dublin-based Superquinn stores, apart from Finglas and Northside.” After subsequently gaining his first manager position in the Sundrive Road branch, he stayed there for five years before moving on to Blackrock and then to his current location in Swords, where he has been based for the past seven years.

Positive changes

Of course, the group has evolved hugely during the course of Dunne’s career, due to the well-documented changes in ownership from the Quinns to Select Retail Holdings and to its current owner, the Musgrave Group. “Overall everybody is really positive about the changes that we have now,” he comments. “I think the fact that we’re involved in a large retail company now – the biggest retailer in the country – that’s always good, it gives us a really good solid base in terms of the whole logistical end of things. With SuperValu and Musgrave Retail Partners Ireland (MRPI), that gives us a lot of buying power and it helps us to give value to the customer, because that’s one of the things that we would have been missing a little. We’ve always been renowned for our fresh food and service; those things have always been there and they’re still there, they’re the things that we still thrive on. But one of the things that we were missing for a long time was the value; the customer perception was that Superquinn was always a little bit dearer or too expensive, so being able to offer that now has been a great move for us.”

However, the overall group is not the only aspect of change Dunne has encountered, with the 24,500 sq ft Swords supermarket itself experiencing huge change during his tenure. The manager explains the store required a €2.2 million “extensive revamp” as its entire orientation had to be rotated so that aisles would run vertically instead of crossways. As he explains: “We had a lot of feedback from customers beforehand and they always found it hard to find their way around, they didn’t know exactly where every department was; the flow of the store wasn’t intuitive. We said we need to make this flow like a proper supermarket should flow; that you walk up and down and you end up at the checkouts…It’s the only store I’ve ever worked in where customers would ask, ‘where’s the checkouts?’, believe it or not. And then when they got to the checkouts they asked, ‘how do I get out?’”

Minimising disruption

Although a necessary move therefore, the entire revamp, which took 14 weeks to complete between February and May last year, had the potential to create huge disruption. “Military precision” was required in order to ensure construction work didn’t inconvenience customers, with the store remaining open for the entire period. According to Dunne: “We had 11 different phases of work so it was all perfectly implemented and planned to make sure that the impact to the customer was really at the lowest. That was one of the things that we were very conscious of because we’ve a competitor very close to us at the far end of the mall, so it would be very easy for a customer to come up, see works going on and think ‘I’ll go somewhere else’ so we had to be very, very careful about that.” In fact, planning for the revamp took approximately six months before any work began, to ensure the process would run as smoothly as possible.

Dunne has also witnessed a lot of change within the Pavilions Shopping Centre, where the SuperValu in Swords has been based, since moving from its Main Street location back in 2001. “It’s a great, well-run centre and it’s grown quite a lot in the time I’ve been here; it’s nearly doubled in size since I started here. When Phase two opened on the left-hand side of us, it was great because it actually brought traffic through our end of the mall and really helped us in terms of our profile.” Footfall is high within the Pavilions, with over 150,000 people visiting the mall each week.

First in fresh

Fresh is foremost at SuperValu, The Pavilions, with the store out-performing peer stores of a similar size in categories such as fruit and veg, in-store bakery, protein and provisions and the deli, with these categories accounting for a higher participation of the overall sales figure. Dunne candidly admits:  “Some of it is down to location, the fact that we’ve got a Dunnes Stores 100 yards from us probably impacts our grocery sales a bit because Dunnes wouldn’t have the same reputation for fresh food but they would have a good reputation for ambient and grocery lines. It keeps us on our toes in terms of making sure that we keep our offering right in ambient and grocery as well because we’ve got to have value [and] make sure that we’re out there with our promotions and keeping in step with them.”

Of course, the store’s fresh reputation and variety of fresh options available is a major factor driving the success of these categories. Within its in-store bakery, the supermarket has a team of nine bakers who produce over 50 different bread lines from scratch everyday. To ensure its reputation for freshness is maintained, no bread is carried over to the next day, with any left over at the end of each day being offered to local charities.

Ultimate convenience for customers

Customers will find another innovative proposition in the store’s butchery and fishmonger departments in the form of its ‘Prepared by our butcher’ and ‘Prepared by our Fishmonger’ ranges. Dunne explains: “This is something that some of our competitors are starting to copy but not quite as well, and it’s freshly made in the store every day.” Meat, potatoes, veg and a sauce are all wrapped in one pack, providing the ultimate convenience for the customer who can just pop it the oven in order to enjoy a complete meal. In fact, the range is one of the store’s signature lines, with it being the highest performing store in the company in this regard.

Another impressive area is the store’s selection of cheeses. “We have fresh-cut cheese all the time, we don’t buy the cheese pre-cut as some of our competitors do,” says Dunne. This allows them to cut the exact size of cheese the customer requires which is another unique offering it is able to deliver.

A great team

Of course, the fresh offering would not perform as well as it does without staff members’ attention to detail. “I’ve a very good team of staff,” says Dunne. “To be honest and I mentioned this when I collected the award, realistically I know that I’m only as good as the people around me. I can give people the direction, the advice and the coaching, I’ll give them some of the experience that I have because I’ve got quite a bit of it, but at the end of the day, if they’re performing, then it makes me look good.” In fact, the supermarket had four finalists eligible for awards at last year’s GRAMs and another four this year, including Dunne himself. This includes Michael Hickey, who was named In-Store Bakery Manager 2014 – the second year he has scooped this title.

The store is also strongly involved in local community initiatives. At present it is involved with the local Tidy Towns programme and is supporting the local Fingallians GAA Club. One of the biggest clubs in Dublin, the Fingalians will soon be hosting a occasion out, to which it will invite other clubs from all over the country, with 400 kids and their families expected to attend, and SuperValu Swords will be participating in this important event.

Looking towards the future, there are some challenges ahead, with both an Aldi and a Tesco due to open nearby soon. “The ongoing plan is always to keep the store right in terms of the standards and making sure that we build the business as much as possible. It’s always about watching to make sure that we keep one step ahead of our competition,” says Dunne. Having said that however, he asserts: “We’re confident that we have the right tools and the right offering to be able to combat” the new competition.

Innovative health and wellbeing section

The store is hoping to offer two new developments later this year. The first is the addition of a kitchen homewares section and the second is a new health and wellbeing programme that will build on the supermarket’s current free-from section. “The health and wellbeing area is a totally new innovation that was piloted at Lucan and we will have that coming to us very soon,” says Dunne. This section will be equipped with a kiosk where customers can weigh themselves and check their body-mass index (BMI). The area will also include an iPad which customers can use to download specific nutrition information. There will also be someone on hand to advise customers about the right types of healthy foods for them. As Dunne comments: “It’s not just to do with special diets; but people who are looking to eat and live a bit healthier; that’s a trend right across the country.”

Reflecting on his prestigious win at this year’s GRAM Awards, Dunne says “it was a great surprise and an honour” to win the overall award, particularly given the calibre of colleagues who were also in the running for the top title. He believes the awards are valuable because they give “appreciation and recognition of the work that goes into [retail]. I was at the awards last year with my colleagues and two of them won their categories so I saw the type of excitement that was around and I said it would be great to be involved, so I was delighted to be nominated.”




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