A mighty lot of retailing
Situated in an ideal location between Limerick and Dublin, Con Moloney's Mighty Mols in Mountrath offers a one-stop shop for customers on the move.
17 February 2010 | 0
Mighty Mols XL
Owner: Con Moloney
Size: 4,800 sq ft
Of note: Winner of XL Best Forecourt of the Year 2009
Retailer Con Moloney and business partner Dermott Mulhall, have capitalised on a prime location, just one hour from both Dublin and Limerick, by providing top-class facilities that can meet a stressed-out and weary traveller’s every need. A demand certainly exists for these services moreover – at the time of ShelfLife’s interview, Moloney had just finished installing a bus park which would allow the site at his 4,800 sq ft store to accommodate up to 10 buses at any one time, on top of ample spaces for cars and trucks.
The Mountrath, Co Laois shop, which was completely refurbished in June 2008, boasts a number of draws for those en route to the airport or a match. These include a deli area with a strong focus on home cooking and seating for 40, “excellent” toilet facilities, a games room decked out with poole tables, a carwash, seated smoking area, and even shower facilities for those keen to freshen up before reaching their destination.
Bypassing the ‘bypass effect’
Moloney’s plans do not stop there however. He also intends to expand his retail offering to include a Supermacs, which would ideally become the number one choice for children’s birthdays in the town. Indeed, complacency is not an option open to him, as the main road is set to bypass Mountrath in six month’s time. Ever mindful of this, he is also considering building a garden centre at the site, because “we need to have something there that will attract people to pull in.”
This “common sense” approach was also something which attracted him to his retailing partners XL. First and foremost however, he says he went with the people before the brand. “It’s purely because I have very good faith in Colm Fitzsimmons and Val O’Meara and they were very loyal and offered good service,” explains Moloney. “It’s the guys I went with and then the brand followed.”
He was also keen to gain a faster return on investment. “With XL, there’s a more common sense approach; whereas some of the other brands want you to spend millions on the shop before you even start.”
He continues: “At the end of the day, you’ve got to sell a product, and make a margin on it to make money. You shouldn’t be just paying for buildings for the rest of your life.”
Despite XL’s lower fitting costs, Moloney has been impressed by the store’s appearance. “It’s very functional, it’s roomy and it’s bright and clean-looking.” He adds that XL’s new image using light blue signage is a “refreshing” change from the group’s darker XL Stop & Shop branding.
Excelling in food standards
While appearance can provide a good first-impression however, two major areas in which Mighty Mols truly stands out in customers’ minds, are in its food and service. Moloney explains that the deli offers customers a varied lunchtime repetoire with six hot options available including a roast, a curry, a fish dish and homemade burgers. In fact he declares, “I would have to say it’s one of the best in the country by far.” He attributes these high standards to in-store chef James, “a very high-qualified chef who’s worked abroad a lot,” who has really upped customers’ perception of the deli.
Moreover, Moloney believes this is an offering with long-term appeal. “We don’t do smoothies, we used to but we found them more a fad than anything else. What we try to do is good wholesome cooking, where you can go in and you’ll get a shepherd’s pie and it’s homemade and it’s decent and it’s hot.” Hot food is also available 24 hours a day at the store, with breakfasts starting at 5am, and Moloney notes it’s “amazing” how many people will want something hot at 4am. Mighty Mols also makes a wide range of packaged sandwiches on the premises which are priced between €3.50 and €3.85. Moloney prides himself on the fact these are “decent” sandwiches with a difference. “They’re not just a flimsy offering with one slice of meat in them, they’re a decent size and we use thicker bread especially for them.”
Value is also available at lunchtimes, with the average eat-in lunch costing €7.99, although some options are available for just €5. Six months ago, the store also started pre-packing around a dozen homemade options daily for customers to take home and heat in the microwave, priced between €4.99 and €6.99 which are proving popular so far.
The shop can also offer customers an array of enticing home baking, including homemade brown bread, scones and cheesecakes. Displayed in their own cabinet, Moloney notes that the appetising aroma of these treats is catching customer’s attention, and comments, “we find a lot of people come for that.”
They are a labour of love for the shop’s supplier Mrs Mulhall who is also Dermott Mulhall’s mother and runs the deli at their smaller shop also situated nearby on the Dublin Road. In fact, these homebaked goodies have performed so well that the team “hope to go into providing some outside catering later on.”
And although Moloney’s trade has been hit by the demise of ‘breakfast roll man’, he notes that the shop is now benefiting from “reps and businessmen stopping off to have a meeting…It’s a nice atmosphere, more like a restaurant really, it’s not just a place where you grab a breakfast roll, we have plates and saucers, it’s not just paper cups.”
The importance of good service is a factor Moloney is keenly aware of, as he also works within the hospitality industry. He set up a hotel several years ago in Swansea in South Wales, after previously owning a steel business. He therefore has to spend “three days of every third week, at least” in Wales, and so his business partner Dermott Mulhall “is more hands-on in the shop business, whereas I’m more the builder and the doer and maybe doing a few deals for us. Dermott is hands-on everyday and only for him it wouldn’t be the success that it is.. He’s put huge work and time into it.”
Another key staff member is John Fitzpatrick who manages the duo’s smaller shop of some 2,000 sq ft on the same street. This store focuses more on its grocery range than the commuter-centred larger store. “We’re going to push that more so as a mini-market,” explains Moloney. Fitzpatrick is therefore a very suitable candidate for this role, considering he has gained a wealth of previous experience at both Superquinn and Marks & Spencer.
Having a good team behind him is also something Moloney recognises as a key concern. “A lot of our staff have been with us for three years now, and they’re fully HACCP trained and friendly to customers.” This attitude seems to have paid dividends as the store has received good feedback from customers and has even been endorsed by a number of high profile celebrities.
The star attraction
“Paul O’Connell, the rugby player, was in the other night getting something to eat. We’d get a lot of those guys,” says Moloney. "We’d also Gay Byrne in the other day, and Eddie Hobbs got fuel the other morning.”
I inquire that with Eddie Hobbs as a visitor, the store must offer good value? “I think it’s good value for money, other people might think you’ve to pay €1.80 or €1.90 for a cup of coffee that it’s expensive, but there’s an awful lot of things that that coffee has to pay for,” replies Moloney in a characteristically straightforward manner. “A person gets to sit down and relax for a while, whereas at a lot of places there’s nowhere to sit down; you’ve to go out and drink it in the car.”
Warming to the subject, he adds: “The bills come in at the end of every month, and if you’re selling goods at cost price with very little margin, you just won’t survive. There’s too many expenses there such as electricity bills, rates and banking charges. Often people can’t cut those other than by a few percentages. The killing part about business is the costs remain; you can cut down your wage bill a small bit but you’ve other costs that have to stay.”
On the other hand, he recognises that “sometimes you have to pay a little bit more for quality.” As such, he believes in sourcing from local businesses where possible, such as from nearby Connelly Meats. With this common sense approach and strong business acumen firmly intact, it appears Mighty Mol’s trade is set not to be by-passed along with Mountrath in the coming years.