Baking up a destination store
Mulrooney’s Gala has earned a reputation in Roscrea, Co. Tipperary and considerably further afield, for providing tasty, homemade fare. Gillian Hamill caught up with owner Sean Mulrooney and store manager Deirdre Harding to learn more about how the team has successfully turned a forecourt store into a shopping destination
17 June 2015 | 0
Owner: Sean Mulrooney
Store manager: Deidre Harding
Assistant store manager: Colm Mulrooney
Deli manager: Martina Lynch
Size: 12,500 sq ft.
Staff: 85 across Mulrooney’s Gala Group
“I can resist everything except temptation,” Oscar Wilde once famously said. A sentiment no doubt shared by the many customers of Mulrooney’s Gala in Roscrea, who have shown they’re prepared to travel to stock up on the store’s freshly made bakery and deli products, which account for approximately 40% of its overall turnover. First opened in November 2001, Mulrooney’s Gala has built up a reputation as the store to head to for its bakery range. As owner Sean Mulrooney says: “We are a destination shop here. People come from huge distances to get the products or if they’re passing near, they’ll always make their way to here.”
Strong bakery growth
Store manager Deirdre Harding first came up with the idea of providing the store’s own freshly made baked goods in 2008 and since then, the bakery offering has taken off in a huge way. Harding explains: “Initially we started off in April of 2008, I went and did a course in the Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) and I came back and said to Sean, I think we could start to do a few items on the side, like scones and some breads and tarts and literally that’s how it started. It took off from there and then we started to introduce a few fresh cream sponges and then we got the patisserie and out of [that], somebody asked would we do a birthday cake and now we are a seven days a week, day and night shift, full production bakery with occasion cakes and all bakery products made in-store. I think that’s still a surprise to most people who come here because we are a forecourt shop with no idea really from the outside until you come in, what we do and what we have.”
Wide catchment area
In fact, at the time of our interview, which was at the height of First Communion season, even with eight full-time bakery staff on board, the store had to turn down some business. “Believe it or not, this is the second weekend in a row that I’ve had to cancel [new] cakes because we were maxed out,” says Harding. Word of mouth about the quality of the occasion cakes available has now spread far and wide. “Our catchment area has increased and I actually have one cake that’s going to Ballinasloe in County Galway which is 35 miles away,” she says.
Choice is not compromised at the store moreover. As Harding points out: “We do all the cake range, we do the blackforest gateaux and the carrot cakes, chocolate cakes, chocolate fudge, madeira sponge and fresh cream and strawberries. Then you can either have the fresh cream finish, a buttercream finish, a chocolate finish, a chocolate fudge finish or icing, like a roll-out fondant in any of the colours. We have lovely decorations, we can either have little ornaments, or most popularly, any picture from the internet of any of the kids’ characters, we can print that and put it on the cake. Every single cake is unique to the person ordering it, it’s not a conveyor belt manufacturing every cake the same.”
“Last weekend we had 118 cakes, Friday, Saturday and Sunday,” adds Harding. “For what we do and where we are, that’s a huge amount and the girls were in at 5 o’clock in the morning. They’re great, they help each other out and they all stay back to make sure everything is done so there’s a great atmosphere around and it just generates more of a good environment to work in for the girls.”
Prices are very reasonable moreover, starting at €25 for the smallest birthday cake, going up to €60 – €80 for two-tier cakes. However with some suppliers feeling pressure from the weak euro exchange rate at the moment, Harding says they may have to raise prices in the future to cover costs, but they would hope to hold off on this for as long as possible.
Proprietor Sean Mulrooney says the good atmosphere in the bakery is reflected throughout the store. “I have a very dedicated, excellent team,” he says. In fact, he adds: If people asked me, what was the strength of our business, I would have to say our staff. Some of the staff on the day we opened here are still with me, we have a very low turnover of staff. We have built up a management team within the shop structure where Deirdre is the overall shop manager and bakery manager, Colm is the assistant shop manager and Martina is the deli manager. We’ve grown down through the years and have a very loyal, multi-generational customer base.” A friendly environment is obvious at the store, and Mulrooney believes the Gala Group ethos mirrors their values. “I describe ourselves as a family group and Gala is [the same], if I pick up the phone I can contact anybody from Gary Desmond down. It’s not one of the big groups, but it’s a nice, compact, very personable group. Our cash and carry, 4Aces is an excellent group as well to be involved with. They provide great service and I find we get as good value as anybody dealing with them and I definitely would recommend Gala to anyone. I’m very impressed with them and I’m 14 years with them.” This tradition of strong service from Gala has been reflected in the store’s latest regional manager Fiona Leavy whom Mulrooney praises as being “brilliant”.
Progressing throughout the years
Mulrooney says that when he first opened his doors in November 2001, it was “with no experience or knowledge of retail, good, bad or indifferent”. Although it was a “huge learning curve at the time”, he notes, “I learnt every day, I’m still learning every day probably”. In fact, his regional manager at the time was Gary Desmond who is now the Gala Group CEO. The store has therefore progressed alongside Gala, and Mulrooney currently has three stores, with shops in Nenagh and on the outskirts of Portumna. His son Shane has joined him in the retail business and currently manages the Nenagh store as well as looking after the IT needs of all three stores.
Before opening up in Roscrea in 2001, Mulrooney was no stranger to entrepreneurialism, running his own oil distribution business, Roscrea Oil. His son has since started up a new company, Mulrooney Oil and his son-in-law and daughter are also involved in the oil business.
Trying out new concepts
Throughout his past 14 years in retail, Mulrooney has never been afraid to experiment with new innovations. “I took a lot of gambles with ideas, the vast majority of them paid off,” he says. “Now we’re going down the road of takeaway lunches and meals which we’ve been doing for the last 12 months and that’s a huge success now. We have gained a name for good food.”
Mulrooney feels it’s very important to “give something back into the community that’s supporting us. There’s some very good organisations in town, such as St Anne’s GAA and the soccer club, the golf club and various fundraising events in the estates; we support anything that’s going. I feel you’re giving something back to the people and that’s important; they’ve been supporting us, they’ve been our loyal supporters down through the years.” This attitude is very much in keeping with the Gala Group’s current brand sponsorships. Through its ongoing association with the Jack & Jill Foundation, Gala has raised over €100,000 for the charity. The Gala Group is also an Official Team Sponsor for the Special Olympics Team Ireland at the 2015 World Summer Games.
Looking towards the future, Mulrooney has a few more ideas up his sleeve. “Maybe a small sit-down area, it seems to be the growing trend locally. We have a lot of our customers are dashboard dinners out in the car park.” Whatever way the store develops in the future though, its hard-earned reputation for quality will undoubtedly continue to flourish.