Adamstown, just outside Enniscorthy in picturesque Wexford, is home to Cullen’s Gala, a forecourt and convenience store steeped in family history and some unique offerings
20 November 2015
Adamstown, Co. Wexford
Size: 2,000 sq ft
Staff: 8 – four full-time, four part-time
Ah, Wexford, the sunny south east. Birthplace of John Banville, constituency of Mick Wallace, and connecting point of Ireland to the rest of Europe at the Rosslare Europort. It’s a fine little county, and ShelfLife had an excuse to venture into Wexford recently to pay a visit to Adamstown, just outside hilly Enniscorthy. Cullen’s Gala, Adamstown, to be precise, a convenience store, post office and forecourt owned and run by Paul Cullen.
Cullen comes from a retailing family, with his grandfather having opened a grocery store not far from the current site. “My grandfather started it all,” he recalls, “when he bought a building up the road back around 1944. Then my father took over the business in the mid-1970s and moved it up to the site we’re on now.”
Despite growing up in this retailing environment, Paul Cullen didn’t directly follow his father and grandfather into the business, but spent a few years working in the hotel industry before he ‘came home’, so to speak. “I took over the business in 1991,” he recalls. “That was when we did our first renovation, and then we joined Gala in 1999.”
In point of fact, the Cullen’s of Adamstown in 1999 was Gala’s first store in Wexford, at which time the entire convenience store industry, let alone the shop itself, was a very different place. “’Modest’ is the word I would use to describe the place,” Cullen says. “It was basically a big shed with a couple of pumps out the front and wooden shelves for everything. The ceiling was asbestos!”
It’s funny to think back to that era, when service stations were practical, functional destinations and not the fancy affairs they are today. You’d have been lucky to get much more than a Mars bar and a pint of milk in those days, never mind a hot meal, fresh coffee and Wi-Fi. “There were no coffee machines anywhere back then,” Paul Cullen laughs. “When we did the place up in 1999, Gala suggested to me that we install a coffee machine for customers’ use, and I actually laughed at him. I had never heard the likes of it! But we did it, and I was amazed by the effect it had, right from day one – especially here in a rural area.
Changing times and expectations
People’s expectations have definitely changed,” Cullen says, “and we could see it happening back then.”
But as well as the prior novelty value something like a coffee machine, that is now ubiquitous in every convenience store, forecourt, newsagent in the country and everything in between, in renovating his store several times between 1991 and 2015, Cullen expresses his eagerness for adaptation in the industry. “It’s important to innovate,” he says, and store manager James Dobbs, who looks after the day-to-day running of Cullen’s while Paul takes care of the running of the business itself, agrees.
“I don’t think anybody would have opened an off-licence in Adamstown,” Dobbs says of the latest addition to the store, “but there was definitely a market for it. And it’s been going really well.”
“If you’re going to survive,” Cullen says, “you have to keep doing new things and changing your store. And that’s as much to keep yourself interested as to keep the business ticking over. You have to keep moving.”
Changing the store is definitely something Paul Cullen has not been afraid of over the years, and he has certainly tried out some interesting areas. The recent addition of an off-licence may be a simple but effective one, and the post office, while time-consuming, is a vital service for the community. But how many convenience stores have a hardware section in them? That was something Cullen’s formerly had, and it was ticking over, but the decision was still made to make better use of the space. “It was too nicky picky,” Cullen says of the hardware section. “We used to sell gardening and DIY equipment, but we eventually decided to leave it behind because I wanted to focus on the entire store.”
“You’d get someone coming in to buy three screws,” he recalls. That kind of service is great for the customer, true, but doesn’t translate into a solid return for the store.
As well as regularly changing up the appearance and content of his store, another way in which Paul Cullen’s Gala is an interesting stop is his decision to rent out part of the premises to house a local pharmacy. The thing about pharmacies is that there arguably isn’t a large amount of loyalty from one to the next. Customers tend to visit their closest one, so place a new pharmacy between that customer and the next closest one, and they’re yours. “It only opened around three months ago,” Cullen says, “but it seems to be going really well and he [the proprietor of Adamstown Pharmacy, as it is known] is extremely happy with it.”
Paul Cullen says being part of the Gala group is perfect for his business, because it allows him to retain his independence in running the store how he wants to. “They’re always there if you need them,” he says, “but they encourage you to run the store any way you want.”
Unlike other symbol groups, Gala’s wholesaling operation is decentralised. So rather than a large depot serving the whole country (or large parts of it), each retailer engages local wholesalers all over the country. In Cullens’ case, that’s H Murphy and Co. in Enniscorthy, which has been operating in the area for more than 80 years. “Murphy’s works with us and lots of other convenience stores in the area,” Cullen says, “and everybody intertwines with each other.
“It’s a really nice system that keeps the local economy going,” he adds.
Contributing to the local and “giving back” to the community is something Paul Cullen takes seriously, as illustrated by his store’s sponsoring of the local football club, Adamstown FC, as well as the local GAA teams. On top of that, his store always has a presence at the various fairs and events that take place in the Enniscorthy area throughout the year. “There are so many,” says Dobbs, “like the harvest festival and the Adamstown Show, which is an agricultural showcase with horse trading and that kind of thing; we sponsor that.”
Solid local reputation
Paul Cullen is definitely known around the area then, for his store, and his family owns a pub in the area. They also used to run a shoe shop, and Dobbs reveals that his grandfather and Cullen’s grand-uncle went to school in the area together, so the connections go that far back that community spirit is alive and well in the area and the store itself. “We have four full-time staff, and four part-time,” Cullen says, “and we have quite a low turnover of staff too, which is great.
“We try our best to keep people,” he says. “Our longest-serving staff member, Mary, has been here 15 years,” he says. The rest aren’t far behind, and incidentally the shortest-serving full-timer is James himself, who joined the store only a year ago.”
“We all get on really well,” Dobbs adds. “It’s like talking to a member of the family out there. It’s that easy.
So then, all is well in the world of Cullen’s Gala, but as is the case with many retailers, and as Cullen implied himself, are there plans in the offing for further expansion and revamping of the store? “Well,” he muses, “at the moment we’re happy with how things are, but things move so quickly and have a tendency to change with little notice that you never really know where you’re going to be. We’ve a decent amount of land on the site still, and we can’t just sit on it forever!”