Express to success
Mark Malone and Tara Fitzpatrick’s newly opened Coscutter Express in Bray, Co Wicklow, is a flagship store destined for success
18 May 2009
The day after opening his brand new Costcutter Express in the busy town of Bray, Co. Wicklow, and retailer Mark Malone is on a high.
His enthusiasm for the task in hand is evident as he chats animatedly about how two customers in wheelchairs yesterday where able to easily navigate their way through the store.
In fact, his attitude seems the perfect exemplar for the current Costcutter motto, ‘Always more to offer’.
The Barry Group’s plans for extending the Costcutter and Costcutter Express brands also reflect this forward momentum. Despite a challenging outlook, commercial director John McAllen tells ShelfLife that the group has actually upped its recruitment target of franchisees, from 22 stores to 25.
According to McAllen, the Costcutter brand, which presently has 135 stores in Ireland, signed six stores over the first quarter of this year, and he expects, “by the end of maybe a month’s time, we’ll have signed maybe 10 or 11 stores, which is ahead of budget. I wouldn’t say we’re pleasantly surprised though, because we’re working very hard with it.”
In terms of promoting a modern, fresh image for Costcutter Express, Mark Malone and his partner Tara Fitzpatrick’s new 3,700 sq ft store has a key role to play. With its spacious, high-spec design, McAllen declares it a flagship store for the group. He notes that it features a number of new enhancements, even from Costcutter’s specification six months ago. “There’s new concept lighting, which is energy efficient and we took the carbon footprint of the store into consideration, and added new flooring also.”
While he acknowledges that “this is the latest benchmark” and states the group doesn’t allow deviation from its specification, he also notes, “as a company, we’re very mindful that we don’t burden the retailer with a level of debt that the business can’t support. So we will not insist that someone who has revamped three or four years ago, revamp again today because this is the latest spec with some new enhancements.”
In any case, an impressive appearance is only one ingredient that counts towards a store’s success. It could easily be argued that having retailers in charge who possess solid local knowledge, is the factor which will make most difference to a store’s performance. In this respect, Malone and Fitzpatrick are ideal candidates. Malone first started his retail career, aged 16 back in 1980, and worked within categories such as delis and fruit and veg, before managing his first store in Bray in 2000, and later managing in Blanchardstown. Fitzpatrick meanwhile has also accumulated a wealth of retail experience, having previously worked in Superquinn for 10 years.
Local knowledge is key
Knowing the area so well, Malone is convinced they have secured a prime location. Crucially, for customers coming from the direction of Shankill, the Raven Hall store is located before the hill that leads down into Bray town centre. “We’ve a huge catchment area behind us and the age group would include 50s, 60s. The dreaded hill,” is the perception of many such customers. “A lot of them are on foot and don’t have cars, and this hill kills them, especially on a rainy day like this, so this end of the town needs a store badly.”
In general however, Malone notes that his custom comprises “a good mix.” What’s more, he’s full of innovative ideas to capitalise on this mix. With a gym upstairs, he has positioned healthy sandwiches and juices to the front of the store, in order to attract health-conscious gym-goers. The store’s sit-down area also contains two computers offering internet access. Showing the depth of his local knowledge, Malone comments on why these were installed. “There are 160 students from Spain and France who come over here from March until September for English classes. You also have a lot of business people using the gym early in the morning, or going for a run at 7am.”
And always observant, he comments: “We’ve also got a music shop beside us who have 165 people on their books for lessons. The mother will drive the kids down and sit in the car for half an hour or an hour until it’s time to take them home again. So again we’re going to tap into that and bring them in too.”
Thoughtful forward planning
Obviously his café area will play an important role in attracting such parents in, but this is far from the only reason why he believes the café will do well. The store also has 65 parking spaces which will prove an important draw in a busy town like Bray. Malone explains: “You can’t park on the main street, you’re charged for parking at Superquinn, but we’ve 65 spaces at the side here. There’s no charge and you can park comfortably.”
Indeed, such clear forward planning has been evident throughout the store’s development; for which the Barry Group together with Malone drafted the first feasibility study nine months ago. “Looking at the local area and deciding what it needs” has been essential throughout the process according to Malone. This foresight didn’t go amiss when it came to planning the store’s off-licence either. This will take the form of a separate section which can be closed off from the main grocery offering by shutter. A pub previously stood on the site, so a licence was already built into the premise’s lease, making this off-licence an easier prospect.
It is also reassuring for Malone to know he won’t incur any extra expense in bringing his off-trade into line with new legislation. He comments that he was in a store recently and noticed “black bags over wines and it just looks so unprofessional, so at least we can just shutter ours off.”
Looking at the area’s needs together with the Barry Group, also helped Malone to decide which concepts would work best in his store. In the end, Malone decided not to include a juice bar. He explains: “Barry’s have all the figures. I’ve also discussed it with other colleagues of mine with different symbol groups and if you asked the question would you put that in tomorrow they’d say no. But when you ask why don’t you take it out, they say it’s part of the spec.”
His counters have therefore been designed to allow flexibility. “We put sinks in and we put supplies in, so if we decide that it’s right, in six months time we can do it, and if we decide we want an ice cream bar for the summer, we can do it.”
McAllen confirms that the same level of thought has been invested in the store from a financial perspective. “We’ve done all the financials, and we know what the break-even points are. Based on the indications from yesterday’s takings, we’re very confident that it’s going to work…Overall a lot of work has gone into this project, from our store design team headed up by Oliver Savage, our account managers, and category management people, so it really is a collective team effort.”
Brave new world
No doubt this is reassuring for Malone, but have people nevertheless thought him brave for opening a new store in the current economic climate? He laughs: “They all say I’m mad!” But he adds: “I think it’s amazing, the customers’ response yesterday; “fair play to you, it’ll work”. And I’ve no doubt it will work. As my da always used to say, people always have to eat.”
Barry’s is confident what’s more that they can offer customers a value proposition, resulting from their buying power within the supermarket and convenience channel. Malone agrees the store offers great bargains and is particularly impressed with the Homestead brand.
He’s confident that Bray locals will also warm to the community aspect of the store, which employs all locals from within walking distance. So it seems he and Fitzpatrick are to become something of ambassadors for the brand in the area. As he confidently asserts: “Everybody is talking, saying Costcutters is open. Some people wouldn’t have known the brand so well in this part of the country but I’d say they’d know it now within a week.”
Units 4 & 5 Raven Hall,
Bray, Co Wicklow
Owners: Mark Malone & Tara Fitzpatrick
Size: 3,700 sq ft
Of note: Latest Costcutter spec, sit-down area with internet access, 65 parking spaces
USP: Flagship community store