Forging forwards

Retailers Grainne, TJ and Maire Talty, Mace representative Pat Reddan and Cathal Talty
Talty's Mace sold the winning lottery ticket for Saturday night’s Lotto draw

ShelfLife visits Talty’s Mace in Lisseycasey village in Ennis, Co Clare and finds a community focus isn’t just the latest buzz-word but a way of life



14 February 2012

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Illustrating that Talty’s Mace in Lisseycassey, Ennis, is not a store that is afraid of trying something new and moving with the times, retailer Cathal Talty jokes that it should originally “have been made out of Play-Doh”, such is the number of revamps and reincarnations that it has gone through since first opening nearly four full decades ago. In fact, in 1994 the original shop burnt down in an accidental fire but the experienced retailers were quickly up and running again the following year.

Cathal’s parents and well-known locals, TJ and Maire Talty, who hail from the nearby village of Cranny and Lisseycasey respectively, first opened the doors of what was then a 2,500 sq ft store back in April 1974. Over the years, the Mace store has blossomed into even more of a family focused affair. While Cathal’s sister Grainne expertly mans the store’s busy deli, another sister Sinead works on a flexible basis, stepping into the breaches whenever she’s needed at the shop while their brother, Oisin, also occassionally works there. Previously, another sister, Cliodhna, had also worked in the family business before emigrating to Australia. 


All under one roof 

With a population of some 900 to 1000 residents in Lisseycasey, and a large catchment area for trade within the surrounding villages, Talty’s Mace has always strived to provide as much of a ‘one-stop shop’ to its local rural custom base as it possibly could. A hardware department has therefore always stood alongside the store’s grocery offering and throughout the years this has proved a strong draw for the local farming community, construction industry and DIY enthusiasts. However the retailer’s forecourt offering can be described as a much more recent development. 
The Topaz forecourt at Talty’s Mace first opened for business in October 2010, and was extremely well received by customers who were eager to see a fuel offering introduced within the village. The Taltys had previously held back from entering the fuel arena because traditionally another two local businesses had always supplied fuel and the family didn’t want to detract from their livelihoods by introducing further competition. “That was their business, it was their bread and butter, so we weren’t going to step on their toes,” explains Cathal Talty. However one of the firms later closed and the other stopped offering fuel, leaving a potentially lucrative gap in the market for nearly three years. “We would have to travel maybe 10 miles in either direction for fuel so there was a real need for it and customers said, why don’t you do it,” says Talty, explaining the level of consumer demand that spurred the family on to investigate introducing a forecourt.

Choosing the right partner

The Taltys subsequently invested a great deal of time and thought into deciding who their fuel supplier should be. They were keen to gain the same strong relationship with their fuel supplier as they enjoy with Mace, with whom they have been in partnership since their establishment in 1974, when they allied with the group then known as Mangans. “Mace are very much a community and a neighbourhood brand and that’s why we work so well together,” says Talty. “They’re only a phone call away, and [Mace representative] Pat Reddan is here on a weekly basis so we have a great relationship with them and we wanted to be able to have that with the fuel company.” In fact, the family’s thorough decision making process took 12 months in total, and extended to the point where their builders were developing the forecourt site and needed to know the dimensions of the chosen company’s totem pole so that they could dig the right size hole. “It had gone as late as that,” says Talty, “because we were still meeting with suppliers and we didn’t want to make a wrong decision.”
Fortunately, this level of attention to detail and careful thought paid off with the family believing that “the right decision was made.” In fact, the family was delighted to have since been nominated for Best Newcomer at the Forecourt and Convenience Awards, through their partnership with Topaz. The “fresh and vibrant” appearance of their new Topaz forecourt even motivated them to push ahead with the shop’s most recent interior revamp, so that both inside and outside would look equally modern.

Adhering to a strict schedule

Characteristically, the Talty’s gave the new design of their shop their full attention in order to ensure they and their customers would reap the maximum benefit from the changes made. Working very closely with BWG’s design team, the Taltys “spent a long time seeing what the shop needed and had many drawings changed”. Taking care to deliver what their customers wanted and to allocate sufficient space to all the right areas, the family spent nearly a year again finalising the finished plannogram. The revamp was then scheduled to take place over eight weeks, during which time the store remained open for trading. “We were strict in sticking to the eight weeks allocated,” explains Talty, “because 8 December is traditionally an important shopping day in the countryside, so we didn’t want it to go any later than that.” 
After successfully achieving their finished look on time, Talty reports that customers were impressed by the store’s striking new appearance. Importantly, the Mace was able to fulfil another annual local tradition, that of opening up on the morning of Christmas Day. While this may seem like a great idea for forgetful last minute shoppers, Talty explains that the idea wasn’t created, “just to make money, it’s more than that. People come in after mass and it has become a meeting place on Christmas morning. People come in and they’re all in great form… It’s not truly a day’s work you could say, but it has worked out very well.”

Centred around community

The store’s community ethos is bolstered by its friendly staff, many of whom have worked at Talty’s Mace for a long time, with one woman working in the shop’s office since its establishment in 1974. While some staff have left over the years in order to concentrate on their families, many younger part-time staff who were employed during the summer holidays have grown up with the store, and still regularly call in to see their former colleagues even though they’ve now left to pursue their own studies and careers.  
Throughout their formative years, Talty and his sisters also worked in the store during school holidays and in the evenings “as soon as we’d finished our homework.” And although he and his sister Grainne both later went off travelling, the retailer says he “always knew that I would end up back here in the store. When you spend so much time in your youth working somewhere, it really is a part of you. I worked in Dublin and I travelled to Australia and America and all those things needed to be done also because it would have been very bad for me to finish school, to finish college, and then come straight back in here. You needed to see the world more.”

Performing strongly    

After getting the travelling bug out of his system, Talty now greatly enjoys working in retail, where he says his favourite aspects of the job are interacting with customers and witnessing the evolving nature of the convenience industry. “There’s a lot of different symbol group brands out there and there’s a race to the top occurring. I enjoy that because it’s all to the good of the customer.” Within his own store, he reports the expanded deli with a seating area for 20 people is the number one performer. “Our deli has grown very strongly and we’ve added a lot of new products to it. Home baking [in conjunction with Puratos] is an area that has really taken off and it’s doing very well, while fuel also generates strong sales.”
Talty feels confident his store can compete on price. As he sagely points out: “People now have x amount of money to spend and regardless of how good your shop looks or what your offering is, if you don’t have value for money then you can’t compete”. Mace promotions typically last for three weeks which he believes offers an advantage, because it gives consumers a “great opportunity to pick them up” while not lasting so long that the promotion “goes stale”. Another plus for the store is that it can offer shoppers locally sourced produce such as free range eggs and Clare Spring Water.  

Constantly moving forwards

With popular tourist attractions situated nearby such as the west coast of Clare and the Cliffs of Mohair, as well as being on the main thoroughfare from Ennis to Kilkee and Kilrush, the shop is beginning to gear itself up for the busy summer season, which starts to boom from St Patrick’s Day on. With such a high level of passing trade, it’s not surprising that the shop does a roaring trade in ice cream once temperatures start to heat up. 
While the Taltys have no further plans to change the store in the immediate future, the experienced retailers fully recognise the importance of not resting on their laurels. “In four or five years’ time, there’ll be new changes again, “says Talty, “We won’t sit still and watch everyone else move forwards, we’ll certainly make the changes that need to be made. We have monthly meetings in Dublin, and regularly call into different shops to pick up different ideas and inspiration. We won’t be stopping doing that; If you stand still, you get left behind.” 


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