Grand designs in Rochestown

Terry and Sieglinde Murphy and Ian Allen, Centra sales director, at the official opening of the store
Terry and Sieglinde Murphy and Ian Allen, Centra sales director, at the official opening of the store

Fionnuala Carolan visited Centra in Rochestown, Cork, to discover what goes into creating a really clever convenience store of the future



18 November 2011

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Centra, Rochestown

Owner: Terry and Sieglinde Murphy
Manager:  Mary McGroarty
Address: Rochestown, Cork
Staff no: 47

While customers of the newly revamped Centra in Rochestown will appreciate that they have a fabulous new store on their doorstep, it is doubtful that they have any idea the amount of time and energy that was spent debating the intricate elements of design and layout, in order to get this place just right.

Terry’s parents bought this extremely spacious site at an auction back in 1985 and consequently opened a Honda dealership. Ten years later they added a forecourt and a small shop. “Our first store started here in 1995 on this site, a small Esso shop,” explains Terry. “There wasn’t any other stores in the area so it was far busier than any of us had ever imagined and it was a regular occurrence that we had people standing in line out the door. Within three years we built our first Centra store. That was in 1998. We extended again in 2003 when we  were approaching the heights of the building boom and the Celtic Tiger.”

During the 2003 revamp the McCarthy’s increased the store size up to 1,800 sq ft. “We were able to offer a decent range of goods and the place did exceptionally well. We over-traded here for years. It was phenomenally busy.”

However 2008 was a watershed year for them when things suddenly slowed down and the lunchtime queues shortened.

“It was the beginning of the recession and we also had a rival 10,000 sq ft store open up down the road from here. That undoubtedly had an impact on the store. Before that the nearest store was in Passage West so we had the whole of Rochestown to ourselves.”

Terry and his wife, Sieglinde, knew that if they wanted to survive this recession they had to do something drastic. “We decided that we would wind down the motor business and use that space to expand the shop even further. It meant we didn’t need a massive rebuild.

“We had been in the car business for 26 years so it was a difficult decision to let it go but I had to be able to concentrate on this side of the business as the other declined. Given the investment I knew I had to be 100% involved.”

Creating value

Terry felt that redeveloping and increasing the size was the only way to go about offering value, because this was most definitely what consumers were chasing. “We wanted to show that just because it was a convenience store, it didn’t mean we were expensive”.

They didn’t close the business until February 2010 as planning permission took some time to obtain. The shop continued to trade throughout all the renovations which can’t have been easy given the scale of the job. The new store finally opened in June of that year. “The entire store was 100% revamped, rewired and replumbed. This was going to be the one shot of getting it right. We had been increasing the store size over the years bit by bit but this job will stand us in good stead going forward.”

The Musgrave design team sat down with Terry and strategically drew up plans to make this store world class.

The hero of the redeveloped store is the fresh food area, something that Centra places great emphasis on.  As you enter the store you are greeted by the coffee offer which leads into the bakery, deli and then fresh food. There is a distinct market feel to this area of the shop with lots of open space and a high ceiling. Following on from that there is an impressive frozen food offering and all the ambient products with fantastic deals on all the shelf and aisle ends. Finally you are led into the off-licence area where wine is merchanised on top of old style oak barrels. Value is jumping out at you in every area of the store. 
“We have value everywhere you turn now and the reaction from customers has been phenomenal”, says Terry. “You see people doing trolley and basket shops which is something you would never have seen here before. The trolleys used to sit ouside gathering rust! In the past we had offers but nobody knew it because we didn’t have the space to show it off.

“Before you couldn’t wow people. You weren’t getting the message across. Now say with frozen foods we can carry everything from McCains down to the Centra own brand range. Today we can give choice. Our total range would have nearly doubled.”

The off-licence

Previously the shop only had a wine licence but now they have the space and capacity to house a full off-licence.
“I take a very keen interest in the off-licence. It’s definitely a footfall driver. I’m amazed at how drink sales are all offer-driven. What sells is the stuff that is half price. We are hoping that for Christmas the off-licence will really come into its own because if people are buying beer in bulk, they can simply carry it out to the car as opposed to lugging it through a multi-storey car park.”
Aside from the off-licence Terry is delighted with the fresh element of the store. “Now our customers have the option of getting a fresh sandwich, a ready meal or a range of ingredients to make a quick dinner at home. There is this big wide area around the deli where people can browse. It’s kinda a place to stand and have a chat.”

Custom base

Within 1km of the store there are 1,300 homes with about 4,000 people living there. Rochestown is more of an area than a town or village and has no centre to it. Terry wanted the new store to become a local hub.

“This was an opportunity for us to put ourselves in the heart of the community. This is a place you can come to do your shopping and meet your neighbours and have a chat.”

The fresh food area has been named Tasty Kitchen with the branding designed by one of the staff. “We have our own brand and our own logo and we have it on the wall in the deli”, says Terry. “Rick McGroarty, one of our staff designed it. We went away and got it fine tuned with a  designer. We put that on all our cakes and breads.”


In recent years since the motor trade slowed down significantly, Terry began to focus more on the shop and now works full time in the store. He credits manager Mary McGroarty as being a fantastic asset to the business and he says “Mary is the face of the store for many, many years”.

Terry admits that the store has probably always been staffed a little on the high side as he felt that service was very important. “Despite the fact that the place was busy, people still don’t have to spend a lot of time, waiting in line. When I see a queue, I cringe. Between full and part time we have 47 people but about 27 of these are part-time students just doing a couple of shifts a week.”

Realistic about the future

Terry is definitely proud of what he has achieved here and so he should be but he is also realistic about the future. “I don’t think we’re ever going to see the boom times again in our lifetime. But things won’t be as bad as this indefinitely. Nobody knows when things will improve and that’s the worry. So much of it is outside your own control. You just have to get on with it.”

So far all the work seems to have been worth it as turnover is 25% up on this time last year but Terry says: “We’re still nowhere near where we want to take it so the challenge is right there to try to drive it on.” 

Here’s the science bit!

Ciaran McNally, head of store development for Musgrave has been of paramount importance through the whole revamp process and explains the thought processes behind the design

The store development team at Musgrave began discussions with Terry in 2009 about redeveloping his store. Ciaran says that from the start Terry had a great vision of where he wanted it to go.

“The brief and the vision for this store was to be honest, reliable, familiar, have daily fresh food, give excellent service and offer local sustainability. The needs of that vision were price reassurance, top-up essentials, daily fresh, food-for-later solutions and consistent quality delivered within the store.”

Ciaran explains that they identified two clear formats when planning the design. “We wanted to grow the neighbourhood format. You have your 12 hour shop for the convenience shopper and your 72 hour top-up shop for products like fruit and veg, ready meals and grocery.

“These were two challenges for the layout of the store as due to its two different customer missions as it’s high convenience plus because of the demographic you have a lot of top-up shoppers. The front of the store is very convenience focused – coffee, deli, mags, confectionery.

“You then see the scratch bakery and the deli. As you continue through the shop, you see meal solutions, food for later, ambient and the deals. One of the things we tried to do was make it very customer centric.”

Ciaran says that one of the principles of the design was that they wanted the products to be the hero, rather than the design. “We now have the space to show off the products and it doesn’t feel cluttered. All you see is great food, fantastic value, and a fresh, bright store.”




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