Great oaks

John McDonald, Louis Byrne and Colette O’Sullivan of Spar Oakpark, Marty Whelan, and Sean Kelly
John McDonald, Louis Byrne and Colette O’Sullivan of Spar Oakpark, Marty Whelan, and Sean Kelly

Spar Oakpark on the Listowel Road in Tralee, Co Kerry, took the gold award in the stores under 2,500 sq ft category at the 2008 C-Store Awards



9 January 2009

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Store-owner Louis Byrne is not afraid of a challenge. "Competition in the local area is stiff," he says, "With two rival symbol stores, Gala and Daybreak, a stand alone off-licence, Carry-Out, and a sandwich bar, Subway, all located within a half a mile and chasing the same customers."

But, says Byrne, his store "has the upper hand, [with] modern Spar branding from three upgrades in the past five years, convenient parking and offerings such as a juice bar, innovative deli and regular special offers." A community focus, supporting local events and clubs, is also paramount.

A Spar retailer for the last eight years, Byrne feels his partnership with Spar gives him an edge. "Spar always remembers what many groups forget; It’s the retailer’s business. We’re working with the retailer, the retailer is not working for us."

He adds: "Innovations like the Spar food strategy were delivered at a time when our delis needed a unique selling point, and the Euro Crunch offers strategy delivered at a time when value and price became key to maintaining sales. They seem to spot market trends earlier and react quicker than many groups."

An even sweeter victory

Byrne knew his store was strong but says: "When we realised that we had won gold I was delighted for the team. Many of our staff have been with us for a long time and it was a great boost for them and their self confidence.

"I had often told them how happy I was with what they did, we often got positive feedback directly from customers and we had won the Spar five star award every year since it started seven years ago but this award was different. The fact that we had been compared to our competitors and other symbol groups by a truly independent body and still won gold added huge significance to the win."

Louis and his wife Colette own two stores (Spar Monavalley in Tralee also) and general operations manager Julianne Fitzgerald works closely with the store managers. Julianne carries out monthly mock audits on each area of the stores before reviewing procedures for improvements.

Debbie O’Halloran manages Spar Oakpark and leads a team of 18 from five countries. This includes two supervisors, Marcin Krol and Catriona Power, and deli manager Maire Deane.

"Debbie works hard, managing the store and still finding the time to complete a degree in management in her own time," says Byrne. Unfortunately, she was unable to collect the gold award she "so well deserved" in person, as she was doing charity work in South Africa that week for the Niall Mellon foundation.

Crowning the customer

Asked if there is anyone he particularly admires within the retailing industry, Byrne answers: "I always had, and still have, great regard for Feargal Quinn and that he built the Superquinn business on customer service. There was always a ‘special feel’ to his stores. Before even getting involved in retail I had read and re-read Crowning the Customer, his bible on customer service that was subsequently translated into 10 different languages. That book is still very relevant and should be read by every store manager and yes, Debbie has read it too!"

Looking to the future, he says: "Stores, no matter how well planned, need to evolve and re-invent themselves over time and ours is no different. We regularly look at our range, manage our categories and change our floor layout. For example, two years ago, as a convenience store, we would have had very few promotions and few value offers because that wasn’t what the customer was looking for.

"In the current climate, that’s all changed and we find ourselves doing monthly promotions and driving sales through the use of own brand products. We never rule anything out and it’s likely that we will increase floorspace again over the next couple of years."  



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