Investing in the future

Mace Ballinrobe has built a lot of trust with their customers over the years by providing a high-quality service at the heart of the community. Now, following a recent investment of almost €1 million, they’ve taken things to an even higher level of excellence, writes Paul Doyle



31 July 2023

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Ballinrobe is a town steeped in Irish history. As one of Ireland’s most ancient settlements, tracing its origins back to the 14th century, Ballinrobe served as a hub for merchants and traders, filled with commerce and trade.

Fast forward to modern times and Ballinrobe – from the Irish “Baile an Róba”, literally translating to “town of the robe” – like the rest of Ireland, has changed. While it may no longer be the bustling hub of the past, a community spirit endures, and the town still has a lot to offer visitors and locals alike.

The year 2022 brought renewed investment to the area, which as of the 2016 census has a population of just under 3,000. In a significant development, the government announced a substantial €10 million funding boost for Ballinrobe and Newport. This funding, part of the ‘Our Rural Future’ initiative, is part of a broader effort to revitalise rural communities.

And local businesses, like the Mace located on Castlebar Road, a longstanding fixture in the community, will be at the very centre of a reinvigorated Ballinrobe economy.

Taking charge

Trevor Kennedy, who manages the store on behalf of owner Dermot Fallon, knows exactly how important investment is for local businesses to thrive. In fact, he’s seen it firsthand.

Last November, Mace Ballinrobe underwent a comprehensive renovation, encompassing a revamp of pretty much the entire shop.

“It involved an investment of approximately €750,000,” Kennedy explains, speaking to ShelfLife. “Basically, everything was scrapped and then replaced. Almost the whole shop is different now.”

Today, Mace Ballinrobe proudly shows off its array of new features, including a conveniently located indoor restroom, an enticing dining area, and an ice cream bar. Additionally, the entrance has been redirected to the heart of the store, making the store for easy for customers to navigate.

Convenience and customer satisfaction is at the heart of all the changes. “If you’re coming in to grab a bit of lunch, you won’t be stuck queuing behind someone in the shop to buy diesel,” Kennedy says. “It’s about making everything as convenient as possible for the customer. This was about investing in the future of the business and providing a better service to customers. Their overall experience in the shop has been dramatically improved.”

The store is likely to see further investment down the line too; there are plans to install facilities to charge electric cars, to cater for growing demand.

Staying open, rain or shine

Bringing the store to an even higher level of excellence wasn’t necessarily easy.

The Covid-19 pandemic presented a lot of challenges, such as potentially decreased footfall and increased costs. But due to its place in its community and stellar reputation, Mace Ballinrobe managed to maintain relatively steady sales.

“We have great staff and loyal customers,” says Kennedy. “Plus, we made sure that we still provided services that everyone needed, even when so many other businesses closed down.”

Renovations are costly. Mace Ballinrobe was sure to plan everything out very carefully, never closing while updating the store. Increased energy costs were a significant part of the renovation budget, too, but affiliations with energy companies and investment in energy-efficient equipment like fridges and deli equipment helped offset these costs.

“Having equipment that uses less energy is going to save us money in the long run,” Kennedy points out.

And by staying open during the process of updating the store, renovations inadvertently served as a marketing tool, with customers eager to see the changes each week.

“It took a bit of planning, but it was straightforward to do – we managed to keep the shop open the entire time,” says Kennedy. “People would come in to see what new things we added as the revamp went on. And to be fair, there was a lot being put into the shop!”

Now all of the team’s hard work and dedication is paying off.

“We’ve had huge sales growth since the renovation,” Kennedy explains. “But, in fairness, even before the renovations, our sales held up during Covid and the cost-of-living crisis – and a big part of that has been customers from the area.”

Kennedy estimates that about 75% of the shop’s customers are either local or from the surrounding areas. The other 25% are transient.

Team players

The store has a team of 20 dedicated staff members, split evenly between those working full-time and those with part-time positions.

Most team members have been with the store for four or five years, a testament to Mace Ballinrobe’s status as a good employer, someone people in the community want to work with.

“We have a great relationship with our staff – many of them actually precede my time with the store,” says Kennedy.

“And we provide career opportunities for people who want to work in retail. We have an assistant manager who has been promoted through the ranks over the years, for example. He started with us seven years ago.”

Kennedy says he maintains an open-door policy, ensuring he is accessible and approachable to all team members. He also organises team outings; these facilitate bonding among the employees and foster a harmonious work environment. This approach that emphasises communication extends to customers too.

“We take full advantage of handbills, so customers know exactly what we’re offering in terms of promotions,” says Kennedy. “We distribute them at the counter, the front door, inserting it into newspapers when new offers are available, and promoting it on social media.”

A fine balance

A big challenge for Mace Ballinrobe – and for everyone in retail right now – is the need to increase prices due to rising costs, while ensuring that the products are still attractive to customers.

Simply increasing prices may improve margins initially, but retailers won’t make a profit if their products don’t sell, and customers go elsewhere.

When running a successful business, you’ve got to think long term.

“It’s a delicate equilibrium,” says Kennedy. “Areas like fresh produce are known to offer higher margins, so promoting these, maintaining their quality, and pricing them correctly is important. It’s a difficult task, but it’s one that needs to be done, as there’s a limit to what customers are willing to pay.”

The store, an affiliate of the Mace brand since 2012, distinguishes itself through its commitment to engaging with the local community and letting them know exactly what value is on offer.

It also helps to have such a strong, reliable brand behind them.

“We have an excellent relationship with Mace,” says Kennedy. “Whenever we need anything, they’re on hand right away. They’re just excellent to work with.” The store also holds an impressive track record in terms of product sourcing; it procures a wide array of products from local suppliers to ensure diverse and high-quality options for customers.

“We buy from local businesses like Curley’s Quality Foods, who are nearby, and Costello & McDermott, who are based right here in Ballinrobe,” says Kennedy.

Despite the constant challenges posed by competition and external economic factors beyond their control, the successful relaunch of the updated store in June – and the resulting positive customer feedback – mean the future is bright for Mace Ballinrobe.

“You just have to stay on your toes and keep watching what’s happening – with customers, and in the outside world,” says Kennedy. “Keep watching and be ready to adjust.”



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