Keep on trucking!
XL Cloghan, Co. Offaly is the brand’s first ‘greenfield’ site and has just celebrated its official opening. Fionnuala Carolan spoke to owner Martin Grogan about the huge adjustment he has experienced from working in construction to becoming a full-time retailer
1 June 2023
XL Cloghan opened on 24 January this year after four years of planning and Covid related
hold-ups. As the first-ever greenfield site for XL, there was plenty to celebrate at the recent official opening led by Marty Morrissey and attended by most of the parish!
The land on which the new shop is built was owned by Martin Grogan’s father and they had it earmarked for planning for a while. “My dad had land so he wanted to develop it. It was four years in the making with planning, banks and finding a retail partner so it was quite the process,” explains Grogan.
Cloghan has a population of just 600 in the village but also has a large farming community in its hinterlands. The site is within the speed limit signs of the village which is a big thing when looking for planning permission because it is deemed safe for vehicles to pull in and out.
Although this forecourt services the town and its surrounds, it was primarily developed for the passing trade, mainly the trucks on the busy N62 which links Limerick to the north of the country.
“The road that we are on caters for 5,000/6,000 vehicles every day and there is no truck stop an hour either side of us,” explains Grogan. “We’re on a four acre site and have room
for 18/20 trucks at a time.”
Despite the long wait for planning, once it was granted, they turned the project around in nine months with Grogan, his dad and his brother building the site between them. “My dad came out of retirement for this and he had great contacts for subcontractors. We did most of the work ourselves.”
First foray into retail
While Grogan grew up in Cloghan, he spent five years working in construction in Toronto,
Canada and this is where he met his wife Daniela who is Ecuadorian. They made the decision to move home to Cloghan in 2016 in order to start this project. They now live just across the road from the shop with their one year old daughter, Ada. Daniela is very proactive with the social media side of the business and according to Grogan she has really immersed herself in the community having recently organised a coffee morning in the shop for International Women’s Day.
This is the Grogans’ first retail venture as the family’s background is in farming and
construction. “There is more to it than I had imagined,” admits Grogan. “I thought that once I had it built and installed a manager I could go back into construction a bit but it hasn’t worked out like that so far anyway. We have 26 staff who all started around the same time so you are trying to marry 26 different personalities together. I need to be here especially at weekends when there are more part-time staff. I underestimated the time I needed to put into it.”
The shop itself is 4,000 square feet, one of XL’s largest stores and certainly the largest forecourt in the group, which is serviced by Emo. They serve Bewley’s coffee and run a hot and cold deli from 6.30am to 3pm daily. To complement this, there is seating for nearly 40 with scope to expand further if needed.
To continue the food offering until closing time at 10pm they operate an O’Reilly Fish and
Chips concession which has gone down well with truckers and locals alike. ”We brought in
O’Reilly’s Fish and Chips franchise from Cork so that’s working really well. People want
somewhere they can bring the family in to eat and not have to bring it home. A lot of the locals from town would come in at weekends so it definitely increases footfall. We were going to develop our own chipper but they have a really great offering. O’Reilly’s have gone above and beyond and sent up staff to train our staff too,” he reveals.
The store also has a full off-licence and Grogan says he is talking to a local brewery
about introducing a craft beer of the week going forward. “It would be nice to support some local companies like that. It’s good for everyone,” he says.
Grogan explains how they designed the site around the trucks business because the N62 is
the main thoroughfare from Limerick up to Cavan/Roscommon so it gets an awful lot of
heavy goods vehicles.
“We have a lot of trucks passing because it’s a good half way point on the road and we have put n shower facilities for truck drivers and we keep them well so we’re already been earmarked by companies as a good place to stop to refuel, get food, have a shower and pull in for the night,” he explains. “A lot of shops put showers in as a token gesture but they are not cleaned regularly but we keep ours very well. They could be used 7/8 times a day. There hasn’t been a day where no one used them.”
Grogan says that every night there could be four or five trucks parked up and he sees this as added security for the business. “No one is going to set off the alarm when they see five trucks parked there!”
They also have a 24-hour fuel pump with one company filling up their trucks a couple of nights a week so for that alone it has been worth getting it in.
Deciding on a retail partner was a minefield for them. Grogan spoke to many of the groups but in the end he put his trust in a friend Paudie O’Hare, the Value Centre sales developer.
“Paudie is a long-time friend and he spoke to me about XL and that swung it for me,” he says.
“I talked to other XL retailers and not one of them had anything bad to say about XL and also what swung it was that bit of extra freedom that you might not have with other brands. Then when I met the XL business development manager Barry Egerton and he went the extra mile, I felt comfortable going with XL. I would onsider Barry to be a friend now and we are on the phone all the time. Even Colm Fitzsimons and Paul Bealin have always been available to me when I need them. Jenny Egan in marketing is a great help and especially so with the launch which was a great day with locals coming out in
their droves to support us.”
Plough your own furrow
Grogan says that with the cost-of-living crisis at the moment you have to be careful with your prices. “We need to charge community prices because we are in the village,” he explains. “The XL own brand Family Value is a great help and there are promotions every three weeks so you can offer good value with these. You have to be price conscious with the fuel too. We are with Emo and every day the prices are changing and you have to keep an eye on competitors but you always have to plough your own furrow and set your
own prices and make sure you are offering value for money. You have to run the business from the inside and not the outside looking in,” he believes.
Ensuring they futureproofed the business, they have installed a 90 KW electric car charging point which Grogan says is the first one of its kind in a forecourt in Ireland. “It’s the fourth one to be installed in Ireland and first one for the public. We can charge two cars at once now and obviously if the demand is there we can increase that to the capacity to do 14 cars so it’s good to have that option with the rise in electric vehicles.”
They are currently in talks to create a solar field in the land beside their forecourt, a really
fortunate position to be in. “We would be hoping to offset the cost of our own energy and
send some of it back to the grid which will alleviate the costs during winter. We’re now at
the stage of developing the plans. Our energy bills are coming in at €8,000 – €10,000 a month so if you could save that, there’s 100k a year,” he says.
Baptism of fire
The new business hasn’t come without its challenges and Grogan readily admits that it’s
been a hard slog at times but a huge and interesting learning curve. “I’ve learned a lot in a
short period of time. In construction you could work all day without seeing anyone whereas this is a customer-facing business so you have to learn the art of small talk very quickly. Some people want to get in and get out and others are coming in for the chat and you have to be willing to do that to maintain good customer service,” he says.
The five-year plan is to become established in the area and become a destination shop and it would seem like they are well on the road to achieving that by finding a niche market for
truck drivers and creating a really attractive and convenient place to stop, while also servicing the needs of the people of Cloghan and beyond. And with Marty Morrissey on board for the opening, they already know how to keep the masses happy!