Keeping it in the family

Malachy Hanberry, Sales & Retailer Advisory Services Director, BWG Foods, Barry Leslie, BWG Foods, Mark & Eugene McCaughey, SPAR Clones, Peter Dwan & Adrian O Driscoll, BWG Foods
Malachy Hanberry, Sales & Retailer Advisory Services Director, BWG Foods, Barry Leslie, BWG Foods, Mark & Eugene McCaughey, SPAR Clones, Peter Dwan & Adrian O Driscoll, BWG Foods

McCaughey's service station in Clones, Co. Monaghan is very much a family run business that seems to be ticking all the boxes for the local community



16 October 2012

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Spar, Clones, Co. Monaghan
Owners: Eugene and Mark McCaughey
Staff: 20; 12 full-time & eight part-time
Size: 1,500 sq ft

McCaughey’s service station has been in Clones for the last 13 years, opening its doors to the public in 1999, on a site that has been in the family since the 1940s. Eugene McCaughey, along with his son Mark, runs the forecourt and the Spar store with a firm but familiar hand. The store underwent a full revamp three months ago and joined the BWG group. Locals in the small town seem to have taken to the updated look and new offerings.

Mark McCaughey has been working in the family business since he was in school. His father, Eugene, opened his first business in Clones town in 1993. The independent newsagent is still operating under the guidance of another son, Eamon McCaughey. A second newsagent was opened in 1996 in Monaghan town while a home heating business was established two years ago on the same site as the service station.

Time for a change

Following his college education, Mark returned to the family business and took over the running of the forecourt and store. The store traded as a Gala shop for the first 11 years while the forecourt was a Maxol. Two years ago, the forecourt was rebranded with Go while the change to BWG and the Spar brand came about just a few months ago. In making their decision to sign with BWG, the McCaughey’s carefully weighed all their options and "felt that BWG was bringing something different, it was a stronger symbol, nationally it had the brand awareness, the TV campaigns and newspapers to bring in promotions and value to the customer."

One factor in the decision was the ability to bring value to the customer to increase the basket shop margin in their store. Mark says that over the last number of years they had lost the basket shop to bigger stores. "We felt that the basket shop had moved away from the convenience store – nobody is afraid to go to a supermarket anymore and pick up a few things in a basket, we had lost that market share so we’re trying to regain that now." So far, the revamp seems to be having the desired effect on customers with people buying more in the store.

Fast turnaround

The renovations were completed within two weeks and the store continued to trade at night during the construction work. It was a full renovation, says Mark: "A full gut out, we ripped out the floors and the ceilings. Everything is brand new, like our equipment and our tills are still the same but everything else is new. It was a full revamp."

Credit for the fast turnaround on the renovations goes to brother Eamon McCaughey who has previously worked with BWG and Cadbury’s before returning to the family business. He was a project co-ordinator with BWG and an area manager with Gala for a number of years. "He’s got good insight into store development," says Mark. "He co-ordinated the project here on the ground with the shop fitters and what would have taken a lot longer was completed in 10 days." The combined experience of the McCaughey family and BWG ensured that space was optimised in the 1,500 sq ft store.

The new-look deli is proving popular with customers

The new-look deli is proving popular with customers

A new facelift

One of the main attractions of the new look store is the deli. While the area takes up roughly the same amount of space as before the revamp, the new menu boards and fresh branding has made a difference to the appearance of the deli. Along with the hot food and fresh salad offerings, there’s also an in-house bakery. Mark says this is one of the biggest assets the store has: "The girls have a scratch bakery; they make their own scones every morning, their own brown breads from scratch. It’s a little niche market and it’s very consistent. The growth we’ve seen in the last two years has just been phenomenal in that sector."

Along with the fresh bakery, the breakfast roll from McCaughey’s deli is known for miles around. "It’s the same breakfast roll you get here 13 years ago as you would today. We use Mallon sausages, we’ve the same local bacon. We’re known for it." Support from the local community is essential to the shop. "We do get passing trade but if we were solely reliant on that I don’t think we’d have a substantial business. The strength of the local community supporting us here is very strong."

The store boasts an extensive wine selection

The store boasts an extensive wine selection

Keep it local

Supporting the local economy was a factor in the decision to go with the Spar brand. Mark currently has around eight local suppliers for fruit and veg, eggs, bread and flowers. The flexibility to deal with local suppliers is important for the McCaughey’s: "We really try to focus on the local suppliers because they support us, we support them. They all get their fuel here and come in and get their basket shop so it kind of goes around in a circle."

Rebranding has brought some new aspects to the business. The central distribution centre that BWG use for all their stores is something new for the McCaughey’s. Mark says it was daunting at first: "Before this, we were a shop dealing with one wholesaler and then it was the central billing delivery vans that were coming to us. The changeover has been a big change for us." BWG is in the process of bringing all its distribution under the one roof so the final schedule is some way off being finalised.

The store also has a strong Northern Ireland trade base. Sterling is accepted in all the McCaughey businesses and due to the weakening sterling, Mark says they are seeing more trade come from the Northern counties.

Hands on

Mark runs the day-to-day operations at the Spar store, while his father and brother look after the two newsagents in Clones and Monaghan. However, Mark says "together, the three of us make decisions to run the business." The management team consists of just the McCaughey family members. "One of us is always here; all the management team is family. The staff we have, they know what they need to do and they do it. Obviously somebody has to make decisions but the day-to-day is done by them and I understand the workload they have." The shop has 20 staff, 12 full-time and eight part-time. Most of the staff are from the locality and everybody was retained through the rebranding. There are various other cousins working all over the businesses. "It’s a family affair," comments Mark. 

Send in the clowns: The store's opening day proved a hit with customers with fun for all the family

Send in the clowns: The store’s opening day proved a hit with customers with fun for all the family

Competitive edge

Despite the size of Clones, there’s plenty of competition for trade in the area. Across the road is an Applegreen service station which is the main fuel competitor for the McCaughey’s service station. "We mind our own business but we do watch their fuel prices and within a half an hour of them changing their prices, we’ve ours matched. You have to be competitive."

In today’s economy, retailers are more focused on bringing value to the customer. Mark McCaughey says that they are participating fully with the Spar promotional cycle and finds it’s making a difference. "The Spar own-brand range is very strong. We’d never had an own-brand range as extensive, it’s good quality, good price and people seem to be buying it. At the end of the day we’re getting our basket shop back and it has worked." Mark says that customers are more conscious of what they are spending now. "We may have the exact same amount of footfall but people are not spending what they were, they’re only picking up what they need and they’re definitely zoning in more on the special offers that we have so their spend has come way down from where it was."

Eugene McCaughey built the business from the ground up in the 1990s because he saw the retail market changing. There was no need to convince him that the service station needed an overhaul. "He’s always been a progressive retailer. His mentality is that if you don’t change, you’ll be left behind. He’s always been ahead of himself, he knew what we needed here and he’s always had a vision of where he was going."

Looking forward

While it’s still only the start of a new partnership between the McCaughey’s and BWG, the future is looking bright with customers spending more in-store and the margin on the basket shop slowly coming back. The McCaugheys have their fingers in plenty of pies with three shops and a home heating oil business. When asked if they would consider taking on another franchise, Mark is doubtful. "We like to adopt a very hands-on approach and we have been offered other stores. We like to have a finger on the pulse, and know what’s happening in each store so I think if we took on any more we’d be in trouble then. We’d be juggling the balls half in the air and not properly and that’s just not for us."

Whether or not the family decide to expand their business in the future, the McCaughey name will continue to be linked with local business in Monaghan. As far as Mark is concerned, the recipe for success is simple: "Control your costs, watch your margin and try and get the balance right for your customers. Just give them the value that they need, look after them."



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