Conserving both energy and a legacy spanning four generations, McInerney’s SuperValu in Loughrea caps a proud family history in retail.
16 November 2009 | 0
Owner: Michael McInerney
Size: 23,000 sq ft
Being the fourth generation of a family retailer serving Loughrea, Michael McInerney is someone who clearly understands the value of sustainable enterprises. While sustaining the family’s retailing reputation for delivering customer satisfaction has been a concern for 118 years, the current proprietor has now also directed his attention towards environmental sustainability. And this has played a major role in his business particularly since moving early last month to his brand new 23,000 sq ft store in the town’s new shopping centre.
Consequently McInerney’s SuperValu has introduced several innovative, environmentally friendly ideas. In fact, it was the first SuperValu in the country to trial a closed-cabinet freezer with sliding doors instead of an open frozen food island. According to McInerney the freezer, supplied by AHT, has generated returns already, by “greatly improving our energy efficiency to the order of 66% alone.” The Loughrea retailer has also introduced LED lighting across the entire store, fitted by Cross Refrigeration.
McInerney explains LED offers several advantages over normal lighting, chiefly that it only requires a quarter of the amount of energy. LED bulbs also last longer, up to 10 years in fact. “LED is ideal for fridges and freezers because there’s no heat off it, so you don’t have the fridge working against the light, and that’s a big plus as well,” he adds.
Green initiatives such as these are going to become much more prevalent over the coming years, in the retailer’s view. He predicts that in five to 10 years, not only will freezer cabinets have sliding doors, but also dairy fridges, meat and deli serve-overs. He reckons this will bring a “whole change of attitudes within the trade.”
Return on investment
For his own part, he concedes he was apprehensive about whether customers would find the freezer doors convenient and if this would affect sales. He notes however, “People if anything are drawn over to the fact that it’s a different type of unit…We certainly have no problems, and we’re very happy we went down that route.”
The store also generates savings from its building management system. This means that although six different light settings are available, there are no switches in the store because everything is pre-programmed into an automatic system designed to conserve energy. For example, at 8am a certain amount of light is used on the main shop floor, at 9am the enhancement lighting is switched on, then the off-licence lights come on at 10.30am when it opens. In a similar vein, air-conditioners and beverage freezers will also automatically switch off after a certain time in the evening, to ensure even greater energy efficiency.
McInerney is confident he will see a return on this investment in “no more than four to five years.” Signs notifying customers about the environmental initiatives are also located in prominent locations in the store, as is a recycling bank which helps raise money for local causes.
Innovation in new green initiatives is certainly not the only area where the family business has developed new ideas though. It has also developed its own ready-meals and accompaniments range under the name ‘McInerney’s Real Kitchen,’ a clever tie-in with SuperValu’s ‘Real Food, Real People’ slogan.
McInerney explains that the team decided to create the range after visiting many stores and noticing that “the really, really good operators are making their own foods.”
“That was the last piece in the jigsaw which we really needed to get, so we worked very hard on deciding on our range and then trying to find a chef.” Fortunately he succeeded in finding a chef with a breadth of experience. John McInerney, incidentally no relation, trained in the K Club, was a chef at Gort’s golf club, and worked in St Clarence, The Manor House, as well as running his own business for a number of years.
The range was introduced a couple of months before the move to the new store, so any tweaks that needed to be made could be ironed out first. This strategy has paid off, with McInerney’s Real Kitchen now occupying a full 2.5m cabinet.
McInerney says there wasn’t a great deal of trial involved for the different recipes, because “anything John made was very tasty…The biggest problem we had with John’s stuff was actually finding a space for it, because it went so well from the minute he started.”
Luckily, the new store has ample room to accommodate the range, which McInerney hopes to expand from its current 24 options to 30 varieties.
Interestingly, he notes that one of the bestsellers is a tray of braised red cabbage, priced at €1.89. “Something you would never sell much of if it was just on the shelf wrapped in plastic…It’s a simple product, but it looks attractive on the shelf, it’s tasty, it’s good value and it’s given people an option to buy something they wouldn’t normally bring home and prepare, because they wouldn’t know what to do with red cabbage or how to braise it.”
Produce from locals suppliers such as baker and confectioner Eddie Keane, also helps create a unique offering customers would be hard-pressed to find elsewhere. On top of this, the new store also houses a 2,000 sq ft restaurant, Café Jaz, which McInerney notes has “quadrupled turnover versus the coffee shop we had in the last supermarket,” and is “absolutely flying.” Chef Mary McNulty manages the restaurant which has increased from a 30-seater to a 70-seater, and has been considerately designed with “snugs and booths as you come in, so you feel you can hide away and read the paper and nobody will see you.”
Strong staff within each of the store’s departments such as the restaurant are essential to success according to McInerney. His own experience has also helped him cultivate a successful approach though. Growing up in a retailing family, he “didn’t have much choice” when it came to working in the shop, and by the time he left for college to study business in Galway, felt he had “kind of overdosed on it.” He decided to move to Dublin, and worked in SuperValus in Churchtown, Sandyford, Ashtown and trained in the Claremorris Shopping Centre when it opened in 1993. Bolstered by his experience, he decided to give working at home “another shot.” He returned in 1994 for a six-month trial period, and acknowledges with a wry smile: “That was exactly 15 years ago this month.”
The next immediate challenge for which McInerney will need these reserves of experience appears to be the arrival of Aldi, “coming soon” in three weeks’ time to the unit next door. While he explains any retailer would naturally be “apprehensive” about new competition opening, he says: “The fact of the matter is that there’s Aldis and Lidls and Tescos and Dunnes dotted right throughout the country, where SuperValu are taking them on head to head.”
A unique offering
He is keen to stress SuperValu can also offer extensive value, with offers of up to 50% off right across the store. However, he states: “When considering the point of differences that we have, we don’t see ourselves as direct competition to Aldi. We respect their model for what they are, and they execute what they do very well. By all means there’s a place for them in the marketplace but we see ourselves as accommodating a different place in that marketplace.”
While he reckons Aldi’s opening could have an initial negative impact for the first couple of weeks, he believes that customers splitting their shop could potentially even benefit the store. “We were hoping that by having Aldi on the side of town that we were going to come into, that it wouldn’t split it into two retail areas. It would facilitate the customer, and obviously the extra activity is bound to benefit us in time as well.”
Its new building has also managed to protect the business going into the future. “I’d be a lot more fearful to be honest with you, if we hadn’t built the new store, because the old store was 23 years old and if we hadn’t made the move when we did we were leaving the door open for someone else to do it.”
The SuperValu is now also an all-weather destination. Whereas the old store had 100 car-park spaces, the new store has 400 spaces, 280 surface and 120 underground, which facilitates greater footfall when it’s raining. McInerney is therefore confident “it will be good for anyone to do business at the centre” in the coming years.