A passion for providing customers with first-class service, standards and quality produce is consistently evident at Tobin’s Topaz/Spar in Letterkenny, Co. Donegal. Little wonder then, that the store has triumphed once again, scooping this year’s Gold Award for stores less than 2,000 sq ft
16 January 2015
Owner: Eddie Tobin
Staff: 32; 22 full-time, 10 part-time
“ShelfLife, the great motivator,” is how retailer Eddie Tobin sums up the annual C-Store Awards. Indeed Tobin’s Topaz/Spar is no stranger to the prestigious ceremony, having won a plethora of awards in the past, including the top title, the Supreme National C-Store of the Year, in 2012.
Being a past winner certainly hasn’t dampened Eddie Tobin’s enthusiasm for striving to be the best though. “You always want to be up there,” he says. “It’s a recognition of our standards.” Indeed, offering excellent service has always been a hallmark of the business, going right back to 1980, when it was first opened as a standalone petrol station on a greenfield site by Eddie’s father, Pat Tobin, who passed away in 1999. Then in 1994, a 600 sq ft shop was opened which was developed several times.
Consistently strong performance
Originally the Tobins traded as an independent store before partnering with Gala in 2004. The next major change came in 2008, when the larger store – that the business still operates from today – was built, including a deli and seating area for the first time, which now accounts for around a third of overall sales. The Tobins also added an off-licence department in 2011, which is another strong performer. Next, 2012 marked the year when the Tobins teamed up with BWG, under the Spar banner.
With around 12 forecourts operating within a three mile radius of Tobin’s Topaz/Spar, the store has always known the importance of standing out from the competition in terms of both its customer service and offering. An important factor that gives Tobin’s an advantage over its rivals, is that after nearly 35 years of operating in Letterkenny, local consumers know they can trust the Tobin’s name.
Commenting on this high level of customer loyalty, the retailer said: “What we’d attribute that to is that there’s a lot of illegal fuel on the market and Topaz’s clean fuels message has gotten through to customers. Topaz has quality, clean fuels, meaning you get more miles per gallon. They’ve been very good at portraying that message and we also find that lots of people are coming in saying at least when we’re buying off Tobin’s we know what we’re getting.”
The store’s deli department has also developed a reputation for providing a strong range of choices and using first class ingredients. Tobin attributes the deli’s excellent performance to his staff’s “consistency, standards and customer service”. The deli has also become well-known locally for sourcing fresh ingredients from local suppliers. “Our deli offer would be quite different from a lot of forecourt delis in that we cook everything from scratch; we buy in a lot of locally sourced beef, we buy sausages from the local butcher, it’s all bought fresh,” he explains. Another important USP for the store is the bakery department where products such as scones and brown bread are likewise made from scratch.
Staff create success
Since joining BWG under the Spar brand in 2012, Tobin has been impressed with the professionalism, category management advice, support and promotional activity that the symbol group has been able to provide. One aspect where the shop has always scored extremely highly though is in the calibre of its staff and the level of customer service provided. Eddie Tobin explains that the store has benefitted from having “very low staff turnover, which is important. We invest in staff training and we believe in staff retention, it’s the nature of the business. A lot of our staff know our customers on a first name basis,” he adds. “Even though we’re on a main artery road out of Letterkenny, 80% or 90% of our business is repeat business from people coming back.” Overall, he praises the dedication and hard work of his staff and management, such as store manager Chris and deli manager Marrian.
In his view, awards such as the C-Stores and the EIQA scheme, where Tobin’s received the EIQA National Award for Hygiene & Food Safety in Forecourts in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014 (Hospitality & Foodservice Sector Forecourts Level 3 Emerald) act as important motivational tools for staff. “The awards provide recognition for staff, they validate the rational of why we do what we do, why we’re so particular about customer service, why standards are so important.” With this attitude firmly engrained in the store’s ethos, the team’s winning streak shows no signs of lapsing!