Lynch’s Centra, Ennis

Dervla and Barry Lynch: "Supply is King"
Dervla and Barry Lynch: "Supply is King"

The eponymous ‘breakfast roll man’ may not be around as much with the construction downturn but, according to owner BARRY LYNCH, this needn’t be a problem

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25 August 2008 | 0

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Lunchtime: and Barry Lynch’s new 5700 sq ft Centra is buzzing. A steady stream of customers at his deli can choose between not just rolls, but bagels, ciabattas, pizzas, wraps, hot meals such as roast beef or turkey and ham and even freshly prepared
stir-frys.

As Barry says, "The breakfast roll man is diminishing and people want something different. We have a breakfast bar on the other side where we offer a range of mueslis and yoghurts, because young people out there, whether they’re male or female, are watching their health. They’ve been told that if you eat sausages for seven days in a row, you could have problems later on so young people now are far more aware of what they’re eating and they also want choice."

It is Barry’s adherence to the retail rule, ‘supply is king’ that enables him deliver this fresh range of options everyday. He chose to partner with Centra because "It’s no good somebody promising you 40 or 60% of a product if you can’t get that product, but Musgrave can offer that." The shop currently receives a chilled delivery from Musgrave on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays which Barry says, "nobody [else] can give us."

In keeping with the emphasis Barry places on freshness, his deli counter is strategically placed to the right rather than the back of the store, and he ensures his fruit and veg offering is kept well stocked to present a vibrant visual display. To further entice customers, he also stocks a number of items from local suppliers, appealing to growing consumer trends for organic and traceable foods.

A shutter can separate the front area of the shop, allowing customers shop here 24/7, without queuing outside at a hatch

A shutter can separate the front area of the shop, allowing customers shop here 24/7, without queuing outside at a hatch

Customers looking for local products would find bread from Considine’s baker based in nearby Kilrush, farmhouse ice-cream from Tipperary, and jam from Clare. Barry’s local ranges are carefully considered for their value to the customer, such as the choice of bread from Kilrush for instance. "We have people from this area who would have uncles and aunts, first cousins who would have lived there and they know this brand as a homemade bakery. So we’re offering something different."
However while Barry is "more than happy" to stock goods from local producers who employ local people, he believes the quality of the product is what’s of uppermost importance, and that ultimately, "The product has to be right."  

Standing out from the crowd

Once good quality local produce has been sourced, it can certainly add an interesting point of differentiation. Barry’s in-house ‘wokery’ for example, serving up fresh stir-frys, is another innovative idea from Centra. Luckily, Barry had an expert on hand to help out with its introduction. Staff member Tony Chang, who is originally from Hong Kong but has lived in Ireland for over 30 years, used to cook at one of the most successful take-away businesses in Limerick and according to Barry, there were "people seriously upset" when he left.

Although technically, any member of staff can use the wok, Tony has a real flair for it and Barry believes his experience gives it "an extra dimension." Now Tony works at the ‘wokery’ for a few hours every day and has trained other staff in this area too. Barry comments, "It just shows you that people nowadays love something different. Chinese food is not new, but we have a new concept here. Instead of a person coming in having a sandwich every day, five days a week, he has an offering now."

Shop trade ‘in the blood’

And Barry is certainly not afraid to try something new, his strong experience in retail forming a sturdy launch pad from which to bounce-off new ideas. Originally from Galway, he first joined Dunne’s stores at the age of 19, and with two grandfathers in the retail trade, says it was "in the blood."

Barry’s wokery has been a hit with customers looking for something new at lunchtime

Barry’s wokery has been a hit with customers looking for something new at lunchtime

Barry spent 14 years with Dunne’s before joining Thomas Shiels in 1996 to work at the old shop on the current Gort Road site. He says of Dunne’s, "They’re a company that give experience and aren’t afraid to, and I would owe a lot to them…I spent 14 good years with them but there comes a time when you want to move on and create something that is you…so I was happy to move."

Barry also pays tribute to Thomas Shiels who started the forecourt here back in 1986, and was able to see the site’s great potential. "He had foresight in not settling for what he had, he made this happen," says Barry, referring to the shopping centre now planned for the site and of which Centra will be an anchor tenant. A chemist, medical centre, hairdressers, off-licence and underground car-park will join the already present popular butchers shop and Centra store.

While on the subject of important figures on his career path, Barry also paid tribute to his wife Dervla for her constant support, without which he says, "We would not be having this conversation".

Interesting innovation

Barry’s innovative streak kicked-off right from the start with Thomas in 1996. At the time there was a shift towards ‘eating on the hoof’ and Barry capitalised on this by becoming the first shop premises in the area to have a sit down area for food. However, Barry’s innovation didn’t stop there. When the new store was being developed, he thought of a way for it to retain its custom base as a 24 hour store, without making customers suffer the dreaded hatch. Instead he installed a shutter separating off the front section of the shop so people could still come in for a cup of coffee, sandwich, magazine or cigarettes at any time of the day or night.

Barry believes this works better than the traditional hatch which can create an atmosphere of intimidation. "Nightshift were expressing concern regarding security and I said to them, we created that by putting glass in front of the customers. There was this kind of build-up that by the time people got to the glass, they couldn’t talk properly to the person… and that created its own sense of fear.

"Fifteen years ago it worked but we have moved on and we’re offering a better service now for the person who at two or three in the morning wants to come in, not get soaked in the rain, and not be shouting through the window, or standing in a queue behind two other people."

Variety and freshness come first at the meat and deli counters

Variety and freshness come first at the meat and deli counters

Barry would hope to see this sort of innovation continue through providing his staff with thorough training. Of his 47 staff members Barry says, "I would attribute the success of this store to my staff as well. They have been loyal and go beyond common duty." He tries to have a good mix of older and younger people in his team and says, "We would like to see this store as a training centre for a lot of young people, it’s their first job and we try instructing them into the good work ethics and good work practices, like how to deal with the public, handling responsibilities and handling food…so this is a good store to work in."

Onwards and upwards

Looking to the future, Barry says he would "never say no" to managing more stores. He’s rightly proud of his first shop but believes it’s crucial to "get one shop humming right, and get it the way you want it before saying yes, the formula has worked here, let’s move on. Basically it’s one step at a time."

Musgrave’s Paul Cluskey shares a similarly positive outlook for the future despite Ireland’s official recession status; "The latest report out in June shows the Centra sector is outperforming the market. Our Centra share of trade today is 37%, that’s an increase of 1.9% on 2007, so while things are tough we’re still growing and outperforming the market."

He adds, "We see great things for the future in terms of where our business is now and where it’s going to be. We’re going to
open 46 new stores this year, and our investment in existing stores like Barry’s will be in the billions."

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