Maxol Mace, Navan
AIDAN CURTIS’ Maxol Mace on Flower Hill, Navan, looks like everything you would expect from a modern, food strategy, forecourt convenience store.
26 August 2008 | 0
One thing Aidan Curtis’ Mace does tell us is that size is not everything. Food strategy is working well in this 1,100 sq ft space, with a more than ample turnover for its size, and already achieving approx 18% growth since the refurbished store reopened in December 2007. It’s often been said that floor space is paramount, yet here stands a thriving business on half the square footage some consider prerequisite. So what’s the secret?
Chatting in the all-important back office with Aidan and BWG sales developer Barry Flynn, I learn that Mr Curtis has only been licencee at the Flower Hill Maxol Mace since the previous October. Prior to this he had worked for 10 years at the Maxol Mace on the Dublin Road, only 10 minutes away from his own door.
Working as manager, Aidan acquired an extensive knowledge of the business, even going through the experience of developing that site from a traditional Mace to a modern food strategy store back in 2003. It was at this point in his career that Aidan knew he wanted to run his own shop, having seen the possibilities in a modern convenience format.
“That was a great experience for a number of years, it set me up well to take on my own business. Then late last year the opportunity arose to become licencee at the Flower hill site and I took it,” said Curtis.
The refit began in November 2007 and was completed in a matter of weeks. Aidan found his experience with the transformation at the Dublin Road site, and the five years afterwards, really came in useful in the development of his own store. “I had a good input into it has to be said. I had a lot of suggestions which were taken on board and we worked very closely together to get things right”.
He mentions Denis Hughes, area manager for Maxol, Barry Flynn and Robert Gogh, BWG development manager, all of whom have worked with Aidan on the project. From BWG’s perspective Aidan has been a bonus “It’s great to have someone like Aidan on board,” said Barry Flynn, “He’s always there at the store and it’s truly reflected in his business, as we saw in a recent performance analysis”.
How things have changed
The transformation may have been quick but it certainly has been dramatic, moving from a grocery-dominated offering with no deli to a fully food-focused business where customers have a choice of 13 different types of breads and wraps for their made-to-order sandwiches.
“Maxol has made a major investment in this site with the re-development,” said Curtis, and sales are already showing the pay-off. “We’ve expanded the chilled drinks and dairy walls and fine-tuned the grocery offer. We’re aimed at the convenience end of the trade here and we’ve concentrated on a proper mix for this type of store”.
When space is at a premium finding the optimum mix can be a matter of trial and error, allocating as much as possible to maximise all potential convenience trade but also still carrying enough grocery items so as to meet the needs of regular local customers. “We think we have the right balance now” he remarked.
Of course, the food-to-go offer is now the strongest focus in this store and its performance is very much a function of its location, within a forecourt c-store, in a thriving commuter town 50 minutes from Dublin.
“There’s a lot of people getting into their cars every day and driving to Dublin,” hitting Curtis’ Maxol Mace for petrol, coffee and breakfast, “and those same people are back again at dinner-time”.
In addition to food, Flower Hill Maxol Mace offers a range of services. The carwash has been and continues to be a massive draw for the site, “You’ll always see queues at that car wash, it’s known around the town”. Recognising this very fact, Maxol is set to invest in a new drive-in brush wash and new lance wash, which will continue to drive the trade (forgive the pun). The newly refitted shop also now offers the National Lotto and an ATM, in line with the kind of services customers expect from a modern convenience store.
Staying in the loop
Another thing about running a store in a commuter town outside Dublin, is that your customers spend their days in the city where they have access to some of the most sophisticated stores and shopping experiences in the country. This puts no small amount of pressure on retailers like Aidan. “They expect to see the same when they come back home to Navan in the evening. If I’m up here, years behind what’s going on, I’m going to be out of the loop”.
Keeping on top of the ever increasing demands and expectations of his customers is one of the greatest challenges on Aidan’s horizon. “It keeps changing. You need to perfect what you’re doing, you have to concentrate on what’s working and watch what the trends are as they change year on year. You have to try to be up there with the best of them”. It is normal for “a lull” to set after the first six months when the initial novelty has faded but taking a breather is not advisable in this fast-paced industry, “it’s up to me to keep the focus, for myself and the staff,” he said.
Having a team of experts in both the Maxol and BWG camps comes in handy for gaining insights on how to handle the market and its changing trends. Aidan also finds suppliers such as Cuisine de France are very good at giving tips on what’s new. However, he does not shy away from his own role in developing the business, getting into his car and physically going to see what’s out there. “I’d sometimes bring a second set of eyes with me, my deli manager, and she’d see what’s there and generate her own ideas”.
Aidan was very fortunate to inherit a number of long-term staff, including his capable deli manager, who have been a huge support to him since taking over the store. “They’ve been a great asset to me coming in here and meeting the customers. Although I was born and bred in Navan – I’m 30 years in the town and I’m known here – it’s a different customer-base than at the previous site, so that support with customers has been really important”.
As manager, Aidan likes to take a step back and let his staff act on their own initiative. “The deli manager is very strong in her area. She would come to me with suggestions and she has the freedom to go ahead and try things out herself, and not be worried about what I’m going to say. Don’t be afraid to try it,” is his attitude towards his staff. “For them to be able to take some pride in their work they need to have the freedom to come up with their own ideas”.
A match made in heaven
Aidan is also very happy with his choice of partners. As Barry Flynn points out, the Maxol Mace alliance is the strongest of its kind in the country, with over 40 Maxol owned Mace sites and a substantial number of independent Mace owners on top of that.
The two brands have worked to build their presence and image as a complete forecourt offering that customers recognise, so much so that forecourt business now accounts for half of the Mace brand in Ireland. As for BWG, the level of support has been more than adequate for Aidan. At the cost of E1 million, the group has launched a new television campaign for the Mace brand focused on and supporting its principle proposition, to run throughout 2008.
“The campaign is very strong,” says Aidan, “and very important for the likes of these stores. It’s of great importance to me and for the development of the brand itself. It really does generate customer awareness of the stores, and of what customers expect from them”.
The road ahead
With only seven months under his belt at his own store and only five months since the new format was completed, Aidan has no plans other than to concentrate on the business he has. “I am concentrating solely on this now. I think that the potential is there for the future but I’m focusing all my attention on doing the best I can now”.
As anyone who has been through the gamut knows, it is an all-consuming business that demands full time effort and attention. Flower Hill Maxol Mace opens from 6am to 11pm, seven days a week, and as full-time manager that requires Aidan to work all seven days. Towards this he has a very positive attitude, “I don’t count the hours, it’s a healthy amount. It’s fine when you enjoy the work”.
In his role as manager at the previous store the work was just as demanding, so technically speaking life hasn’t changed that dramatically for Aidan. However, it’s a very different outlook when you’re number one. “Yes, the worries have changed and the focus has changed now you’re doing it for yourself. There are benefits and drawbacks to that but I think the benefits far out-weigh the drawbacks. I’m enjoying doing it, I’m enjoying doing it for myself and I hope that I will be rewarded for it, and I will be”.
Now that’s the spirit.