Mounting successes

Sandra McCormack, general manager; retailer Thomas Ennis and Joanna Sparon, manager of Spar Mount Street
Sandra McCormack, general manager; retailer Thomas Ennis and Joanna Sparon, manager of Spar Mount Street

Spar Mount Street is retailer Thomas Ennis’ latest gourmet food hall venture, following in the footsteps of its trend-setting predecessor on Merrion Row



18 October 2011

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Spar Mount Street

Retailer: Thomas Ennis
Address: Lower Mount Street, Dublin 2
Size: 250 sq m
Staff No: 18

“I don’t know whether it’s madness, but we’re getting some fantastic deals with equipment and with landlords.” This was retailer Thomas Ennis’ verdict when asked for his thoughts on opening new stores during the current economic climes. And proving the truth behind the old adage that fortune does indeed favour the brave, the new 250 sq m Spar which he opened last month on Thursday 8 September – on a generator no less – is currently exceeding all projected sales figures.

It’s widely acknowledged that the new financial times require ‘new thinking’ for retailers to succeed and this appears to be where Ennis and his team have come into their own. His new gourmet food hall, which stands amidst a hub of apartment blocks and offices in Dublin’s south city centre, was originally a ground floor office itself, but upon visiting the site, Ennis immediately saw its potential. “Myself and [fellow retailer] John Clohessy came and looked at it. We stood here a couple of times and we couldn’t believe the footfall in the area, yet there wasn’t a good offering.”

Bagging a bargain

After this initial recce, it become clear that the Lower Mount Street location was ideal, but a new retail offering would only be viable if the right price could be secured.  On this topic, Ennis notes that: “We got a good deal here with the landlord because there’s not many units opening… I don’t know of anybody opening anything at the moment. Spar were also very supportive and from the bank and Merit Solutions, our Epos supplier, I got great credit terms from them.”

With a sturdy budget in place, Ennis wasted no time in bringing his new idea to fruition. The “love affair” with the Lower Mount Street venue started in September 2010 when the team first started looking at the site. “From looking at a shell to actually opening the store, it took us 12 months which was a really quick turnaround,” explains Ennis. “Usually there’s things to be perfected, but we went to the council for planning permission, and encountered no problems. We knew what we were going to do – we were going to enhance the area with a gourmet deli food offering – so the planning process went very quickly.”

The fact that Ennis already owns four other stores, including Dublin’s pioneering Merion Row gourmet store, made it easier to have a clear vision of what he wanted for his latest newcomer.  The key focus is on fresh foods and explaining the logic behind this decision, the retailer notes: “That’s what we do on Merrion Row and it’s stood me well in relation to putting your name out there for what your store stands for. All our food is made in-house, it’s made on-site. It’s made every morning so the freshness of it is unquestionable.” The business has its own chefs which daily make a diverse range of packaged homemade options, including soups, salads, chopped fruits, ready meals and sandwiches.

SparFresh logic

In fact, Ennis reckons that approximately 40% of the overall store is accounted for by fresh foods. At the store’s bustling deli, customers can choose between the likes of vegetarian quiches, burritos, salads mixed with baked potato, a carvery which Ennis confides is proving to be “a gift” in generating sales and Kitsu noodles, to name but a few options. These are cleverly merchandised with healthy cereal bars and flapjacks to continually strive for an upsale. Ennis is also determined to ensure customers won’t become bored with his offering, and says: “We’re constantly challenging ourselves within the group to be innovative with different ideas.”

Value available

Despite the shop’s upmarket stance, customers can also make in-store choices that will please their wallets as well as their taste-buds. Cheese sandwiches are on sale for just €1, and while Ennis points out that you’re not making a margin on such items, it’s nevertheless important to stock them, because “what you’re doing is you’re saying to people, look you can come in and pay €3 for a sandwich, but you can also pay just €1, so we’re giving people the best of both worlds.” Perhaps the ultimate testament to this Spar’s value perception moreover is Ennis’ comment on prices, that “I think people were really surprised when they came in.”

SparAnother important element of the store is its Insomnia coffee offering and adjacent sit-down area; a hit with nearby office workers with time-pressured lunchtimes. Ennis currently houses the Insomnia brand at four of his five sites and describes it as “a real coffee drinker’s coffee”, and “a strong asset for customers coming to this store.”

The Spar also boasts an impressive grocery range for the size available. Together with BWG, the store has worked hard on its category management, basing its planograms on the top 50 lines nationally.  This initiative has proved worthwhile because “our grocery is shopped well,” says Ennis. Customers “can comfortably do a grocery shop in this store. You don’t have to have five or six spacings available, when one will suffice.”

Experience you can rely on

Of course, as well as steady support from BWG, Ennis can rely upon his own experience as a retailer accumulated over the years. He started his career aged 15, by working for the Dublin butcher FX Buckley. Some five years later he went to work for the retailer John Rushe of the Rushe Group, in SuperValu Naas, during which time he notes: “I learnt a lot from John Rushe.” He then worked with the retailer John Furey for a couple of years before heading off to Australia for a year, aged 23 to “get that out of my system.” He worked with both John Furey and Maurice Smith before progressing to another Superquinn run by Pat Kelly, whom he describes as “one of the best retailers I ever worked with”.

Ennis was given the responsibility of training up the team at the new Charlesland Superquinn in Greystones, Co Wicklow back in 2004. Once the team there was self-sufficient, Ennis moved on to opening another Superquinn store; Tyrellstown in Blanchardstown. “I was training up the staff, and getting the shop ready for retail and for the customer. I opened that store up in February 2005 and the experience was an education. Basically in 10 months, I had opened two shops for Superquinn.”

Although he had accomplished a lot during this period, an enthusiastic Ennis was far from running out of steam. Next, “an opportunity arose with David Bagnall and John Clohessy to look after a Spar on Merrion Row – which I opened in December 2005.”

A tough education

Recalling the early days back in Merrion Row, Ennis says: “That was my first store as an independent retailer and that was a very tough education in retailing, because it was an all-new concept store. Spar was way ahead of other retailers at the time with its sit down coffee, food produced in-house and smoothie bar, and I think people in the market would acknowledge that”.

While the store had “a difficult first six months because it was all new,” Ennis notes that “six years later, it is still winning awards”. Indeed the store has won numerous awards throughout its lifetime including multiple gongs at the ShelfLife C-Store Awards. The group’s successful record can also be attributed to the continual emphasis it places on staff training, with Mount Street staff receiving three weeks’ training before opening the new outlet.

From there on, the expansion programme remained unflagging for the busy retailer, who proceeded to open Spar stores in Celbridge and on Baggot Street, and then a Maxol Mace on the Mespil Road. The plans don’t stop there moreover, with Ennis confiding a sixth store is in the pipeline. When pressed for more details, he coyly laughs that “it’s a secret” but does reveal that it will be located in the Dublin 2 area.

Forging ahead

With an ATM and a lotto offering already installed at Mount Street, the next step planned to cement its reputation as a one-stop shop will be to install a full off-licence. Overall, the group is thriving by employing a ‘work smarter’ ethos. This is encapsulated by the fact that Spar Mount Street doesn’t actually have a store room. “People laughed at me when I said that,’ says Ennis, “but the reason we don’t have one is because we don’t need one; we’re getting our deliveries daily. It comes back to cash flow; I’m not going to be a store room for our suppliers…and it makes the manager that little bit cuter, she knows that she can’t drop the ball.” Looking at the group’s consistent growth throughout the past six years, dropping the ball certainly doesn’t seem to be something Ennis and his crew could be accused of anytime soon. 




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