Navan welcomes new Londis store

Londis Abbeylands in Navan, Co. Meath

A new Londis in Navan is setting high standards in fresh food and customer service and is generally keeping competition stiff in this corner of Co. Meath, Fionnuala Carolan reports

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12 March 2015 | 0

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Ciaran Reilly and his brother Tomas with employees Ilona Wos and Renata Dudzinska

Ciaran Reilly and his brother Tomas with employees Ilona Wos and Renata Dudzinska

 STORE PROFILE

Londis Abbeylands, Rathaldren Road, Navan, Co. Meath

Owner: Ciaran Reilly

Opening hours: 6.30am – 10pm

Size: 1,600 sq ft

Staff: 9


Londis Abbeylands in Navan, Co. Meath has been refurbished and redeveloped in the past year to the tune of €170,000. The investment was made by Ciaran Reilly, a native of Navan, who comes from a retailing background. Reilly’s parents owned a number of grocery shops in the town as he was growing up. Reilly subsequently spent much of his youth helping out in the family businesses on his holidays. While at the time, he couldn’t wait to get outside the counter and work somewhere else, he now finds that he loves being back behind it despite the added stress that opening your own business can bring.

“Mam and dad bought a place around 27 years ago near the hospital and Pairc Tailteann (The GAA grounds). They have another store in Ashbourne and one in Market Square here in Navan,” he explains.“My dad is a local councillor too so he knows everyone. They still have the store in Market Square but are retired so they have people running it for them. The shop near the hospital was the first shop in the area to be open until 12 at night. This was before 24 hour shops existed.”

Life before retail

Prior to taking on this new challenge, Reilly was employed by the Lagan Asphalt Group where he worked on the roads and quarries. This opportunity presented itself at a time when that business was slowing down and Reilly was looking for a new challenge. The original shop on the Rathaldren Road had been closed for two years and then went into a receivership sale. Reilly explains how he and his wife Brenda, who is a primary school teacher in the local Gaeltacht area of Rathcairn, decided to take on the new venture: “We took the opportunity and begged, borrowed and stole to get the money together for it. I knew what I was getting myself into to a certain extent but when I was younger I was just in behind the counter doing what I was told whereas now I have all the responsibility of everything that comes with owning a business. Also my parents’ shop would have always been independent but now I am part of Londis.”

Deciding to go with a symbol group is a no brainer these days but Reilly was faced with the dilemma of who to do business with.

“There is no way you could go independent anymore. You’d be competing with the big guys which would be impossible on price if you were buying on your own. We were sale agreed on the store and a few of the symbol groups approached us – BWG, Gala, Costcutter and Londis. A guy called Tommy Devlin who we knew from the town is the area manager with Londis. He’s a good guy to deal with so that convinced us to go with Londis. I have to say he’s been a great help to us.”

The off-licence counts for around 22% of the shop’s turnover and gives the store a point of difference

The off-licence counts for around 22% of the shop’s turnover and gives the store a point of difference

Starting afresh

Considering that this shop has been closed for a long period and according to Reilly was probably pretty run down before it shut, he felt that they had to work extra hard to entice customers back in. “We still try to give the same customer service that I grew up with and through that we’ve built a nice customer base here already. You’ll always keep a certain loyal customer base but I would say it has changed a lot. Competition is definitely good but you do see some people coming in to buy promotional items here and then going across the road to do the same. And it could be for the sake of 10c. That’s the way it isnow because things are tight for people.”

Dealing with competition

Like most businesses, there is competition on the doorstep and Reilly’s comes in the form of the Centra store straight across the road. So how does he manage to compete?  “We’re the new guy but we’re just trying to paddle our own canoe and stay on top of things and it’s tight enough with cash flow which we always expected for it to be for the first year or even two until we built the customer base up to where we want it to be.”

Reilly says that the deli and the grocery range are doing well but that the off-licence is by far the strongest area of the shop. “It’s massive for us. It is the point of distinction between us and the shop across the road. They have a wine licence but no off-licence. The off-licence is worth around 22/23% of our business. The deli is another area we are hoping to grow but it’s tough at this time of the year. People are still cutting back after the excesses of Christmas. What I do see is that the people who come into the deli keep coming back because they know the food is fresh and it’s good quality and it’s cooked on site every day.”

With a huge renovation project due to start next year on the primary school next door, Reilly would be hoping for a return of the infamous breakfast roll man in the guise of the builders on that project. He has already seen a pick-up in the breakfast trade in the deli. “The breakfast roll is coming back now too. We get all our sausages from David McGrain who is a butcher down the town. They’re handmade and people come in for that. There’s a quality in it that you can taste.”

Reilly says they are still trying to get the product mix right in the store

Reilly says they are still trying to get the product mix right in the store

Long days

While Reilly works full-time in the store, he employs eight other staff including his brother Tomas. The shop is open at 6.30am every day and closes at 10pm so it’s a long day and Reilly is often in the shop from early morning and still there closing up at night. He says that running your own business is a big change for him. “There’s no ringing in sick if you are not feeling well,” he jokes. “But to be honest I’ve really enjoyed opening the store and I really enjoy dealing with people and we’re having a bit of craic.”

Being a Navan native he would know a lot of people from the town but he says the place has changed hugely in recent years. “I do know a lot of people but the town has changed. There is a massive international community in Navan now, mostly Eastern European and African. There is a huge population here in North Navan and there are a huge amount of houses up behind us here. There are 3,000/4,000 houses around and a number of schools so the location couldn’t be better.”

Getting the mix right

The shop holds a strong ambient range but Reilly admits that they are still trying to get the mix right. “We’re still trying to gauge what the customer is looking for. But I suppose we have to establish ourselves and it’s really about trial and error. Some things that didn’t work a few months ago, would be working now. There is always an occasion in retail with Christmas, Valentine’s, Easter and they give you a spike. Christmas was great overall. I suppose we came from a base of zero. We hit our projections or a little bit above for Christmas but we’ve fallen back in January. Even though you’re expecting it, it’s still a shock to the system. It’s starting to build up again thank god.”

There has been a pick-up in the deli breakfast trade

There has been a pick-up in the deli breakfast trade

Partnership with Londis

Reilly credits Londis with being easy to deal with and always on the end of the phone but admits that it has been difficult getting used to dealing with a group. “We had teething problems at the start which we would probably have with anybody. We were trying to get our heads around working with a symbol group, their purchasing patterns and their charges or whatever the case may be but to be fair you could ring them up at any stage and they don’t seem too corporate so you can deal with them on a personal level. I have found them very approachable and they will try and help you no matter what. Londis give you a good bit of autonomy. They will help you with layout etc and with what products to choose but they are not as strict with pricing as I’ve heard other symbol groups can be.”

Reilly’s is only open since 7 August so they are still finding their feet to some extent. He says that he gets a lot of help and advice from his parents but also from other Londis retailers and mentions Barry Gillen, a fellow Londis retailer from Trim as being hugely helpful.

“My mum and dad have 30 years’ experience in the business and they have been of great assistance to us. Sometimes you mightn’t like to hear what they are saying but you have to suck it up!”

With this type of family support and a strong symbol group behind them, there’s no doubt that Reilly’s is here for the long haul and will keep competition rife in convenience retailing in Navan.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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