Reviving Dame Street

Retailer Charles McCarthy with Declan Ralph of BWG
Retailer Charles McCarthy with Declan Ralph of BWG

The newly refurbished Dame Street Spar store, in the heart of Dublin, is attracting quite a lot of attention. The store is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and serves a large community of tourists, commuters and city dwellers. Its unique layout and large fresh food offering ensures it's a store you'll remember. Fiona Donnellan visited the store and spoke to owner Charles McCarthy



23 April 2013

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Spar, Dame Street, Dublin
Owner: Charles McCarthy
Size: 3,100 sq ft
Staff: Approx. 70

The Spar store in Dame Street in the centre of Dublin first opened its doors in 2009 with 1,400 sq ft of space. Last year the opportunity came up to lease the site adjacent to the store and make the shop a larger, flagship premises. Owner Charles McCarthy saw the potential of the site and had no hesitation in bringing the idea to BWG. It was not McCarthy’s first foray into retail; he has been involved with the Spar brand since his early twenties and owns two other stores in the city centre. McCarthy got into retailing at a young age. "I was first working in Dunnes as a teenager and my twenties and then in my early twenties I moved into Spar and worked for someone for two years. Then I got a franchise shop and I worked there for about six or seven years. The opportunity came up then to buy out our shops so at that stage I started in one shop in Westmoreland Street, then I moved onto Abbey Street, then onto D’Olier Street and moved onto here, so I’ve done the rounds." McCarthy currently runs three stores in total, the other two being D’Olier St. and Abbey St.

A vision for expansion

When the building adjacent to the shop became available for lease, BWG’s Declan Ralph says the group knew it was a great chance to expand the store on Dame St. "The opportunity came up, there was a Phillips audio and visual store here on this site, and they closed down so the chance came up to get that so Charles and myself chatted and decided there was an opportunity here to acquire the lease for next door and knock the two into one." The revamp began in November of last year and the new store opened on 15 December taking a total of just six weeks, during which the original store traded throughout. Ralph says there is a great history to the building itself: "The biggest thing for us was to take down the dividing wall. It’s interesting because this building is a very historic building, it was originally a Burton’s department store and it was opened about 100 years ago. Originally this was all one building so we were simply bringing it back to its original life if you like." The square footage was doubled going from 1,400 sq ft to 3,100 sq ft.

Giving back to the city

During the planning process for the renovations, it was important to McCarthy and BWG that the building reflects the area of Dame St and the history of the site itself. The set up of the store is unique which McCarthy feels adds to its attraction: "It’s not a traditional set up but it was like this in the old shop too. There’s a huge historical significance to this building and if you talk to any Dubliners and mention Burton’s Tailors they automatically mention this building. So what we wanted to do was enhance the building, we didn’t want to cover up the windows, we wanted to bring the building to life and actually restore the building to how it was."

The premises is certainly a bright and attractive store. Massive floor to ceiling windows surround the exterior of the building, allowing passers-by on the street to see inside and be tempted to come in. The exterior of the store is not the typical Spar branding, with the corporate signage not present until one enters the store itself. The gold lettering against the black backdrop lends a sense of sophistication to the exterior and added to the large windows on both street-facing sides, making an attractive shop-front. Ralph says making the most out of the iconic building was very important to BWG. "We worked closely with the City Council and they talk a lot about giving buildings back to the street. When Phillips was here the store had net curtains on the windows and displays of equipment and you couldn’t see into the building. So when we started talking about it, we wanted to work with the City Council to bring what is a very pivotal building in the city back to life; give it back to the street. We came up with putting the seating right the way round, it goes to the far end of the store. We’ve also got streetscapes from Dame St., Trinity College and other iconic places. It enhances the whole thing and gives it back to the city and brings life to it all."

The expansion created 35 new jobs, bringing the total staff numbers to around 70. The store is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Such is the commitment to this that there is no door in the shop; just a large entranceway. The original floors in part of building were kept during the renovations and the steel girders in the roof were reinforced.

A different setup

The layout of the store is somewhat unconventional – the tills are facing the back of the store in the middle of the shop floor, behind a very impressive fridge packed with the fresh food-to-go options for customers. This unusual layout ensures that customers walk around the store before getting to the tills, a dream situation to increase impulse shopping. McCarthy says it makes a statement; "The front fridge is a statement and that’s what we wanted. As well as the fridge being there we wanted the store itself to make a statement, we wanted it to be a destination point. We wanted to bring the building back to life, it’s not that we wanted to hide the tills but they’re not the focal point."

Upon entering the store there is an immediate sense of freshness. The Insomnia coffee station is on one side while the new Tasty Deli is to the other. The very large fridge full of to-go options stands out very well. McCarthy wanted to focus on his three key areas for the expansion; "the coffee, the deli and the pizza offering." The Four Star Pizza is very well branded and stands out as another option for consumers. The huge range of options ensures that all tastes are catered for which is essential when your market is largely made up of tourists. "A high percentage of our market would be tourists and we’re actually on a tourist trail from Trinity College right up to Dublin Castle and Christchurch Cathedral. In the next year it’s actually going to be recognised as an official tourist trail so I aim for that market. The coffee, the fresh food, the front fridge with the products in it, that’s what they’re looking for. I went for the high end convenience market. People come in here, they get their fresh fruit, their coffee, their deli and in turn, in the evening time, if they want to have a pizza. They mightn’t recognise the brand but they know a pizza and it’s professionally done. It’s a recognised brand here in Ireland."

Building on a good foundation

The reputation and customer base for the Dame St. store was well established before the revamp took place. McCarthy says that the renovations were about enhancing what the shop did well and offering more of what customers want. "It’s something different. In the particular area of the city that we’re in; it’s a young, vibrant, trendy area. Especially George’s St., Templebar and Dame St., have become the new trendy area. Every unit up the road is all booked out with new restaurants; new fast food places so this is the youth market."

Customers from surrounding office buildings also form a good percentage of the customers shopping at the store. Ralph says it’s a well rounded customer base: "It’s an all round store, the product that’s displayed in this store is targeted at the shopper in this store, therefore we wouldn’t put in a range of products that wouldn’t be suitable. There’s a limited range of grocery because there are some office buildings that will need some small grocery items and there’s some people obviously living down here in Templebar that would need some grocery items. The shop, though, is targeted at people on-the-move, people in offices and tourists."

A strong partnership

McCarthy has been involved with BWG since he began his career in retail stores. "I have a good relationship with BWG and in fairness they’ve been extremely supportive of me since day one. On this project alone they have been the main driving force behind it along with me. It’s an equal relationship and I would have absolutely no problems dealing with them from start to finish. Declan and his team worked around the clock on this project right from the start, and obviously to turn it around in six weeks, we were working around the clock on this." Declan Ralph says that BWG appreciated the experience of McCarthy in the planning of the new store layout; "It was a joint effort and Charles knows this store better than anyone, knows the location well and we would recognise that as key input into the layout. There was already a good store here and it was a question of building on that and enhancing the bits that were working well. We didn’t fundamentally change it, we tailored it to this location and we are able to offer more of every type of product here; more fresh food than there was before, there’s a bigger deli than there was before, there’s a larger coffee offer. Everything got bigger and better than it was."

The promotions from BWG are tailored at the customer on-the-move. The store implements a range of offers in key areas, mainly the fresh, confectionery and coffee. "Whatever offers are on those areas we would implement them, that’s our target market there. We would obviously implement the grocery bit that wouldn’t be a large part of our customer base." McCarthy does use one local artisan producer in the store. "We use one local producer that’s based in Smithfield. Her stuff does sell and I wanted to support local businesses and give her a break."

Further development

McCarthy claims that three stores is enough for him: "For now three babies is enough, no more for the foreseeable future! We’ll concentrate on this and develop it further." The possibility is there for further development. There is a fully fitted prep kitchen downstairs that he is hoping to get up and running to start a scratch bakery for the store. Without a doubt, it will prove to be a success.





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