Strength in numbers
Retail is a challenging business at the best of times but newly established retailer Breda Hayes has overcome more than most this year to see her store reach its goal
16 November 2009
Owner: Noreen Hayes
Manager: Breda Hayes
Size: 2,200 sq ft
Mattie Hayes was a well-known retailer and DIY supplier in Clonmel, trading at his Cashel Road site for some 18 years. In an old farmhouse that he converted himself, he based his small independent grocery store, and to the rear he cleared a field of trees to make way for a builders yard. Last Christmas, in the face of growing competition from numerous multiples and discounters, he took the decision to revamp and expand the grocery store, and partner with the Barry Group under the Costcutter banner.
The shop was closed and the revamp began immediately, with Hayes himself doing a good deal of the work; raising the floor of the shop and laying down the new tiles, and working on the extension that doubled the floor space. Then in June, suddenly and tragically, he died at just 60 years of age.
The future of the business Mattie Hayes had worked for two decades to build was now in the hands of his family, who were also trying to come to terms with their sudden loss. However, it was quickly decided that Hayes’ vision for his business would not be allowed to go unrealised. Building work resumed the almost within a week and before the month of June was over, his daughter Breda Hayes decided to leave her career as an accountant in Cork and move back to Clonmel to become a retailer.
Although Hayes had felt that she might be ready for a career change, her decision to become manager of the new Costcutter Express was largely motivated by a desire to fulfil the plan set out for the business. By the time it reopened in August the store had been closed for eight months, so for the sake of its long-awaiting local customers and for its own financial viability, completing the job was paramount.
“It is a fitting tribute to him,” says Hayes, “to keep what he wanted going. It was all his vision.” The family – sisters Noreen and Marie, brother Martin, and mother Noreen Hayes – reflect on how he had built his business from scratch since moving his family to Clonmel in 1991, and had rolled up his sleeves once again this year to protect its future.
Even more important than the building itself, Breda Hayes and her mother (who ran the grocery store throughout its 18 years), were very aware that the shop’s customers were also waiting. “A lot of the older people across the road have been waiting for the business to open up,” says Hayes, “they’d seen the work ongoing and they’d often ask ‘when are you opening up again?’”
In that respect, the store is a high-potential proposition, so all the better for the family to maintain it and reap the benefits of the investment made. The surrounding neighbourhood holds several large housing estates built during the boom years, which no doubt grew thanks to the location’s close proximity to the main Waterford-Limerick road. Also, the Costcutter Express is the only food store of any real scale serving the area and is the last shop on the left hand side as you head out of town, which provides for passing trade in addition to the “very large” base of local custom.
The revamp has furnished the store with ample front-end parking which has enabled it to maximise opportunities from this potentially very extensive customer base. Furthermore, with greater floor space and an enhanced offering, it has become more food-orientated and therefore attracts more basket shoppers than ever before. “Costcutter and Barry’s have encouraged us to think of ourselves now as a food market rather than a convenience store,” Hayes comments.
Costcutter group account manager Declan Ryan, who is ever present at the store, adds: “There is a lot of chimney pots in the air around here, a lot of people in walking distance, and it is a main road so people can stop with their cars. That being the case, people can buy more and also bulkier products than at your standard convenience store.”
The right mix
Convenience remains an important staple of the offering however, and getting the mix right was a key focus for the group in preparing the shop for launch. The extra space created during the revamp was also essential for building up both elements of the business.
“You have to have both,” says Ryan, “There is quite a lot of elderly people behind us here and the idea was, if we give them enough space they will shop the shop, they’ll shop the groceries. The space in front of the deli ensures that it is as visible as possible. For occasions like Christmas we will have displays there, but the deli is an area of the shop that we want to push so we want to keep it as visible as possible within the store.”
According to retail consultant AJ Brewer, the deli is growing week by week and beginning to expand its lunch trade as workers in nearby factories become aware of the store. An associate of Mattie Hayes, Brewer came on board at the planning stages and has remained for the first few months to help get the business up and running.
The new deli and ready meal offering, the coffee and confectionery, and a Carte D’Or ice cream counter are all new to the store’s convenience mix. In addition to these familiar c-store stalwarts, Hayes has introduced new ranges from a local supplier of homemade ready meals in order to diversify the offering, including dishes such as lasagne and chicken in white wine cream sauce, which can be bought from the deli or chill cabinet.
“A lot of delis can be the same. We don’t want to just offer sausage rolls, we want to have something different too, and homemade.” According to Hayes, the options have proven popular and she intends to expand the offering further, with meal solutions to take home in the evening particularly.
Barry Group is also driving the deli with exceptional value deals at the moment. “Our main concept at the moment is our meal deals,” explains Ryan. “For example, we have a hot chicken baguette out there for €1.80 which is terrific value. If you look at this time last year that would have been selling at close to €4. We’re also doing deals on things like wedges and sausage rolls, or sometimes a roll and a can, which encourages spend at the deli.”
Price is paramount
Hayes acknowledges seeing the shift towards very price-conscious shopping since taking on the shop. Homestead Everyday ranges are moving at pace, as well as any other value deals available through Costcutter. “There’s always ‘50% free’ or ‘buy one, get one free’ offers constantly in the shop. People are going for those kinds of deals. Anything, like bacon at half price, for instance, they just fly off the shelf. People are shopping for offers; they come looking for bargains.”
“To give just a few examples of our key drivers on price,” adds Ryan, “we’ve introduced some Christmas lines just this week to the store. We have Cadbury Roses tins and Heroes tins at €5.99, which is as competitive as it’s going to get. We have selection boxes at three for €5.99. And for Halloween we had a Tayto Bumper Bundle out there for €1.99, which is also very competitive.
“In grocery then, we have things like a twin-pack kitchen towel for a euro, two litres of milk at €1.69, we’ve a meat range at €3.99, and we’ve a value range of fruit and veg: two turnips for 99c, head of iceberg lettuce 99c, a bag of onions, a bag of carrots, a bag of apples all 99c.”
Many of the value offers, particularly on the fresh produce are “pretty much brand new,” he says, although price promotions are ongoing from the Barry Group throughout the year, as a key component of its current retail strategy.
According to Brewer customers have responded well to the activity in-store and have steadily increased basket shops as a direct result.
Links to the past
While the store has advanced in many ways, the family is also keen to retain a link to its past incarnation, for sentimental and indeed business-led reasons.
“We were known as a DIY shop here before and people still know it as that. They come in looking for sand and cement, and paint and brushes and stuff like that. So we’re going to start supplying a smaller range of that type of product,” says Hayes.
She is happy to make this connection with the past function of the site, tapping into an already familiar group of customers who knew her father and share that fond association with the store. To do so is also seizing the opportunity where a real demand has presented itself. A small selection including wallpaper remover and paint stripper actually makes for an effective point of difference. One which in their case leverages a pre-existing link with the site in local people’s minds, and the potential of which in a relatively remote area like theirs could be significant as a driver of footfall.
“They’re things that people need,” says Hayes, “and it kind of keeps us in line with what we had before.”
The linking of past and future in this business points up the fact that its unique attributes, its offering, people and location, are what really work for it, as opposed to what it does in common with standard successful c-stores. Breda Hayes and her family have a strong intuition about how this uniqueness works for the store, based most of all on a genuine and heartfelt connection between the business and a beloved father and husband who remains the driving force behind it.