Substance and style
Retailers Frank O’Connell and Monica Holton believe it’s crucial to combine a top-notch shop appearance, with first-class customer service in their Gala store.
15 September 2010
A bustling hair-dressing salon, where several ladies were enjoying having their hair coiffed and blow-dried, and generally being pampered to perfection, formed a unique setting for one of our ShelfLife store profile interviews this month. Proving the diversity of Ireland’s c-store retailers, Frank O’Connell and Monica Holton, who recently opened Gala Lambs Cross in the Sandyford suburb of Dublin, say their background lies chiefly within the hair-dressing industry. In fact, the duo own several hair-dressing and beauty salons across Dublin.
While the world of blow dries and semi-highlights might at first appear far removed from the rapid customer-turnaround involved in convenience retailing, Monica Holton believes the essence of good customer service remains the same. “You use the same people skills in both industries,” says Holton, who splits her time between the Gala Lambs Cross store and ‘The Hair Zone’ salon located above it. O’Connell has also learnt a valuable lesson from his time within the industry, which he has transferred to his new store: “The customer is always right – even when they’re wrong,” he laughs.
Making the customer feel valued is particularly important to these two particular retailers, because they’re both locals who know a lot of people and have strong ties within the Sandyford area. For this reason, O’Connell also feels it’s important that he personally has a highly visible presence behind the shop counter, so customers can see that it’s local people who have a vested interest in the success of the local community, who own and run the shop. In saying this however, the pair have also employed a dedicated team of local staff, who know the high emphasis they place on customer service. “Our staff are all very friendly,” adds O’Connell, with justifiable pride.
This focus on servicing the local community, very much fits in with the Gala group’s overall ethos, according to marketing and promotions manager, Tony Cluskey. What’s more, the group has strived to reflect this mindset through its choice of sponsorships. This includes Gala’s award-winning sponsorship of the Gala All-Ireland Camogie Championships and its support of TV3’s National Event Guide, which celebrates towns and cities across Ireland. Gala has also aimed to “give back to the communities it serves” by pledging €250,000 to the Jack & Jill Foundation in 2010. The funds donated to this worthwhile charity will go towards helping families across Ireland care for their babies; financially, practically and emotionally.
Solid business prospect
Being locals of course, and through owning The Hair Zone salon and knowing the Sandyford area well for many years; O’Connell and Holton were convinced their new Gala store represented a solid business prospect. The shop in Lambs Cross is flanked by a number of diverse businesses located beside it, including Sandyford Pitch and Putt, Colm Leavy’s Craft Butchers, Sandyford Vetinary Hospital, and Lambkins Montessori Nusery as well as St Mary’s Primary School. Not surprisingly, the Lambs Cross team, at the time of ShelfLife’s interview – the week before the schools returned – were looking forward to the increase in business the new school term would deliver. However, they were also relieved to open on 25 July, and in doing so allow themselves several less manic weeks to settle into the new business, before the school-runs season began in earnest.
Together with Gala, the team put a great deal of thought into the design of their relatively small 1,100 sq ft floorspace, in order to help maximise sales. The result has been an easy to navigate space with a strong yet streamlined grocery range, and a prominent self service Gaggia coffee machine, which is instantly visible when consumers enter the store – as is the enticing deli menu of fresh sandwiches and dinner options. “The space is refreshingly bright and modern,” says O’Connell. This clean and airy effect was also achieved through the use of Gala’s new ‘barcode’ signage, which uses stripes of zingy citrus colours to catch customers’ attentions.
Own brand success
Although O’Connell and Holton are pleased with the design of the new Lambs Cross store, their range is still partly a work in progress, based on customer demand. “If a customer tells us they want something, we’ll get it in for them,” says O’Connell. However, one aspect of their range they know customers are definitely looking for, is value, and the duo have made a concerted effort to meet that demand. Gala’s own-brand range, which has expanded from a basic offering of milk and bread, to include several lines across various categories – and still growing moreover – has formed an important part of the new store’s value proposition. Gala’s private label range now includes products such as pre-packed cooked meats, cheese, bottled waters and a varied range of fruit and veg. Strong promotional offers such as Jacob’s Fig Rolls, half-price at €1, Rancheros and Skips crisps priced at two for €1 and buy-one-get-one-free Doritos multi-packs, are also helping to attract customers to Gala’s shelves. The self-service coffee machine is also an important improvement on the coffee offering under the shop’s previous owners, whereby customers would have to order coffee from the deli at the far end of the store.
Future expansion in-store
With these efforts to maximise convenience for customers now in place, O’Connell and Holton say they’ve been delighted with the feedback they’ve received from customers so far. While people living in the store’s largely residential surroundings would previously have had to hop into the car to pick up their grocery essentials, they can now simply walk to Gala’s Lambs Cross. Many customers have also said they’re delighted to see local people owning the shop and greeting them from behind the counter. And although some may view the current economic climate as a less-than-ideal time to open a new store, the pair say they’re confident their new store will succeed – particularly with the advice and time afforded to them by Gala regional manager Tom Hardiman, who has constantly been on hand to help the team with any day-to-day difficulties or teething problems they might have encountered.
To cement the goodwill these local retailers have already received from many customers, they now hope to hold an official opening and family day out to celebrate the kick-starting of their successful new store. Looking to the future, O’Connell says he also hopes to expand the store further, using the extra space available underneath the hairdressing salon. Undoubtedly this will prove “a big job” and one that will also involve moving the current position of the stairs leading up to the hairdressers. However, O’Connell believes it’s an investment that will ultimately prove worthwhile and reap lucrative dividends for the business. It therefore looks as if there could potentially be more than one official opening and ribbon to cut at Gala Lambs Cross in the months and years to come. An event which certainly wouldn’t prove any difficulty for its current owners; not considering Holton’s adeptness when it comes to yielding a pair of scissors in her hands!