The art of success
Aiscough’s Londis in Kinsale has successfully mastered the art of catering for tourists and locals, manager Colm Donnellan talks about supporting sales and the arts
11 September 2009
Midday Tuesday and Market Quay in Kinsale is buzzing with the weekly farmer’s market setting up camp.
Displaying everything from "super sprouts" to hummus, the artisan showcase is a tourist’s utopia, allowing cosmopolitan continentals and locals alike to thoroughly indulge their inner foodie.
Even the most preliminary of browses through the seaside town’s labyrinthe-like streets shows this demand for quality, local foods is by no means a one-off. Gourmet shops such as The Quay Food Company and The Fishy Fishy Shop are frequent sights in this food lover’s locale with a population of approximately 5,000.
How then does the local Londis step up to this high bar? Firstly, owner Roger Aiscough and manager Colm Donnellan decided to capitalise on the tourist trade, which would typically add between "15 and 20% to the business on a monthly basis from mid-May to the end of September." The team converted an unused area of around 300 sq ft, which opens onto Market Quay, into a souvenir section. Donnellan says the move has proved "relatively successful" during its first year, despite conducting little marketing for it.
He is now considering how they can continue to "create a bit of life" in the previously neglected section after the summer season ends. "We’re looking at maybe adding some toys, some Christmas confectionery entering into the festive season, or possibly everyday kitchenware lines.
"Ultimately you’ve always got to look after the locals, because when the tourists go, they’re the people who keep you going in the quieter months," he notes astutely.
Aiscough’s Londis has been providing a point of differentiation for the town’s residents through supplying its own range of home-cooked meals and accompaniments at reasonable prices. Appetising dishes such as chicken and mushroom in black bean sauce with rice for €3.99 and either beef stew or roast turkey with vegetables for €6.49, alongside fresh garlic bread and potato cakes priced at €2 each, have been "positioned at the entrance to the store, specifically to tell people about them."
The goal was to "create a name for the deli" and Aiscough decided the store should take on its own chef in order to achieve this objective. He duly employed an experienced chef who has worked in both a local restaurant and the retail sector to provide these packaged options. Donnellan notes that during the store’s strong evening trade between 6pm and 11pm, there is "definitely a demand for food-to-go."
"People get to know they can come in here and buy quality food that they can simply take home and pop in the microwave…We’ve earned a reputation as offering good quality food at a reasonable price, so it’s stood to us that we’ve taken on our own chef."
An interesting proposition
Another feature that Donnellan reckons, "for the size of the shop is something unique," is that it houses a fresh meat counter with local butchers and locally sourced meat. Previously, John Coholan’s butchers on Market Street was a well-known part of the town’s fabric, and Aiscough has managed to build on its reputation through an innovative business move.
The pristine white butchers store with red signage and painted glass arch windows still occupies a prime location in the town, albeit with a for sale sign attached. The established business wasn’t a victim of the recession however; owner John Coholan had simply decided the time was right to retire. When he did so, he approached Roger Aiscough with an interesting proposition, which the retailer quickly realised could add significantly to his store’s offering.
"We inherited their business and the two butchers that worked there, Billy Connery and Dan Joe Coholan," explains Donnellan. "They’d be part of the town and would have a good reputation as butchers, and again that has added to our reputation." He adds that these two familiar faces, who are involved in local GAA and "known by everybody," offer not only a butcher counter but "also somewhere where you can come and have a chat and talk about the game, which is important too in this day and age."
High profile events
Aiscough’s Londis has also utilised the balcony above the rear of the store to become more involved in community pursuits. During the annual Kinsale arts week, the store utilised this space to host an art exhibition free of charge. Not only did this prove a strong generator of extra footfall, it also benefited local artists who managed to sell "five or six paintings" through this display.
Donnellan notes the town is fortunate to benefit from a "very strong tradition" of lively events. This includes highlights such as the "infamous" rugby sevens and the Cork jazz weekend, which "originally started in Kinsale."
"These are high profile events which bring people into the town and always seem to get good publicity. We obviously prosper when those events are on, so it’s important that we give something back."
Keeping custom local
The town is currently served by Aiscough’s Londis and a 13,000 sq ft Supervalu, and although it might surprise some retailers, Donnellan would welcome more than just family events to bring people into the town. He also welcomes Lidl, which finally secured a site in Kinsale, having been "turned down at the first stage" of its planning application.
Donellan adopts a pragmatic approach towards the question of discounters entering the town: "The discounters are something we have to live with now and they’re not necessarily a bad thing to have on your doorstep either. I’m quite certain that a proportion of the population of Kinsale are going elsewhere to do their shopping and if discounters keep people in Kinsale and keep the local economy going, everybody benefits."
His attitude shows he is not averse to new thinking, a disposition he was encouraged to develop during his retail management diploma at UCC, completed back in 2005. Like many retailers, Donnellan started out in the business at a tender age, working part-time in a shop in his home town of Tipperary during his schooldays. He then proceeded to study economics and sociology at UCC, but like many arts graduates, was not sure which career-path to follow.
Fortunately, Quinnsworth was recruiting for trainee managers at the time, and Donnellan laughs, "I thought I’d give it a shot" despite all the "horror stories" he’d heard about 90 hour weeks and hard labour.
Indeed, it wasn’t easy, but Donellan says: "In terms of training and discipline it was excellent." It also proved a solid base for a career in retail which later saw him work in Tesco, Dunnes, Supervalu, and own his own Spar in Bandon, Co Cork, which unfortunately closed last summer. Importantly, his retail diploma offered him a fresh perspective, even though it proved tough to combine a 50-hour working week with course homework.
"I think what it did at the time was, it provided two days a month out of the retail environment, and it give you time to think and develop your ideas. While you mightn’t have initially seen any results practically, it certainly did change the way you looked at retail…you heard the logic behind ideas."
When Donnellan joined Aiscough’s Londis last September, he decided to put this theory into practice. Initially the store very much "centered around convenience," so he decided to turn it into "somewhere people would get a basket shop, or maybe a trolley shop," with an extended ambient grocery range and more value.
The new manager cast an objective eye over the store when he first arrived. "I looked across the range and I said if I was coming in here to do my weekly shopping what can I get and what can’t I get? We looked at the things that we couldn’t get and tried to add them, so if somebody did want to do their weekly shopping here they could and our prices would be supermarket prices."
He is upbeat that this strategy "seems to have worked. Our year-to-date sales growth stands at 30% which is very good…A lot of the growth we’re experiencing now at the moment is through offers and greater value. While you’re working harder for your margin, it’s something you ultimately have to do."