The generation game
Tristan and Zoe Kingston have opened a Costcutter in Tristan’s home town of Dunmanway, Cork, with his experienced parents on hand to give valuable advice.
15 September 2010
Owners: Tristan and Zoe Kingston
Size: 6,000 sq ft
Staff: 30 full and part-time
Being born into a retailing family is a great way of learning the trade. You grasp an understanding of the finer details of business at a young age but it also means you don’t know what life is like without the responsibility of the business. When Tristan Kingston left school the natural step was to join the family business yet when his father decided to retire a few years later he was faced with the prospect of taking over the shop and settling into a life of retailing without ever having tried anything else. So he made the decision not to take it on and the shop was closed. Only months later he realised he had let a good opportunity slide and that retailing was indeed what he wanted to do so he began looking for a business premises to build a store from scratch with his wife Zoe.
His parents Robert and Elsie were fully on board to offer encouragement and advice as they have first-hand experience of running a store. They opened their store, a small newsagents, in the town in 1985. Expansion came in 1990 when they bought an old ESB premises down the street and set up a 3,000 square foot Centra. Over the next number of years they increased it to 6,000 square foot and they traded there until 2004. One of their most notable accomplishments was winning the Centra Store of the Year in 1999/2000 and the FBD Insurance Store of the Year, for stores under 10,000 square feet, the same year.
Finding the right location
Soon after his father sold the business, Tristan began looking for a suitable premises to establish his own store but he found it wasn’t as easy as he had envisioned. “Things were changing hands for too much money and you just couldn’t justify it but in the end it worked out brilliantly that something popped up in our home town.”
The present shop was once a SuperValu, then a EuroSpar and about two years ago, it traded as an independent. The independent got into difficulty and it went into receivership and subsequent liquidation. The doors were closed for three months before the Kingston’s took control. Tristan says that when he heard the premises was available they had to move quickly. “We knew it wasn’t going to last much longer on the market so we put out the feelers and got on to Ollie Savage in Barry’s who I’d been in contact with for a couple of years. So negotiations took place and concluded very quickly.”
With a lot of hard graft and support from Barry’s the shop opened just five weeks after they took control of the property.
Up and running
Tristan explains that it was great that Barry’s were concerned with getting the shop up and running rather than spending huge amounts on redesign. “Barry’s didn’t push us to spend a fortune on a costly revamp. They just wanted us to get it open and then look at doing things afterwards. We painted it and cleaned it and got it open. The Costcutter image is very fresh so it looks very well.”
One would presume that in today’s climate recruiting staff would be a breeze but the Kingston’s found this not to be the case. “Surprisingly it’s not that easy to recruit staff. Almost 500 people applied for jobs in the store. We found that the volume was definitely there, but the calibre of people we were looking for wasn’t,” says Declan Ryan from Barry’s. Ryan took on the job of recruiting staff so the family would not have the awkward job of refusing work to locals. “The Kingston’s would have very definite ideas about what type of staff they wanted. We weeded our way through those applications and we’re happy with the staff now. They all have retail experience,” says Ryan. Tristan believes that everyone who applied deserved to be screened and given a chance because at the end of the day they are all future customers. In the end they took a lot of the old staff that were in his father’s shop.
Opening a business in a recession could be seen as a foolhardy thing to do. The Kingston’s wouldn’t agree. “It’s risky whenever it happens. There are plenty of businesses that opened in the good times and didn’t survive. My father started from scratch down the street and built it up so I can’t see why we wouldn’t do it again,” says Tristan.
Getting on with it
During his time away from retailing Tristan became involved in other business ventures including saddlery in Cork and opening a Pizza Hut in Carraigaline. He still holds on to the Pizza Hut business but his real passion is in grocery. “This is the business we grew up with and know and are most comfortable with.”
The family received a “fantastic reaction” from the local business community when they opened up. “Other businesses in the Square noticed a definite impact on their businesses when this shop closed and they’ve already noticed a positive impact on their business again after a week of us opening,” says Tristan.
A healthy competition has already begun with the SuperValu down the street with both stores delivering leaflets with special offers advertised to the local community. The Kingston’s secret weapon is their home baking service. They had always been a destination shop for brown bread and cakes and are hoping to continue this and grow it even further. “The margin is in the home baking. If you can get it right it will be good. Also with Barry’s we are still receiving a good margin with the special offers. If you don’t have a margin, you don’t have a business”, says Tristan.
Doing business today is quite different to a few years back and Tristan has noticed consumers’ new love of special offers. “Bulk offers are the big thing now. You’d never sell a big box of nappies or washing powder a few years ago – you couldn’t give them away and now that’s all you’d sell. The days of the two-pack toilet roll are past”.
John McAllen, commercial director of Barry’s says there’s a demand for price and a demand for promotion in the current market. “We find that when a product goes on promotion the rate of sales lifts significantly and when it comes off promotion it falls sharply. Promotions a few years ago would not have been as deep cut. The mix of business is different. Strong margins were in hot food but the margins for that have fallen back. Now you are selling more product for less volume and the reality is not about to change anytime soon.”
The Kingston’s know they have a lot of hard work ahead of them but with the support of Barry’s, their family and their vast experience, Tristan and Zoe are well placed to build a strong business for the future.