Through the generations

Tomas and Sarah Cunningham with children Jarlath and Joseph outside their newly revamped store
Tomas and Sarah Cunningham with children Jarlath and Joseph outside their newly revamped store

You can’t build a great building on a weak foundation and the same goes for business. As the third generation to run Cunninghams store in Mountbellew, Tomas Cunningham has had a good grounding in retail. The store has just undergone renovations creating a bright, spacious look, and continues to maintain the firm customer focus it has upheld since its establishment in 1923. Anne Brady reports

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11 July 2014 | 0

The shop was established in 1923 by Tomas Cunningham’s grandfather PROFILE

Cunninghams Costcutter, Mountbellew, Co. Galway

Size: 4,000 sq ft

Staff: 30 full and part-time

Opening hours:8am to 9pm Mon-Fri, 9am to 10pm on Saturdays and 9am to 9pm on a Sunday

When the shop was established in 1923 by Tomas Cunningham’s grandfather, it was only a small store at just 250 sq ft. Back then it sold mainly hardware, clothes and bits and pieces. As time went on it grew. Then Paul Cunningham, Tomas’ uncle, took over the store in the 50s. Although he had spent plenty of time behind the counter or stacking shelves it wasn’t until 1995 that Tomas took over the reins. Not before he finished his studies in accountancy however, a qualification that has no doubt been put to great use over the years.

A solid team

From little seeds big things grow and the store is now 4,000 sq ft. It opens from 8am to 9pm mid week, 9am to 10pm on Saturdays and 9am to 9pm on a Sunday. “I have 30 staff at the minute between full-time and part-time. A lot of them have worked here for a good number of years. We have a very low staff turnover. I think they enjoy working here and I certainly appreciate them. They know the customers very well and they’re all very pleasant – which is hugely important.” A low staff turnover is a sure sign that Cunningham is doing something right when it comes to keeping them happy. “In the future, I want all team members to be able to work in different areas of the shop. So I hope to get them trained in the different sections that they may be interested in whether it’s the deli or the butchers. Then my staff will have a more diverse job and will be better able to adapt and move around when necessary.”

After being an independent retailer for many years, Cunningham decided to join the Costcutter group. “We joined Costcutter in 2001. We had talked to a few similar groups but we found Costcutter had the backing we needed from a symbol group. After we changed over we did a full refit of the shop and put in a car park. It worked very well for us. Certainly, the local area manager Gerry Burke was, and still is, a great help. Any problems, he sorts them out very quickly. All the Costcutter staff are very helpful and obliging. They provide great support.”

Hector Ó hEochgain was down to help cut the ribbon when the store was relaunched recently

Hector Ó hEochgain was down to help cut the ribbon when the store was relaunched recently

There is a full deli and butchery in-store

There is a full deli and butchery in-store

Chilled distribution

In September of last year the Barry Group introduced a centralised chilled distribution system. They hoped it would increase sales and profit margins for Costcutter retailers through better buying, cost and time efficiencies. This chilled distribution system has been one of the biggest changes Costcutter has made to Cunninghams. “It has been very helpful to my business. You can order through a website which has photos of the products as well as additional information like shelf life and price. If I order by 12pm on Monday I have it by Wednesday. Deliveries come three times a week at a specified time. It has made everything so much easier to manage. I can plan to have extra staff when I need them for a delivery and know that the delivery will arrive on time.”

Renovation

Last September they began a renovation on the store. A lot of work went into it. “We knocked down interior walls from the 20s, closed two entrances into the shop and created one new entrance. We added in new equipment for the butchery and deli and changed all the lighting to new efficient LED lighting. We retiled the floor, moved the off-licence from one side of the shop to the other and added in a new alcove for the wine.” One of the most important criteria for customer satisfaction is the ease with which the customer finds their way around the store. This is something that is obviously very important to Cunningham. “Layout is key. One difference between yourself and other players is the ability to quickly adapt and change and then see how things go. Certainly if a shop is well laid out there is more profit in it and that’s what you want.”

The sun was out for the relaunch last Friday, however the day was tinged with sadness. Just after Christmas this year Paul Cunningham, Tomas’ uncle, who had run the shop for many years passed away suddenly. He had been looking forward to the relaunch and seeing how the new look turned out. No doubt he would have been impressed as true to the shop’s style it was all about the customer. Hector Ó hEochgain was down to help cut the ribbon, while Mr Tayto entertained the kids. There was a full day of activities such as face painting for the kids and wine tasting for the adults. “The launch was very successful. We had a huge crowd, withlots of free food like burgers and pizzas,plussweets for the kids. Lots of our customers came in for tea and a chat and had their photos taken with Hector. It was a great day and we hope the shop will take off again from that.”

Customers at the core

The normal shop flow was disrupted over the last few months. Now that the relaunch has come and gone it’s back to business. “It has been a tough year this year. We saw a drop in turnover for a couple of months since the start of the renovations. Hopefully now it will move on from that and we’ll be looking at a good future. For us, the off-licence would be quite a big part of the business at the moment with 18% of our sales. But all our other categories each do well. The butchery and deli is 12% of sales, fruit and veg is 10%. Convenience is another very important category. Anything that customers can take home and reheat does very well.”

Cunningham has created a store that caters to everything the customer needs. They can pick up a few bits or come in to do a weekly shop. The addition of the small car park in the back builds on the inherent drive to constantly work for the customer. “We have a full off-licence, full deli and full butchery. We always try to have a full shop experience to make it a little easier for customers who want to come and do a big shop.”

It’s evident that Cunningham and his team put a strong focus on building an excellent relationship with customers. Coming up with new ways to encourage customers into the store and then rewarding them when they do. “We hope to have a special low price offer every month from here on in on everyday items like toilet paper, toothpaste or a cooked chicken. At Christmas we have a customer day where we invite our customers into the store. We give them tea, coffee, mince pies and cake. We run a lot of promotions. For example, if a customer spends money in the store they can put their name on the back of their receipt and be entered into a competition to win a prize. You have to be creative.” The customer is definitely king in this store. “We know our customers by name and they always get a good welcome when they come in. They get the local news and can have a chat with staff about local issues.”

Community spirit

This warm welcome extends well past the shop door and right out into the community. “This year we sponsored the Mountbellew Moylough GAA jerseys. We’ve been sponsoring them on an ongoing basis but this year we reinvested in jerseys.” They also get involved with the local golf club, sponsoring the golfer of the year competition and support the local Tigers Club, a group involved in the Special Olympics. “Any local stuff coming up we try to have something to support them all as best we can. Generally if there is anevent being organised in aid of something we try to give vouchers from the shop as a spot prize.” It’s a very generous attitude, but very important for Cunningham. “In a rural area like this, it is vital to be involved on a personal level and to be part of the community.”

Onwards and upwards

Looking to the future, Cunningham is positive about the business. “In a number of years, we’ll hit another milestone – 100 years of business. That will be the next big thing.” It’s an impressive anniversary for any business but it doesn’t happen without a lot of hard work. “It hasn’t been easy the last few months and I appreciate all the work that both my family and staff have put in. Good staff can grow your business but poor staff can lose it and once it’s gone it’s impossible to get back. Hardworking staff that make customer service a priority is invaluable.”

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