Towering to new heights

Paddy and his daughter, Lisa O'Leary
Paddy and his daughter, Lisa O'Leary

Trading in Tower, Co. Cork for over 30 years, O'Leary's Centra is celebrating the unveiling of its new-look store. Fiona Donnellan travelled to Cork to get a first-hand look at the improvements



18 December 2012

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O’Leary’s Centra, Tower, Blarney, Co. Cork

Owner: Paddy O’Leary
Manager: Lisa O’Leary
Size: 10.000 sq ft
Staff: 75-80

The O’Leary Centra store in Tower is at the centre of the local community. Located in the little town just outside Blarney in Cork, the 10,000 sq ft shop has been a fixture for nearly a decade. Owner Paddy O’Leary has been in retail for over 30 years, starting off in the family shop and filling station in Tower. He moved to the new location for more space and built the complex that incorporates several businesses along with the Centra store. "I moved into the business in the late ‘70s, early ‘80s and the site came up here for sale about nine years ago so we bought the site and built the store."

A family affair

Working alongside Paddy is his daughter Lisa O’Leary who is the manager of the store. She joined the family business while she was still in school. Following a stint in Australia and completing training in other stores, she returned to the Tower shop: "I’ve been here from the start, I was managing the off-license at the start and then there were a couple of different managers in and I worked my way up from there," says Lisa.

Paddy and his daughter, Lisa O'Leary

Paddy and his daughter, Lisa O’Leary

Planning the redesign of the new store was done in conjunction with Musgrave’s. Lisa says the shop needed a fresh look. "We were nine years here so we needed something different. We looked at what areas we could develop and fresh was the main one we needed to work on. So we worked with Conor Foley in Musgrave’s and we looked at the best way to open up the shop. It actually looks like the shop is bigger even though it’s not. We totally got rid of the first aisle and opened up the fresh."

The new look store includes four new self-scan machines, the re-location of the off-license and the installation of a semi-scratch bakery towards the back of the shop. The emphasis is on fresh food and Lisa says they’ve worked hard to promote that angle. "Our areas of growth are the fresh, we opened up on the fruit and veg; we were struggling a bit on that with the discounters being so cheap. We worked on that and it’s up since we revamped. The deli is up, meat and fish, anything that is at the front of the shop is up. We have brought in all the gourmet deli range and we wouldn’t have had anything like that before, that’s really working for us."

Working around the clock

The refurbishment of the store took place over a three month period. Most of the work took place at night while the shop was closed but it reopened every morning. "The fact that we were pouring a new floor, we had to work around the floor so that was being poured over six weeks. They did two nights in every week, so you pick a section and we worked from there. When they were done with the floor, we would move in behind them and they moved on. We didn’t close the doors at all and there was a lot of work done in that time. It was certainly five nights a week, some weeks it was six, a lot going on."

Paddy O’Leary says that there was no way they could close down for the revamp as it would cost them business. Lisa says that their regular customers liked seeing the progress made every morning: "People weren’t a bit put out really. They liked seeing the progress made and it didn’t disrupt the day to day running of the shop."

Competitive times

There is plenty of choice for customers in the little village of Tower. Within ten miles, consumers can find all the major multiples along with several discounters and other convenience stores. In order to drive footfall, the O’Learys have concentrated on the value message to their customers. As part of the revamp, the existing value walls were taken down and new ones built around the store. Paddy says they’ve worked hard for years to get the value message across to their customers: "It’s all about value now, and we’re very conscious of that. We’re very conscious of customer service as well and to do that, to get to that end, the fresh factor is huge." Carrying over that message of value after the renovations was essential to the O’Learys. "We had a very good perception of value before we revamped and we didn’t want to loose that. We worked with Musgrave’s and we got a couple of value walls built into the shop but we didn’t want people to miss them and we wanted to keep the fresh side of things at the front. We have kept the message of value."

Competing with the discounters, in particular, can be difficult but it’s something retailers all over the country have to deal with. "The biggest thing is to get people in the door; that is our biggest challenge here. I feel if we get them in, we’ll keep them because our offering is good. You have to have the whole package now, value, customer service, everything. You’re fighting extra hard now."


Fresh baking

One of the major improvements made during the revamp of the store was the installation of a semi-scratch bakery. The O’Learys hired a professional baker and all breads, cakes and buns are made fresh in store every day. The goods baked fresh in store also carry the store’s label ‘Mrs O’. "The ‘Mrs. O’ label is distinctive to here which is something we can grow and it’s something that we have to mind as well because if your label is on something, you want to make sure that the product is good within that."

Lisa says they needed "a point of difference" for the expansion. "I think baking your own bread and cakes is definitely a good driver of the business." Along with the new baker, one of the staff from the deli has displayed a flair for baking and is now working in the bakery full-time. The expansion of the fresh goods offering seems to be working well for the O’Leary’s and customers are happy with the range on offer.

Top technology

While planning the renovations, the O’Learys wanted it to be as modern as possible. One of the most up-to-date improvements is the installation of four self-scan machines. It is the first Centra store in the country to install the state-of-the-art technology and it’s proving popular with customers. There is always a staff member on the self-scan machines so if customers have a problem, help is at hand. Paddy says he’s been surprised by the age range of people opting for the new machines: "You have people in their 70s using them, I thought it would only be the younger people, I didn’t think people in my age group would but that is not the case. Age is not a barrier."

Lisa says a great deal of thought and research went into the decision to install the self-scans: "It was a gamble but it’s been interesting. Before the revamp, we had five sit-down check outs, a kiosk and one card shop but 55% of our customers were going through the kiosk which shocked us."

Community support

The focus when customers walk in the door is on the fresh food and value promotions. Several local producers are represented in the store in the fruit and veg section along with eggs and other products. Lisa says they try to support local producers as much as possible: "As much as we can we support the local people. You can only go outside the system by so much but we have local veg guys and local potatoes. Our bread guys are local too." Paddy says that supporting local farmers has benefits for the shop too: "Any business that’s local that we can help we do, but that works both ways. If you’ve got a local guy up in Blarney whose eggs are on the shelf, then he’s happy to see that and comes in here then. You have to support locally." Along with supporting local suppliers, the store is heavily involved in the local community, sponsoring several sports teams in the locality.


Value promotions

With a 10,000 sq ft store, the O’Learys have lots of space for promotions and they take part in the entire range of offers from Musgrave. Paddy says they have to push for the best offers for their customers: "We take part in all the promotions and we would add a few of our own also. We would push Musgrave’s very strongly for offers and value. Our trolley shop is very high here which is unusual but we’ve stamped our value here. We’re not complacent."

The relationship between the O’Learys and Centra goes back almost 30 years so it was a natural choice when they built the new store nearly ten years ago. There was a couple of SuperValus in the area so Centra was the best option. "I really like the Centra brand and we’ve worked with Musgrave’s and they’ve really helped us."

Developing into the future

Following on from their €700,000 investment in the store, the O’Learys are not resting on their laurels when it comes to driving footfall into the shop. Lisa would like to develop the bakery and the fresh side of the shop in the future: "We’ve started with a semi-scratch bakery, but I definitely think in the long term we’ll go full scratch."

For Paddy, competing with the other stores is key: "The hard graft is just to compete, to beat price is the hard part now. Everything else we’re kind of good at; we’re good at customer care and customer service, we try to be good but the onus is certainly on us to be sure that we have value and be seen to have value."





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