Smart uniforms reflect consistency and confidence going forwards for Value Centre
I meet manager Richard Hayes on the floor of the new 20,000 sq ft Value Centre facility on the Dublin road. Staff are wearing smart uniforms, the broad aisles are spotless and flooded with natural light, and there is not a thing out of place. It has only been open since the end of April and it looks every bit the state-of-the-art store it is.
BWG’s wholesale business has been the focus of Hayes’ entire career, culminating in the manager’s role at Value Centre, Cavan, since 2003. “I joined BWG in 1995 for a part-time summer job and I’ve never worked anywhere else.” I ask him what he likes about working in wholesale. Aside from it being the first thing he came by after school, it’s the complexities of doing business in wholesale and the different challenges it presents that interests him, he explains.
“The wholesale business just kind of got under my skin…in the wholesale business you have to have a lot of respect for the customer because if you lose them you’re not going to get them back.
“It’s not like in a shop when if you annoy a customer and they walk out the door there’s going to be somebody coming straight in after them. You can’t do that here. You have to have a relationship with them.”
Ringing the changes
I can see that it would take a particular type of person to enjoy the complexities of working in wholesale. On top of the normal challenges met in everyday business, I ask, are there any other difficulties this year?
“It’s definitely a bit tougher this year alright. Historically, we’ve always had strong on-trade business, but in the last twelve months that has started to die away. Leased pubs have gone by the wayside, people have left them and there’s been nobody to take on the lease. Spirit business in general would be very hard at the moment.”
Manager Richard Hayes with his team
Richard has observed the changes in society over the last number of years that have led to this turning point in the local drinks trade. “There’s a different outlook where alcohol is concerned. People are now a lot more health-conscious and that has taken its toll. The clamp down on drink-driving has also had a big impact, especially in a small area like this…basically the whole mid-week drinking has gone.”
Having had such a big focus on alcohol, the loss of pub trade has been felt at Value Centre, Cavan. As a consequence the company has had to rethink the departments and develop other areas of the business that were not as important before, such as catering. The segment has been designated approximately two and half times the space it had in the old building.
“You do forget about your grocery, your minerals, your bits of catering. You’ve a target to meet and with spirits and beer you were meeting it all the time and it was great. Naturally, you forget about the small things.
“Basically what we’re doing now is trying to get back to basics. Getting back to doing more local deals for local people, the grocer or caterer, which over the years we weren’t consistently doing.”
Cross-border worries only short-term
Now we come to the subject on most people’s minds, especially in the border counties. It’s all about the pound and the impact it is having on many businesses in this part of the world. “There’s a completely different scenario now that the wholesalers in Northern Ireland are delivering into the South, and with the euro being so strong against the sterling, with that price differential you just can’t compete.”
Value Centre Cavan is the first to open with the new image. Wide aisles and clear signage make the store easy to navigate
In spite of this Richard Hayes is confident that this situation can not be sustained for too long, pointing to the obvious disadvantages for shoppers of having to endure much greater inconvenience. “I think there’s been so much publicity at local level – I’ve even seen our own local newspaper here doing a spread on price comparison – but I’d say it’s a novelty at the moment and it will wear off.” A round trip journey from Cavan town to Enniskillen is an hour and 10 minutes driving. However, as Richard points out, “When you take into consideration queues and everything, you’re losing two hours.”
Service will win out
The biggest advantage that Richard’s Value Centre can offer is service, better quality service and more of it. “You’re going to lose business for a certain amount of time but that will come back. The service leveller will bring things back in the favour of the local wholesaler, it definitely will.
“Whereas the northern wholesaler will make one delivery, your local man is prepared to offer far more service than that. You could be running around making deliveries for somebody every evening in some cases if needs be. They’re not get that service elsewhere.”
This brings us on to the new-look Value Centre and everything that the new facility is designed to communicate. “Anyone coming in has only had good things to say about it. We’re the first branch to open with the new image for Value Centre, with the new logo and the new signage you see out there on the floor.
“All the staff are now wearing uniforms. The girls on the checkouts wear a very nice, smart suit and the boys on the floor have trousers and polo shirts. It means that when they leave here, they go down for lunch somewhere, people know where they’re from. It’s a simple thing but it’s going to come back to you. It’s more advertising for us.” Even more importantly, it informs the customer that the business is consistent down to the smallest detail.
By comparison with the older, smaller store, the new building offers a “very easily shop-able space,” says Hayes. “Coming in here is like a breath of fresh air. There’s huge high ceilings, lots of light, wide aisles, lots of open space. People can shop easily and get up and down without tripping across each other,” he says, adding “The benefits definitely will come.”
A show of confidence
In the last number of years since the management buy-out at BWG Richard has been very pleased by the renewed interest in the company’s wholesale arm. “I think they haven’t been afraid to put an emphasis back into the wholesale end. There definitely seems to be a drive, they realise the importance of it.
“The Value Centres are making a great profit for the company every year and they realise, we can’t leave them there and let them fall away, and leave branches like the one we had there up the road. They realise that if Cavan is doing ‘x’ amount per year then by God they need, they deserve, a building that reflects that. They’re not afraid to invest back into the company, which is great for everybody.”
Booming on-trade business over the last decade meant that spirits and beer were “an easy sell”, until multiple pub closures began to take their toll
Showing this confidence in the business concurs with Richard’s attitude towards his local wholesale operation. “I think there was such an emphasis on recession, on the doom and gloom, it did have an impact,” he says, although business has definitely picked up again in the month of July.
As confidence returns to the market, Value Centre and managers like Richard Hayes intend to be ready to forge ahead, understanding that long-term, sustainable business requires the provision of service that will enable a business owner to become more efficient in their own business.
“You want a cash & carry that cares about your business. OK, we’re in business too, but you have look on the customer as being a friend as well. You have to give them that friendship because what you want from them, they want from you."
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