Value Centre Dundalk: The Whole Package!
A visit to the brand new, state-of-the-art Value Centre in Dundalk provides a new angle on the wholesale sector, which is taking its cues from consumer-facing retail to transform the experience for busy business owners on the go, writes Doug Whelan
9 August 2017
On Ecco Road in Dundalk, above the town and adjacent to the old Harp Distillery, (now under the control of Teelings) the vast Littelfuse Building lay dormant for several years. For decades, it was home to electrical manufacturer Littelfuse, which had been a major source of employment in the town since the 1960s. When that company moved its production operation to China, the entire building was mothballed and fell into disrepair and the bite of the recession was felt in Dundalk, as it was everywhere else.
What comes around goes around, however, and now, following a major rethink and refit of the building’s operational capacity, the lights are on again. So says Fintan Smyth, general manager of the Value Centre that commenced trading late last year.
Around two years ago, the site was earmarked by BWG as a potential new site for a consolidated wholesale operation. The growth and evolution of retail meant that existing cash and carry outlets and wholesalers were gradually becoming unsuitable for their purpose. The traditional image of a wholesaler is one of dusty floors, low lighting, vastly tall shelves and a cluttered, industrial atmosphere.
Value Centre Dundalk could not be further removed from that image, and it’s clear the moment we arrive on site that Smyth is immensely proud of the store he runs, not to mention the staff he oversees.
“This is the most modern outlet we have,” he says. “Everything is brand new, including the entire floor.”
A new floor may not be the first thing we’re drawn to on a new store, but when the premises is a colossal 60,000 sq ft facility, then it becomes something of a talking point.
Come on in!
Of course, the floor is not the only eye-catching element of this store. Everything in it – in contrast to that traditional view of a wholesaler – is designed to welcome and entice the customer, and enhance the experience for them. Passing through the main entry, for example, on the left is a coffee dock with a stool seating area, with the day’s newspapers spread out for perusal.
“We had a very clear idea as to what layout we wanted,” says Smyth, who has been with the organisation for 12 years. “We wanted to create a pleasurable customer experience. The coffee dock was a key element of that.
“You have a lot of retailers who are working hard on running their own stores,” Smyth muses, “whereas in the boom time they might have been on the golf course!
“What we wanted was to create an atmosphere where they think ‘I fancy a coffee, so I’ll have one while I’m down at Value Centre’. We’ve a nice spot to read the newspaper, which gives us an opportunity to engage with the customer.
“The coffee dock becomes a meeting point of sorts,” Smyth says.
The customer experience
Just as consumer-facing stores are moving towards the customer experience in this era, so too are business-facing stores like Value Centre. And why would they not? As Smyth pointed out above, retailers are busy people. It’s a seven-day-a-week job for many, and as they work to serve their customers, so should the businesses next up the food chain work to serve them.
“It’s incumbent on us to create an environment that is welcoming,” Smyth agrees. “The key to what we do is people; we are people-oriented because if we don’t engage with our customers on a people level, and endear ourselves to them, we’re on a road to nowhere.
“Our industry is constantly evolving,” Smyth continues, “and it’s important to recognise those changes. With change comes opportunities and challenges. Our customers might tell us if they see an area we can improve upon; but some might vote with their feet.”
Returning to the topic of the physical store itself, another of its customer-oriented elements is the subtle design of its aisles. At the entrance end of the store, the shelves are shorter in height than one would usually see in a wholesale store. Smyth explains that these are another element designed to improve customers’ immediate perception of the store when they arrive.
“The rack ends are stepped back,” he explains, “which gives you a sort of panoramic view of the store. It means you don’t feel crowded when you walk in the door.
“Our checkout counter is a series of standalone pods,” he continues, “as opposed to counters, which create a barrier between us and the customer.
“In short,” Smyth says proudly, “we had something of a blank canvas with this building. Some things are as we have always done them, while some we felt we could improve on. And that’s exactly what we have done.”
While Value Centre Dundalk is three times the size of its previous incarnation, it also holds three times the business. Along with the latter, two other stores were closed and consolidated into the Littelfuse building, those in Carrickmacross and Monaghan. Fintan Smyth says that changeover was a challenging time, but one that he and his staff tackled with enthusiasm and confidence.
“After we identified the site in 2015,” he recalls, “the merger was announced in February of 2016. There were eight staff in the Carrickmacross store, and we were delighted they were all able to remain with the business when it moved.”
The Carrickmacross store closed in September, but the new facility would not be ready for some time still, so the staff and its accounts were temporarily reassigned to the soon-to-be-closing Dundalk depot, managed by Smyth.
“The reason for that was not only so they could keep their jobs,” he explains of the shuffle, “but also the new building was going to be our adventure, all together. So it was a massive challenge to bring that business in on top of our own, but it had the desired effect and was one of the best decisions we made.
“When the new store was ready to open,” he says, “we all walked in as one group of people, one team. It wasn’t the new home of one business or the other, it was everybody together.”
Later, another branch of Value Centre in Monaghan closed its doors and was successfully folded into the new branch.
In total, Value Centre Dundalk employs 37 people, many of whom have been in the business more than 20 years. One individual has been 45 years in the business! “There’s a lot of knowledge in the room,” Smyth says, “a lot of history.”
“People who work here would have seen an entire generation of retailers come through the stores. The grandfather who passed his business on to his son or daughter who are now the owners and our regulars. It’s a really lovely thing to see.
“I still consider myself a newbie to it all,” he quips.
In short, the stars have aligned for Value Centre Dundalk. The old outlet had been trading for 50 years before the move, while the new building itself had been a major part of the town’s landscape for 50 years, since the Littelfuse days.
“The move really felt like we were taking a positive step towards the future,” he says. “The positive feedback we’ve gotten in the community has been fantastic.”
As the retail business changesand faces new challenges, thisnew form of wholesaler with arenewed focus on the customerexperience, is reinventing itsown corner of the business.
Who knows where it will lead!