Virginia rising

McEvoy’s has gone through several transformations, from the original shop of just 600 sq ft to the vibrant 16,000 sq ft supermarket that stands today
McEvoy’s has gone through several transformations, from the original shop of just 600 sq ft to the vibrant 16,000 sq ft supermarket that stands today

Supervalu’s ‘Real Food, Real People’ brand centres on delivering the local, quality produce consumers increasingly want. We caught up with McEvoys in Virginia, County Cavan

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10 November 2008 | 0

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There was a buzz of excitement in the crisp October air, on a recent visit McEvoys Supervalu in Virginia, County Cavan. The town was gearing up for its second annual Pumpkin Festival that weekend, and McEvoys family supermarket was playing a key role.

A light in the community

McEvoys Supervalu was sponsoring around 400 odd pumpkins, which when the streetlights were switched off later that night would fill the town with a ghoulish glow. Community initiatives like this are nothing new to the local supermarket, which also sponsors local GAA, soccer and basketball teams. Its current owner Padraig is actually the third generation of McEvoys to manage the successful retail business, which has constantly differentiated itself through a strong community focus.

First opened in 1911, , in the impressive new Virginia Shopping Centre. The McEvoys made a multi-million euro investment in the shopping centre, and the supermarket has certainly benefited.

The store, which first partnered with Spar in 1990 and then switched to Supervalu last May, has more than doubled in size in the last 18 years. Now, Padhraig is looking forward to celebrating the centenary of this successful family business in just three years’ time.

“We’ll probably have photographs and various memorabilia from throughout the years” he says, explaining the plans for celebrating this significant milestone.

Sending the right message

The Supervalu ‘Real Food, Real People’ brand is a good match for this family business, merging seamlessly with the McEvoys’ community-minded ethos. The brand’s smart burgundy and white in-store messaging clearly communicates these values to customers.

On first entering the store through an airy foyer, shoppers see a large poster board with affable looking pictures of Padhraig and his wife Laura alongside a carefully thought out welcome.

“Thanks for choosing to shop in our store,” it states. “We take pride and care in bringing you the freshest produce and we buy locally where possible so you really know where your food is from.”

Corporate messaging such as this cleverly reassures consumers on the points on which the market analysts say they are increasingly concerned, such as food traceability and food miles incurred in the transport of their everyday grocery staples.

Keeping it local

However, it’s not just empty words. Over 75% of goods sold in McEvoys Supervalu are either produced or sourced in Ireland. And a tour of the store proves this to be the case, with appetising home-made treats from the likes of Youngs and Kells in Kells, and Mill Cottage Cakes from Mullagh, in County Cavan. What’s more, Musgrave says that the total purchases of Irish goods and services made on behalf of its retail partners in Supervalu, are worth over €2.9bn to the Irish economy every year.

Walking around the shop, more posters enhance the store’s friendly community atmosphere. For example one reads, “If you need any help in our bakery department or have any questions, I’ll be happy to help you. Just ask Sheena.” And beside it, a photograph of the staff member in question so customers know who to look out for; a nice touch.

Padhraig feels the experience of his staff is also a considerable boon for the store. The butcher counter for example, employs four full time, experienced butchers which Padhraig says gives the customer “a certain confidence.” Again, this also reflects that McEvoys is a third generation retailer, with more of the feel of a traditional butchers shop than a large multiple’s offering. The in-house butchers can advise customers on the product range or different cuts of meat with authority, having trained as full-time butchers for several years. Padhraig notes that the head butcher has over 15 years experience in butchery and has worked at McEvoys for 12 years.

The store is able to offer an impressive range moreover. “We could get quail or alligator meat in if a customer wanted it,” says Padhraig, who could source these more exotic products from Pallas Foods.

Vibrant variety

However, the variety on offer is not just limited to the butchery. The store also has an excellent fresh fruit and veg selection, a range of exclusive breads in its bakery department, and a well-stocked fish counter. Padhraig explains that the store also has always had a wide stationery range which performs well, situated nearby the in-house post office, making McEvoys a true one-stop shop. 

The baby foods category is another strong performer, Padhraig tells me, with a large number of young families in the area. I also notice an emphasis on healthy products, with a stand stocking ‘natural foods’ such as bran, muesli and oatmeal. The store also has a dedicated section for gluten free and nut/wheat products featuring brands such as Kelkin and Bunalun, for which Padhraig comments there is definitely a growing demand.

Innovative features such as a “cooks’ ingredients” section also make it easier for budding home chefs to find what they need; further cementing Supervalu’s “Real Food, Real People” brand.

Staff are also well trained in the importance of maintaining the store’s community ethos. “The old adage “the customer is always right” is definitely true,” says Padhraig and it’s all about “instilling that in the staff too. All our staff here are from a six mile radius within the local catchment area, so they would know people here and can interact well with customers.”
Of the 60 staff employed at the store, including 35 full-time and 25 part-time employees, he notes that “the bulk of our core staff have been with us 10 years plus,” a staff turnover record of which he is understandably proud.

Strong value image

But although Padhraig feels the store “has the edge” in terms of service over more impersonal multiples, is he worried about losing trade to the multiples and discounters? Especially now, when media and anecdotal accounts are awash with tales of shoppers once too embarrassed to be seen in discounter aisles, now happily snapping up continental bargains?  
“Of course, the discounters are there, Lidl is in Cavan and Navan,” says Padhraig.  “But under the Supervalu banner we have a much stronger chance of fighting the multiples and discounters. Our value image is very strong.”

Confirming this statement, a trolley stands outside the front of the shop, filled with goods from Supervalu’s Nice Price range, underneath the sign, “all this for under €30.” This price-conscious range offers the likes of a two litre bottle of still water for only €0.27, to give just one example of the broad variety of everyday items available.

With the ability to deliver on both price and local produce, Padhraig is not overly concerned  about the impact of recession on the store’s performance. He actually finds it is hard to quantify the effects of the recession, as since the store’s expansion, he says, “We’re trading very well and have had a large jump by about 20%.” In fact when asked about his concerns for the future, he says it is the things a retailer can’t control which would concern him most, such as the possibility of shoppers crossing the border to avail of a favourable exchange rate; Eniskillen being not too far away. 

However in terms of any day to day bugbears, he doesn’t appear phased by the rigours of the trade. “You get on with the job,” he says. “There will be lots of problems but they’re manageable.”

Store satisfaction

Padhraig certainly has the experience to deal with any issues that might come his way, having first joined the family store, which his parents are still involved in, straight after school. Like most retailers, he is no stranger to early mornings. A typical day would start at 6.30am, with the store opening at 8.30am.

The busiest times in the store would be between 11am and 2pm; starting up again when schoolchildren start coming in between 3pm and 7pm. When asked what his favourite and least favourite tasks are during the day, he thinks for a moment.  
“I can’t really say there’s anything I absolutely abhor,” he says candidly. “But definitely, the satisfaction of seeing the store looking well and closing up at the end of a good day is a great feeling.”

Looking ahead, he hopes to grow the business further. “There is space to extend the shopping centre and invest more in the community and in staff. It’s important that they go home feeling that they’ve achieved something. Ultimately, you never know what’s around the corner, but you strive ahead,” he says in an upbeat tone. 

 

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