Where are the past ShelfLife Grocery Management Awards winners now?

Donnie Christian, Grocery Retail Manager of the Year 2019, celebrates with sponsor Owen Clifford of Bank of Ireland
Donnie Christian was named Grocery Retail Manager of the Year in 2019, pictured here celebrating with sponsor Owen Clifford of Bank of Ireland

As the deadline for the ShelfLife Grocery Management Awards 2021 approaches, we spoke to past winner Donnie Christian, formerly of Londis DCU. He tells us how his career has progressed since and explains why he would encourage those who are considering entering to do so without hesitation

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31 August 2021 | 0

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Donnie Christian, the former manager of Londis, Dublin City University was crowned Supreme National Grocery Retail Manager of the Year 2019. At the time, the judges said Christian had “created a template for best-in-class retailing that focuses on accommodating diverse customer needs, enhancing the customer experience, minimising the environmental footprint, and supporting more sustainable and ethical food production officially launching Ireland’s most technologically advanced and sustainable grocery store, in the heart of the Dublin City University (DCU) campus.” High praise indeed but utterly deserved as Christian is now well known as one of the most hard working and dynamic managers in the grocery industry. Aside from the personal attention the win brought, it also shone a light on Londis’ flagship store and motivated the staff to win nine further awards that year.

We asked Christian a few questions about what the win meant to him and where he sees himself in five years from now.

Q: What did winning the ShelfLife Grocery Management Awards mean to you? 

A: When I was interviewed after the awards ceremony, I remember saying that it felt like vindication for all of the hard work and sacrifice that a career in retail management can bring. It also felt like vindication for the support various fantastic colleagues and managers had given me throughout my career. The night I won the award I couldn’t sleep. My head was spinning with how surreal it all was and I was going through so many emotions. The whole occasion felt like a whirlwind.

Now when I look back on winning the award, I realise that it was also vindication for the teamwork, the tough decisions, the risks and determination from all involved. It was confirmation from the industry that the journey Londis, BWG and DCU embarked onto produce the country’s most technologically advanced sustainable convenience store was a trip worth making and that although we had forged a new path to travel down, it was the right path and one that others could now follow.

Q: Do you think it made a difference to the team around you in terms of morale?

A: During the planning of Londis DCU, the aim had always been to be high profile and try to be a finalist in as many awards as possible. At the time there was so much technology and new processes and procedures for the staff to come to terms with, and I was still introducing more systems and advantages of that technology throughout the year to the team. For any staff that would have been difficult. Winning at the ShelfLife Grocery Management Awards, galvanised the team to give them the belief that all of the hard work to implement so many systems was worth it. It gave them confidence that we were setting new standards. It made them proud to be part of this project. Whenever we received visits from the industry you could see the pride in the team when they were interacting with visitors, desperate to show off what they were accomplishing on a daily basis.

Key to winning was that it set the team up for something that was just as important, winning the ShelLife award gave us the backing of the retail industry. However the team had to step up again. How could we call ourselves the Londis flagship store if we didn’t win the Londis store of the year? I believe the experience of the ShelfLife awards set the team up to go one better. They produced two of the highest audit scores ever received to win the Londis Store of the Year. By the end of that first year in total the team had won eight awards and passed the EIQA audit!

Q: Did it change your career ambitions?

A: At the time it gave me confidence to push on with what I was doing in my current role. In total in the space of 18 months, four stores were opened, two of which I opened on the same day! Other plans were put into place for other retail opportunities, however Covid happened and the pause button was pressed. The win had also opened my eyes to other parts of the industry. I was making connections on a daily basis and now industry leaders were asking my opinion, which was very flattering. The success of winning and the success of the Londis DCU project had shown me that in my own way I could make a difference in retail.

Q: Can you tell me about your new business?

Albyn Retail Consultancy offers a tailored service to suit retailers of all sizes

A: My business was set up as a way to make a difference and directly impact retail standards. Covid has been a nightmare, I was directly affected as the universities were shut down, so was the on-campus retail and I found myself redundant. However, I still wanted to be involved and to share my experience and knowledge where possible. Therefore setting myself up in business was a route that became obvious. My company Albyn Retail Consultancy offers a service that can be tailored to any retailer no matter how large or small. Bespoke audits can be carried out and then action plans are built to help improve the business and the retail offering. It can be as hands off or as hands on as the retailer wants it to be, helping with all aspects of the business from category management to customer flow, from process and procedures to profit and loss. The aim is to unleash retail potential!

Q: What has been the highlight of your career to date?

A: I could say that it was the success of the Londis DCU project or the winning the ShelfLife Supreme Grocery Champion award or even setting up my own business, however I am going to say that over my time in retail especially in Ireland, I have made connections with suppliers and teams that I can now pick up the phone to and they will answer, because I have no longer just have connections, I have friends for life.

Q: Where do you see yourself in five years time?  

A: If Covid has taught us anything it is that whilst having a five year plan is a necessity in business, it is just as important to have a contingency plan. Either way I would like to still be doing my bit to improve and impact retail in any way that I can. Whether that is with my own successful business or back in the frontline, I’d be happy to be doing either. I love being my own boss, but I would be just as happy developing new ways of retailing for another symbol group.

This year’s ShelfLife Grocery Management Awards 2021 are going to be held in person on 30 September at the Royal Marine Hotel in Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin. For more information on entry or sponsorship go to www.groceryawards.ie.

For information on the services Donnie Christian’s company offers visit www.albynretailconsultancy.com.

 

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