A classic go-to

McCullagh's Classic Service Station

Neighbourhood Retailer catches up with Jonathan McCullagh, owner of McCullagh’s Classic Service Station to find out how the site is performing after its spectacular redesign.

While many would say location is everything, carving your own niche in the market certainly helps, and McCullagh’s Classic Service Station on the Dromore Road leading out of Omagh has excelled in both.

It was Terence McCullagh, and his wife Breige who started retailing on the site 26 years ago which is now run by their sons Jonathan and Terry, although Terence hasn’t completely given up the reigns, Jonathan tells Neighbourhood Retailer.

“My brother Terry and I have been in the family business from a young age,” Jonathan says. “I know I’ve been involved since I was no height – it’s what we have done all of our lives.”

The McCullagh’s Classic Service Station is unrecognisable from what it was two decades ago following a complete refurbishment in 2016 where the site was knocked down and rebuilt to 5,000 sq ft encompassing a Spar store and Go forecourt.  Jonathan reports that sales have quadrupled and the site has been performing at an exponential rate exceeding all expectations. “Before we were massively overtrading – we had a 1,000 sq ft shop and small forecourt in a really prominent position. We saw the opportunity to expand, to do a complete knockdown and rebuild the site to what it is today.”

Setting trends

McCullagh's Classic Service Station 5

Food-to-go has been a major part of McCullagh’s Classic Service Station’s success and was a category that the management team aimed to target from the beginning. “It is an area that we focus on heavily,” says Jonathan. “The store was redesigned so that food-to-go would be the main focal point for customers entering the site.”

Indeed it is, with a large deli, hot food counter, and ‘Chippy’ concession drawing the customer’s attention immediately on arrival.

“We are constantly coming up with and trying new ideas in order to keep up with trends and keep one step ahead of competition – customers love trying the latest trends and the market is definitely shifting towards healthier food options on-the-go. The gluten free market is an area of growth also, and it’s important to be ahead of the curve,” says McCullagh.

It may sound simple, but providing a healthier selection is how this Omagh service station finds its point of difference being so close to fast food outlets Mcdonalds and KFC, alongside multiples Asda and Lidl.

“If you create good quality homemade fresh food with a healthy twist that seems to be what people want and that sort of model has worked really well for us,” says Jonathan. “We are trying to update, to diversify, and follow the trends – even try and create the trends ourselves. Within this area we would be known as the place to go to try something different.”

All new product lines and promotions are launched on the store’s social media which McCullagh’s Classic Service Station uses to enhance customer engagement. “We have over 10,000 likes on our facebook page and it’s updated daily. It’s a great way to interact with our customers and the feedback and response we get is huge,” says Jonathan.

Not every new idea is a success he remarks, but it all comes down to trial and error. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained, and you have to continue to come up with new ideas – to keep your customers interested and yourself relevant.”

The store boasts a 40 strong seating area which is especially popular with lunchtime diners as well as customers throughout the day. “It’s casual dining,” Jonathan explains. “But it saves our customers from having to sit in their car and contributes to why lunchtimes are so busy,”

With a full production kitchen onsite employing a team of chefs, Jonathan and Terry have had some help coming up with ideas for their diverse range. All food is made from scratch each day which Jonathan remarks, “you can really tell the difference.”

In addition to a vast selection of food-to-go choices, McCullagh’s Classic Service Station also has an innovative own-label range of take home meal solutions that are made fresh in the onsite kitchen daily using local ingredients. “Anything that we produce for the food-to-go counter is also available for the customer to take home that evening from cottage pie to lasagne, chicken korma to mash potato – we create hundreds of products in that range. Again, this sets us apart from our competitors as our McCullough’s range isn’t available anywhere else.”

Based on the strength of their food-to-go offering, often customers who are popping in for their lunch will pick up a McCullagh’s ready-to-heat meal for that evening’s dinner increasing their spend in store. “Our customers know they are receiving a quality product,” Jonathan says. “Our own-label range isn’t your typical bung in the microwave ready meal. It is all fresh, homemade products produced on site that day.”

Happy staff, happy customers

McCullagh's Classic Service Station 3

While many retailers find that staffing a fully functioning kitchen can be difficult, Jonathan believes there is no better way to advertise your business as an attractive place to work than word-of-mouth.

“We like to think that we have a really modern kitchen environment and every time we advertise we get lots of applications. You have to get the right person for the position and sometimes that can be challenging but we have a fantastic team of staff.”

Team bonding events and staff night’s out help to raise motivation, Jonathan says. “We also invest heavily in staff in terms of training and courses to help them maximise their potential. We like to offer our staff clear paths to progress their career.”

Delivering excellent customer service is an integral part of the culture at this site and this too can help retail employees. “We are really fortunate to have some extremely talented and motivated staff members who are key to our success.”

With a range of multinationals all within 100 meters of the site, Jonathan and Terry focus on what they can do better or different to the competition. The store’s extensive food-to-go range is complemented by a modern grocery offer and a 24 hour forecourt which has developed a reputation for having the most competitive fuel prices in Omagh. “Our Go forecourt is a huge footfall driver to our store,” says Jonathan. “The branding is bright and eye-catching and Go’s marketing service is first class. Offering home heating oil and a 24 hour pump has definitely helped to enhance our site offering.”

Some may think that after the recent redevelopment, this outstanding store might take some time to consider their options, but already McCullagh’s Classic Service Station is working on a new project to enhance its appeal. “We are currently undergoing a major redevelopment to buildings adjacent to our store.

“This will create three additional retail units which will drive footfall to the site. Once the works are complete we will have a further 35 car parking spaces which will help to make our store even more of an appealing destination,” he adds.



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