Building for the future…with Mace

Businessman Declan Hoey, switched a career in the building trade for life as an independent retailer in Belfast at the turn of the millennium. He’s never regretted the move, he says, but like most shopkeepers these days, life is not without its challenges and he adds, its opportunities. He’s been talking to NR about his time in retail…

A builder by trade, Declan Hoey has an eye for spotting the potential in a project. He undertook his first venture in independent retail in 2000 when he bought a small convenience store and forecourt operation on Finaghy Road North in Belfast.

zdFifteen years later, Declan, is proprietor of a trio of successful Mace outlets in the city and he’s convinced that the decision to shift into retail was right for the family business:

“I never regretted buying the stores,” he told NR recently. “Like everyone in business, we’ve had our ups and down, but it’s been good to us and I really enjoy what I do. There are definite challenges and our margins are constantly under pressure but there are also opportunities, if you know where to look.”

Declan, acquired the Finaghy Road North site – known as Moneen Filling Station – from relatives in 2000 and at that time, it consisted of a 600 sq. ft. Day Today outlet with an adjoining forecourt operation. He upgraded the business in 2005, expanding the premises to a 1600 sq. ft. Mace store with adjoining Solo forecourt. In May 2015, Declan decided that the time was right to modernise again, this time he was one of only two retailers to showcase the brand new Mace store format and offer.

sMace produced the substantially new store format and offer following extensive market research it had done across Northern Ireland. The new format and offer is designed to cater for changing customer needs and consists of a slick new store design and hugely enhanced ranges.

“We saw the potential in the new Mace format and we knew we had to do it,” recalls Declan. “The business was doing well but we knew we could up the turnover and we wanted to move with the times and keep everything up-to-date.”

Declan added: “We already had a good offering but the new Mace proposition gave us a lot more options and would help us to maximise our return. The new shop format is a lot brighter with new colour schemes and signage making the shopping experience easier and better for our busy shoppers.

“We installed a new Mace ‘destination’ self-serve dock near our food-to-go area to increase efficiency. This was fitted jwith a new digital coffee machine that offers a selection of bean-to-cup coffees, speciality teas and hot chocolates. The real attraction of this dock is that it helps with upselling. The milk dispenser is situated below the unit, freeing up space to display bakery produce. We were then able to maximise proximity sales by introducing ‘linked deals’ of coffee with pastries or confectionery.”

The dock helped to increase efficiencies at the hot and cold deli counter too with a self-serve area for porridge or soup – this freed up space at the deli counters allowing for increased sales and better staff productivity.

Declan went on: “We introduced a new in-store bakery and we now have bread and pastries baked fresh daily in-store on top of our normal range. Mace advised us to bake little and often, so there is a steady stream of fresh bread for customers and very little waste. I have received nothing but positive comments from my customers with a big increase in sales.”

iFood-to-go is a big driver of sales on this site, which is surrounded by houses, businesses and schools.

“The deli operation sits right at the heart of the business,” confirmed Declan. “Everything here is built around the food-to-go and it’s very busy all the time. We sell a strong mix of hot food, fresh salads, sandwiches and so on and most of it is prepared fresh here on the premises. We’re kept very busy by the kids in the schools nearby and there are lots of houses around us here which means lots of regular trade.”

With the new Mace offer, Declan has been able to increase the size of both the hot and cold deli areas with a new offer in both. The store also added new ready to heat and ready-to-cook meal solutions and fresh meat ranges in new chill units. These have been performing very well so far – especially the meat range.

Elsewhere in the store there is a strong, conventional offering of fresh, ambient and frozen goods. There’s an ATM on the forecourt and the shop offers Lottery, DCI fuel cards and automated bill payment.

Moneen isn’t Declan’s only retail concern. Buoyed by the success of the Finaghy Road North venture, he bought a Mace on the Ormeau Road in Belfast five years ago and another on the Stewartstown Road a year after that.

“Retail has become the big thing for us now,” he says, although he also admits that in recent years, the pressure from discounters such as Lidl has intensified quite considerably– that’s one reason, he adds, that the food-to-go trade has become so critical to the success of Moneen.

uNot surprisingly, Declan says that going forward, much of his focus is going to be on developing the food-to-go business at Finaghy Road North, but improvements at the other sites are also in the pipeline.

“It is early days but the new Mace format seems to be going down very well with customers,” he confirms. “Footfall is certainly up as a result. We’ll have to wait until the end of the quarter to get a better idea of what it’s actually done for us but all signs are positive.”

And of course, reducing costs remains a primary objective.  As part of the Mace refit he recently fitted low-energy LED lighting on the canopies at all his branches, resulting in “massive savings”:

“Initiatives such as this are crucial to staying ahead in the present environment and we’ll be looking at more of this kind of thing as we go forward,” says Declan.

Mace sales director Trevor Magill, told NR: “We’re delighted with the new Mace proposition and how it’s been delivered in Declan’s store in Finaghy Road North in Belfast and in Mace Kilrea. These stores showcase the best of what Mace can now offer and provide a good platform to further develop the brand in the years to come. Retailer reaction from existing customers, as well as a significant number of retailers trading with other wholesalers, has been tremendous and our main challenge now is in keeping up with demand for refits and stores wanting to join – this is a really good challenge to have and one the team is looking forward to meeting. There has never been a better time to join Mace!”

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