High Fiveways – Neighborhood Retailer visits its Store of the Year

Fiveways Nisaextra in Newry scored an award hat trick at the October Neighbourhood Retailer Awards. Manager Frank Hagan reveals the secrets behind this super-successful store.

“Is it a good place to work?” we asked Fiveways Nisaextra manager Frank Hagan during our trip to the Newry store last month.

At the butchery counter is Paula Tumilty and Gerry Love

At the butchery counter is Paula Tumilty and Gerry Love

After a professional interview, it was nice to hear a colloquial slip from the long-term manager who has guided the store to spectacular success. “It’s lethal,” smiles Frank, who is known to the staff as ‘Mr Hagan’, a small detail that reveals much about the traditional heart at the centre of this proudly modern business.

At the polished glass of the slick deli counter, leading to the conveniently positioned (contactless enabled, of course) tills and self-service coffee station, staff greet each customer by name. It’s by no means uncommon among independent retailers – but this is a 10,000 square foot store. This is a store where footfall averages 37,000 – a week. This is a store with over 200 staff.

And the exchanges between workers and customer are not just customary; they’re meaningful conversations about family, about jobs, about life.

7v2a1282“This is a family-owned business so we think we’re still a real community shop,” said Frank Hagan, as we sit in the high-ceilinged office above the shop floor.

“The customers come in, and the staff have time for them. It’s part of the experience and keeps people coming into the store.”

The west-facing boardroom is saturated with light, which pours through Fiveways’ huge, idiosyncratically tilted windows, providing a wide-angled view on the Newry townscape it has served since 1988.

The building, an imposing mix of retro-futurist and art-deco design – softened by its enigmatic aquamarine – was completed in 2011. The store had waited patiently in a nearby unit (formerly a Starplan), before moving back into its hugely-expanded original site after the build.

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At the award-winning deli counter

It signalled a changing role for the out-of-town area, which once provided a rest stop on the then rickety road between Belfast and Dublin.

A swish motorway now whisks motorists to either capital, but the store has become the anchor for a sprawling commercial zone at the A27 intersection, complete with big brand accoutrement, including a Lidl and McDonald’s.

The store too bears a number of added retail units, such as Bridal By Seven and McCartan’s Pharmacy, each of which are leased by Fiveways.

It’s no less sprawling inside, with a colourful off-licence at one entrance, the aforementioned sweeping deli counter, a full butchery complement, a bustling Texaco forecourt, and a full scale – and apparently popular – diner.

“What is now the diner is where the original shop was sited,” Frank tells us. “But hot food and food-to-go was always a big part of Fiveways’ draw. Our customers used to be largely commuters on their way to Belfast or Dublin, buying their breakfasts.

Geraldine Cahill, with long-serving members of staff Andrea Eccles and Jennifer Hughes

Geraldine Cahill, with long-serving members of staff Andrea Eccles and Jennifer Hughes

“That’s changed now, but we had developed a reputation for our food, and the business has adapted to meet the demands of different customers.”

Not only has it changed, it has flourished, winning the prestigious Deli of the Year award during the October Neighbourhood Retailer Awards.

But their Deli of the Year gong was just one of the prizes Fiveways took home that night, winning the Neighbourhood Store of the Year Category 4 Award, and the overall Neighbourhood Retailer of the Year.

“To win three awards was fantastic,” Frank said. “We were all overwhelmed. It’s so great to get that all important recognition for the staff. We were also runner up in another two categories, so there were successes throughout the store.”

Staff at the refrigerated aisle

Staff at the refrigerated aisle

And Frank was full of praise for the diligence and dedication of the huge Fiveways team.

“The success at the awards was really all down to the hard work of everyone who have worked hard, not just over the last year, but for many years,” he said.

At 11am, the queue at Fiveways Deli is five or six deep, and moving quickly. People from all walks of life are choosing from a vast variety of dishes that range from the healthy salad to the traditional sausage roll.

For Frank, the now award-winning deli is central to the store’s popularity.

“We’ve been doing it a long time,” he said. “We have all the hot food, and lunchtime options, and great coffee and cakes. Everything is made here – nothing is bought in – and it’s all prepared from scratch.

“Originally, much of our food-to-go was targeted at passing trade, especially commuters passing through on their journey to Belfast or Dublin, but that has all changed now.

Working at the tills

Working at the tills

“People still come to the deli in the morning, but we’ve built upon its role, with many local workers coming into the store for breakfast, lunch, and even our take-home dinners are very busy especially at the weekend. We can serve over 700 on a Sunday.”

The store is also fending off competition from the iconic golden arches across the street.

“McDonald’s are a different market,” Frank said. “They’re a very successful company, but you can’t eat a McDonald’s every day.

“The deli is a lot of work, it takes up a lot of time and resources, but the people we have are very experienced and know what exactly what they’re doing.”

Fiveways location, just outside Newry’s dense commercial centre, is also proving beneficial amid the current political machinations. With currency markets still betting against a brilliant post-Brexit short-to-medium term future, the pound has fallen dramatically against the Euro.

This leaves Newry – the first major town over the border – in prime position to take advantage of Euro-flush southern shoppers.

“We’re starting to see more customers from the Republic at the weekends, and we expect it to grow,” Frank told us.

He explained the store is widening its itinerary of non-food and big ticket items to maximise sales from the powered-up currency, while the store is taking out ads in newspapers in the Republic of Ireland to broadcast their Euro-friendly bargains.

With a strong Christmas expected, Fiveways is planning to expand, making more space for their food-to-go counter and fruit and veg section.

the management team, including Frank Hagan (centre) with their trio of awards

The management team, including Frank Hagan (centre) with their trio of awards

According to Frank, the plans are being driven by demand: “It’s those areas of the shop that people are shopping more. People are short on time, and the trend is that less people are spending time cooking at home. But there is also this huge amount of interest in eating healthily, which is why fresh fruit & veg is doing so well.”

So far, their strategy has been working, and even saw the company enter Investec’s 2015 list of Top 100 fastest-growing mid-market companies in the UK.

And it’s rewarding for Frank that the store can sustain so much long-term employment for the area, especially as staff continue to work at the store over long periods. Frank himself has clocked up over 25 years at Fiveways, as have many of the store’s key personnel.

“We have plenty of opportunities – management roles, supervisor positions, and training opportunities,” Frank said.

“We try to promote people from within first, and help them work their way up. We invest in our people, and our store, and I think that comes across to our customers.”

The effect is a calm, friendly, inviting atmosphere, where customers and staff share a close bond in an environment dedicated to delivering a quality service.

It’s a store that has recognised that the value of the people within it is where success truly lies.

As Frank said, Fiveways is lethal.

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