Centra Annaclone – catering to the needs of their community

Centra Annaclone – catering to the needs of their community
Anna McPolin, Frank McPolin, Eoin McPolin and Sharon McPolin outside the revamped and rebranded Centra Annaclone store.
Having taken over an unbranded shop in Annaclone, outside Banbridge, Sharon McPolin knew that the rural community it served was deserving of bigger and better and set about creating an exciting, modern store.

Back in March 2021, the site on the Monteith Road in Annaclone was an unbranded shop with a Post Office and unbranded fuel pumps, open from 8am to 6pm and closed at lunchtime.

The 900 sq ft shop was located on a busy road on the outskirts of the village of Annaclone and the new owners knew that a lot of their customers were travelling out of the area for their shopping, either to Banbridge or Rathfriland. This set them on a path to creating a local store for local people providing convenience and top of the range products.

“We revamped the interior of the store and rebranded the site to Mace in conjunction with a new fuel supplier, Emo,” said store owner Sharon McPolin.

“We refurbished the forecourt with new signage, pumps and gantry. We widened the existing forecourt to accommodate, additional parking and changed our opening hours from 7am to 10pm, seven days a week.”

The new Mace store officially opened towards the end of March 2021 with a much-enhanced range which would help service the community of Annaclone.

“We introduced fresh fruit and veg, new chillers and chill range, hot food and Frank and Honest coffee,” added Sharon. “This package became very successful within the local community and we began to dramatically increase our footfall, our range and services in response to the needs and requests of our customers.”

After 12 months of trading, it become obvious that the shop was too small to give the consumer the true modern shopping experience they wanted, so Sharon and the team decided it was time to look at how they could redevelop the site.

Engaging with a local architect in 2022, they drew up plans for potential designs for the site in order to maximise their space.

“We upgraded our power supply to three phase in preparation for the new development, and planning permission was granted towards the end of 2022,” said Sharon.

“With the support from Musgrave’s Retail Partners NI, we set about planning the new shop and forecourt. Our sales continued to grow and we quickly realised that we needed to give a greater offering to the local community and therefore, it was a natural choice to rebrand to Centra as part of this redevelopment.

“We decided to rebrand to Centra to offer a wider range of products and promotions and tie into their epic deals whilst enhancing our fresh food offering in-store.”

The redevelopment got underway in 2023 with the help of McElhone Construction with a view to completing the redevelopment within an eight-to-10-week period. Sharon said it was a huge undertaking, with the store being totally rebuilt from the ground up, and increasing from 900 sq ft to almost 2000 sq ft.

“The main challenge of all this was continuing to trade whilst the store was turning into a building site,” said Sharon. “We were very fortunate that our builders McElhone Construction were sympathetic to our needs and made sure that our customers always had full access to the store.

“It was very difficult, but our customers stuck with us during this period.

“We also met considerable challenges with the weather, as the work was carried out during October and November. We remained open the whole time and continued to offer as wide a range of goods and services as we could until the store was ready.”

The store opened in its new format at the beginning of December 2023 with work completed within the planned scheduled timeframe. As part of the redevelopment, Centra Annaclone was able to further widen the car park, providing an additional six parking spaces.

The new store now offers a much-enhanced fresh food department with new refrigeration, freezers and fruit counter all linked up to an energy-saving PAC system.

“We put in a full energy-saving LED lighting system along with these new cabinets, which meant that the new size store is more energy efficient than our old shop,” said Sharon.

“To complete our blue footprint savings we linked up solar panels, the overall result being a reduction in our electricity usage.

“We added a new hot food bar and new cold deli, and we are now able to offer a whole food solution including Sunday carvery lunches. As part of the rebranding, we also enhanced our external marketing with new digital screens and forecourt signage.”

As a result of the store expansion, staff levels have doubled – with 16 staff currently employed, due to the new offerings and enhanced fresh food, and all staff are employed from within the local community.

“The rebranding means that we are now able to offer a full modern shopping experience for the community and in turn, it allows our shoppers to avail of their daily and weekly shopping needs without having to travel five miles either way,” added Sharon.

“The response from customers has been overwhelming and our sales have continued to grow in line with our projections.

“One of our key selling points for our store is that we are a local family-run business located in a busy rural area that supports jobs within the community and allows us to provide sponsorship to local projects, clubs and schools.”

Emma Buchanan, Kerry Johnston, Sharon McPolin, Eoin McPolin, Melissa McKinstry, Ben McGlade, Tish Rooney and Anna McPolin.

Family-run in the truest sense, the shop is co-managed with Sharon’s brother, Eoin, while her mum helps out with the cooking and deli commitments. Additionally, Sharon’s father has many years of retail experience and offers a huge input with support and advice.

A closely-knit community with a local GAA club and primary school, Annaclone is a village that takes great pride in and supports its own, and this was evident at the new Centra store on its launch day in March this year.

“Our launch day was very successful and brought with it new customers who have since continued to shop with us.

“Our customers have told us that our best aspect is our staff who are always friendly, helpful and in touch with each individual customer’s needs.

“The store development has been a much-welcomed boost to the local area and our customers tell us this daily. Anything they ask for we are able to provide and we continue to develop and grow the range in response to our local customer needs.

“We are continuing to look at future development of the store and what we can bring to our community to give them the complete offering.”