High standards at Hughes

High standards at Hughes

Having recently completed an extensive redevelopment of their store, Hughes Foodhall Camlough received high praise at this year’s Neighbourhood Retailer Awards, securing the title of Neighbourhood Store of the Year Category 4.

Brother-and-sister-team Gerard and Grainne Hughes oversaw the works, which saw the store increase to a 16,000 sq ft supermarket.

The business was founded by their parents, Jim and Noreen in 1984 and the store has continued to grow year-on-year.

“Like my father, I am a builder and with my sister, Grainne, have taken a more hands-on involvement in the development of Hughes Foodhall in recent years,” explained Gerard.

“Our team here at Hughes Foodhall Camlough work hard to achieve consistent ‘best practice’ standards throughout the store and it was great to see the Spotcheck judges acknowledge this in their comments.”

Judges noted that the “thriving store is at the heart of the community and provided a fantastic range of products and services to local and passing trade”. “The merchandising was immaculate, and the friendliness of the staff created a great atmosphere in the store,” they observed.

Located on a very busy arterial route from Newry into County Armagh and beyond, Gerard said the store is situated in a “large catchment area” and draws customers from “far and wide”.

“We are always competitive on fuel pricing which helps drive footfall,” he said.

‘Our team works hard to achieve consistent ‘best practice’ standards’

Gerard Hughes

“Customers really like our award-winning foodhall operation with many remarking that we have a look and feel that is different to many of the more ‘chain’ like symbol and multiple operators that tend to look the same and have identical offerings.

“We have a proactive and empowered management team who we encourage to ‘get on with it’ with regard to initiatives that will drive and grow the business. We tend not to stand on ceremony in Hughes!”

The redevelopment of the Camlough store was completed in 2020, with the in-store butchery and deli doubling in size. In addition, they launched their own low-calorie count meal range, called ‘Trimmed’ which Gerard described as being “a huge hit”.

Then in 2022 they extended their car park by an additional 70 spaces, bringing the total car parking spaces to 150. They have also introduced new electronic shelf edge labels and self-pay tills into their off-licence which has almost trebled in size.

The deli and butchery departments are the key profit centres at Hughes Foodhall.

“They are our unique selling points. Whilst they give us a point of difference, they are labour and energy intensive and prone to waste. They therefore need to deliver a higher level of profit for the business. Our butcher Conor Austin and John in the deli focus on quality meal solutions for our customers and our regular footfall and sales are testament to that,” said Gerard.

Not one to stand still in the retail game, Hughes Foodhall doubled the size of its Food to Go section in their last renovation.

“John McConville, our chef, focuses on ‘made-on-site’ meal solutions for our customers. He continually rotates the range on offer to stop it getting boring. Our own low-calorie meal brand ‘Trimmed’ appears to appeal to all age profiles.

“Given the cost-of-living crisis, value for money is at the forefront of customers’ minds. This is driving growth in frozen foods and Co-op own label. We have increased our focus in-store on these specific categories with ‘feed the family’ meal deals increasing in popularity. We continue to see customers shopping more frequently, spreading their purchases across the week,” added Gerard.

‘The most rewarding part is the interaction with our customers’

As with so many others, Hughes Foodhall faced its own challenges over the last few years, feeling the impact of the Covid pandemic in its own way.

“We have traded well throughout Covid but costs have increased significantly and with staff isolating during the pandemic and now the difficulties of trying to get staff post-pandemic, retail is a rewarding but tough environment to be in,” said Gerard.

Currently employing 150+ staff, Gerard admitted that employing more staff is the biggest challenge they are presently facing, however they are constantly looking and working towards the future and finding new and innovative ways to engage with consumers.

“Social media is a huge footfall driver for our business. Radio and press advertising is decreasing in importance for us and we are actively ‘upping our game’ on TikTok and Instagram.

“We constantly engage with our staff about pleasing the customer on this visit to ensure they return for another. (The great Fergal Quinn of Superquinn fame called this, ‘creating the boomerang effect’, which is what we constantly try to do).”

With new plans in the pipeline for the business, technology continues to be a major game changer for Hughes Foodhall.

“Our back-office IT system is critical to ongoing business improvement,” said Gerard.

“Effective use of relevant sales reports is what keeps us focused on the priorities. Electronic Shelf Edge Labels, our automatic cash counting machine, self-pay tills, mobile phone apps to reduce food waste etc, are all changing the face of convenience retailing.”

However, despite all the changes in retail Gerard said the face-to-face engagement with the customer is one of the key experiences for both the team and staff.

“I think myself and Grainne are agreed on what is the most rewarding part of the job – it’s interaction with our customers.

“I like to spend time on the tills engaging with customers and staff alike, while Grainne spends her time between the deli and the shop floor. I think that between the two of us, we would know over 90% of our customers by name.”