Martin Mulligan, of Mulligan’s Londis Athlone in County Westmeath, has seen the town expand and change dramatically around his business over the past 30 years. The key to retail success, he suggests, is to stay versatile and adapt with such changes. With a forecourt, deli, post office and even a laundry service, Martin explains what he’s done to stay in tune with the times.
“Consequently, we ended up with plenty of space for parking and it also gave us the opportunity to open a deli.”
“We were once what you’d call a rural business – we provided a real service for the community, and it’s something we still do today. We completely demolished the store back in 2000 to comply with new legislation and it really gave us the chance to think about how we wanted our store to be designed,” says Martin.
Martin’s story is similar to many in that the deli has meant big business. “Ever since it was installed, we’ve seen year-on-year growth from our deli and coffee offering. We were targeting the building trade, workers looking for breakfast and sandwiches, and it’s performed really well, adding about 12% to business sales.”
Like the deli, Martin’s post office also added about 12% in sales to the business when it was installed 10 years ago. He explains that all these services help him to stay competitive in an area that is becoming ever more crowded with multiples and discounters. “There’s an Aldi, a Lidl and two Tesco branches near the store. They all operate unrestricted hours – it’s completely unfair in my view. It’s important that someone in government listens to the needs of independent retailers.”
Staying ahead with technology has also kept the business in good shape: “We actually introduced a scanning system back in the early 90s, through an initiative with the NFRN”, says Martin. “We were very ahead of the curve – one of the only stores in the area with that technology. It helped us to stand out from the competition for a long time simply because of the novelty factor.”
Although business is booming again now, things haven’t always been easy. Martin recalls the struggles of the recession and how his business was affected. “We lost about 30% of our trade at the time. We actually came out of it really well all things considered, but we had to adapt the business quite drastically afterwards; there had been three cash and carries in the area – and then there were none. We now rely on one delivery a week, which can be a real challenge. You constantly have to assess stock levels – knowing on a Sunday what you’re going to need on Wednesday for the rest of the week is a real skill.”
Now, Martin’s shop is back on form, and as part of Londis he’s also able to use the leverage of the brand image to promote it. “We make use of Londis’ promotional leaflets and also run plenty of in-store offers on everyday items to keep people coming back,” he says.
Seasonal offers also play a big part in keeping the store current. “We sell fire logs in boxes of 10 all year round, but trade certainly picks up around this time of year. I’m hoping to sell around 100 cases a week in the run up to New Year.”
With strong sales, expansion is on the cards, with plenty of ongoing and future initiatives designed to grow the business. “We’ve just had new pumps installed on the forecourt and our ATM is now 24/7, even when the store is closed. We’re also planning to completely renovate the inside of the store to give the whole place a facelift.”