Convenience gets the ‘wow’ factor

Centra Dobbin Road (part of the main Armagh Road out of Portadown) is the latest addition to the Woods Supermarket Group, which already numbers SuperValus in Richhill, Comber, Ballynahinch and the King’s Road in Belfast, as well as a Centra convenience store and forecourt in Tandragee.

The family bought the site, which then comprised a Costcutter forecourt shop, with adjoining restaurant and off-licence, three years ago and quickly gave the store an initial makeover in the Centra livery. However, from the start, a much bigger project was planned, as Philip Woods explained. “This is a two-acre site, with a huge volume of passing trade and a substantial residential base in the surrounding rural hinterland and we knew that to make the most of the acquisition, we would have to take the bull by the horns and start from scratch with a complete rebuild.

NOT A TYPICAL C-STORE

It took the best part of two years to develop the plans for the site and get them through the planning process, so it wasn’t until the week before Christmas that preparation work on the site redevelopment began. “As the new store has been moved to one end of the site, the builders were able to prepare the ground works and build the new structure while we continued to trade out of the existing store,” said Philip. “We didn’t actually have to close until 7th March in order to remodel the forecourt, build the new restaurant, which is now a separate building, and complete the groundworks, as well as fitting out the new store, but we were open for business again just eight weeks later on 8th May.”

This is definitely not your typical forecourt convenience store – you may know exactly what it is but it looks very different, almost like a Swiss chalet with its metal wood effect cladding on the exterior walls and sweeping arched Kingspan roof which ends with a bullnose curve. On the road side of the building is a clock tower, with three large clock faces facing the different approaches – an unusual and useful feature.

Huge windows at the front and sides let you see into the store – and right through, as the rear wall also has windows at the top. And that is an indicator of one of the biggest differences in Woods’ new Centra – but more of that later!

MODERN AND CONTEMPORARY

“This is what we had envisioned – a top-end convenience store that could cater for both the high levels of passing trade, as well as people living and working in the local area,” said Philip. “Our catchment here is quite different to Tandragee, which is on the edge-of-town much closer to large housing estates and, while on a busy road, there is not the same volume of vehicles, so the store layout had to reflect that, with Dobbin Road more focused at the front on quick in-and-out impulse shoppers, though we cater for all needs, with a product range that can accommodate full basket or even trolley shops.

“With our new shop, it’s design structure and looks, we wanted to give our customers something different, something very modern and contemporary, right of the 21st century that would encourage them to stop and come in,” continued Philip. “We have worked with architect Jim Menelly from Carmen in Coalisland before. Jim is a specialist in convenience stores, fully clued in to the latest trends and developments and he certainly hasn’t disappointed with Centra Dobbin Road.

“Working closely with the store development team at Musgrave Retail Parntners on the latest in Centra imagery and store fit-out, Jim’s design is not only aesthetically very pleasing, but also meeting our requirements for improved energy efficiency.”

CREATING DRAMATIC EFFECT

That brings us back to one of the biggest differences in Centra Dobbin Road to the vast majority of convenience stores and supermarkets – no suspended ceiling and strip lights. Instead, the interior is like a huge atrium, with the vaulted ceiling being the structural beams and inside of the Kingspan cladding. Thorn lights hang from the beams, a nice feature in themselves, but also providing illumination that is less harsh than strip lights. They were suggested to us by local electrical wholesaler, Walter Mercer, and they are much more dramatic and attractive than strips.

“While the vault is an interesting and different feature in itself, because we don’t have a suspended ceiling, which in itself is expensive to install, we have been able to maximise the use of natural light at front, side and rear, which in itself is substantially more energy efficient as we need less artificial light. In fact, to have gone down the traditional route of suspended ceiling and strip lights would have cost three times as much to do in light fittings alone, while we estimate the amount of natural light coming in makes it 70 per cent more energy efficient to actually light the interior,” explained Philip.

ENTERTAINING THE CUSTOMERS

Located on such as busy road, which is the main road for people travelling to and from Monaghan and Cavan, as well as being the primary route for people going to Craigavon Area Hospital which has a huge catchment, food-to-go was planned as an important feature of the new Centra. We already have a hot food-to-go offering at Tandragee, but here at Centra Dobbin Road we have taken that offer to another level to include a deli/sandwich bar,” said Philip.

“Bearing in mind that many people are tired sitting in their cars and want to stretch their legs, we have included two pedestal tables at the food-to-go area where they can stand and eat their food if they wish. At the same time, they can catch up on the latest Sky news or sports on one of the flat TV screens we have included in-store – one at food-to-go and the other beside the tills on the way into the off-licence.
“The thinking behind this is that if the store is very busy and people are maybe having to queue for service, if they have a TV to watch, it’s much more interesting than simply looking at the back of the head in front of you and two minutes passes much more quickly. It’s something to divert attention. It may be a bit gimmicky, but it definitely seems to work and down at the food-to-go area we see guys coming in and standing eating their sandwich or bacon buttie while chatting to each other about what’s on the TV.”

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