Even executives from the GB-based multiples must be in awe of the evident success of leading Co Armagh independent store, Fiveways Supermarket, Newry.
Family-owned and run, the Armagh Road facility would be best described as a shopping complex, so large is the offering in this border city.
Colm and Brea Meehan took on the grocery store and forecourt back in 1988, when it had just two single petrol pumps and a small independent shop.
It later became a franchisee of Henderson’s SPAR for almost two decades before converting to Nisa, and really expanding exponentially in recent years.
Today, the complex employs over 200 full- and part-time staff, offers 24-hour fuel (using a payment card) and is open each day from 6.30am to midnight and from 7am to 11pm on Sundays.
There is a large, very busy car park, with 300 spaces and a truly incredible array of tenant stores – even boasting a wedding shop – and in-store the 10,000-square-foot core business offers a very busy, American-style diner; a hot food outlet that serves 700 (yes, 700!) dinners each Sunday alone.
Manager Frank Hagan says the store has really taken off under its new branding, leading to a number of accolades including Nisa’s Best UK Supermarket Store Award (2013), a listing in Northern Ireland’s Top 200 private companies in each of the last three years and a place on Investec’s Top 100 UK fastest growing mid-market companies in 2015.
This is an achievement of which the business is particularly proud, as it spans all mid-market companies across every sector in the UK, and reflects the commitment to innovation, response to customer needs and strong work ethic amongst the management and staff of Fiveways.
“Throughout all the developments, Fiveways has retained its local customer base,” says Frank.
“When the new A1 dual carriageway was built to bypass Newry, on the main Belfast-Dublin route, that pushed the traffic away from the store – which originally sat right on the previous trunk route south – but that didn’t really have an impact.
“We pride ourselves on not only price and value, but also on a very high quality in customer service and in using very large amounts of locally-produced produce, so we ‘give something back’ to the community as well.
“Despite increasing competition from the multiples in particular, Fiveways has maintained competitive prices, quality of product, excellent offers and superb service, year after year.
“Instead of two pumps, we now have four separate fuel islands, with two pumps each, as well as gas, solid fuel and other products.
“There is a barber’s shop, a hair and beauty salon, a pet food store, a bridal store, a pharmacy, an in-store off licence, butchery counter, bakery, deli counter, a hugely popular hot food facility and our American-style diner.
“While a bit smaller than the acres of store space in the multinationals, our level of convenience, with broad isles, well laid-out customer flow and quality, often home-produced products fills the car park day-in, day-out.
“People can pop-in for a few items or a trolley shop and won’t be left waiting in a long checkout queue. They will also be meeting local faces, amongst staff and management and be well aware they are supporting numerous local businesses through the range of fresh produce sourced by ourselves direct.”
The manager notes that Nisa does not dictate what the store can buy in: “We receive three ambient and four fresh and frozen deliveries each week from Nisa but are free to order local bread – and bake our own in-store – as well as red meat, poultry and other butchery products, and potatoes and many other vegetables sourced locally.”
Fiveways reflects its environment, sitting on the junction of several major routes, towards Newry, Camlough, Armagh, Tandragee and Belfast, it is very well placed for local and passing trade.
The original 1,500-square-foot store wasn’t anywhere near being large enough and, through the course of two major redevelopments over the past three decades, it now exceeds 10,000 square foot whilst maintaining its local touch.
Now joined by several other members of the Meehan family to keep the whole business ‘family-orientated’, proprietors Colm and Brea put a great deal of emphasis on continuity.
There are many long-serving staff members among the 200 employees, such as Michael Devlin, Deborah Hempkin, Andrea Eccles, Nicola Murphy and Mary McCone; all of whom are still employees and have each clocked up over 25 years’ service with manager Frank Hagan leading his ever growing team to further successes.
“We pride ourselves on this ethos,” says Frank. “That’s not something that is easily achieved and may be what the multiples are unable to copy.”
“The Nisa Best Supermarket Award in 2013 was a major accolade and recognised much of this strategy and the way we target quality service, good prices and an outstanding range of products.
“Much of that is down to the wholesaler, with Pat Lenaghan, our local Nisa manager spearheading a slick operation.
“Costs are very competitive, with recent offers that were Nisa-backed being quality wine for less than £5, branded Nutty Krust for just £1, Moy Park chicken breasts for ‘half price’ at £5 and many others under their own label.
“People love to shop locally and support local traders but the price still has to be right and I believe we have achieved just that at Fiveways,” Frank concluded, adding that the packed car park is testament to that.
The marketing ‘men in suits’ from the GB multiples may well have cause to catch their breath at the extent of this major supermarket complex, given an ever tightening level of consumer expenditure that sees even Tesco having to look to their laurels.
Speaking on behalf of Nisa, Pat Leneghan, head of Retail Ireland said: “Fiveways is a great example of independent retailing. The team has invested significantly in the store to ensure it is state of the art when it comes to its retail offer.
“Through this investment, the store has become a one-stop shop, now incorporating an instore bakery, sandwich bar and instore butchery as well as an impressive hot and cold deli, grocery department, off sales and fruit and veg department.
“The store is considered to be a celebration of food, with the team constantly refreshing the range of products stocked to ensure customers never get bored with the choice available. The store also encourages its customers to try new products through food sampling and promotions, allowing them to become more adventurous with food.
“The local community is truly at the heart of the store, everything from the design of the store to the products and services it offers is with the customers in mind. In addition to this, it supports many community groups and good causes so it can make a real difference to the local area.
“Further to this, through its participation in the Making A Difference Locally scheme, which helps to raise money for the local area through selling specific products instore, it has assisted several charities including Southern Area Hospice, Drumgath Ladies Club and Newry Citizen’s Advice Centre.
“They successfully provide their consumers with an impressive retail offer to challenge that of any multiple, but are truly community focused, which is a strong point of difference.”