Three generations of Hamilton's have worked at the recently rebranded Spar, Cregagh Estate, Belfast, Proprietor Judy Hamilton tells Ulster Grocer
Rebranded Hamilton's Spar, Cregagh Estate, Belfast
Rebranded Hamilton's Spar, Cregagh Estate, Belfast
Family has been key to the success of Judy Hamilton’s retailing operations from the start and, having recently waved goodbye to her long-established Mace fascia in favour of SPAR, the hands-on proprietor of SPAR, Cregagh is certain she has made the right choice.
“It was time to move on and, given the ongoing dynamic of the SPAR brand, typified by their recent 12 Deals of Christmas promotion – and with the advice of my family – we signed up with Henderson’s in the summer,” says Judy. “Of course, I took advice on what was a big move for us and my dad, Ray Hamilton’s opinion was a major factor. He still keeps a ‘watching brief’ although officially retired and we talked the whole thing through as did the other family members; most of whom have worked or still work in the shop.” It all started on York Street, in north Belfast, where Ray Hamilton ran the famous Baird’s Electrical shop, specialising in electronic amps and other sound and lighting equipment for the music industry. He heard about an opportunity in the then-busy, but since demolished, York Road Railway Station just across the road where a small CTN was for sale and asked his then newly-graduated daughter, Judy, if she would consider running it.
“It was tough times, given the Troubles and all that entailed, but I had a bash and starting trading with just the stock that was already in the shop – around £250 worth – and then used the takings to go along to the nearby Holmes Cash & Carry and purchase some more and that was the beginning, back in the early 1980s,” says Judy. The mainstays of the business were tobacco and newspapers, and it was through the newspaper wholesaling business side of things that a chance remark led to expansion. “I used to pick up the Ireland’s Saturday Night myself and met another retailer there, who happened to mention that his family might be selling their east Belfast shop and, in 1985, we took over the newsagents at Greenway, Cregagh Estate – famously home to football legend George Best,” says Judy. A few years later, Judy saw how important having a sub post office was to a business, and took over a post office near by. “That was soon followed by the purchase of the a J&J Hassletts shop on the same block, where we then relocated the post office,” she says. The company now employs around 35 full- and part-time staff. Among those who work or have worked in the shop are Judy’s son Stuart and daughters Katherine, Sarah and Victoria.
“This means that three generations are in the business and, although my granddaughter is only six weeks old and still too young even by our standards, I would hope to see another generation added in due course,” Judy jokes. The store has always focused on both family and community and Judy is pleased that no less than five of the staff have more than 20 years’ service, which she said is testimony to their faith in the business through sometimes difficult times. “Quite a number of employees have all been with me for over two decades, and most of the other staff is into double figures too,” she says. They are all from the immediate area too so that is doubly helpful as there are no ‘commuting’ problems for them – even at the worst of The Troubles – and of course they all know our customers personally, usually by first name. “That makes a big difference and we even get local people coming in on Saturdays to do a full trolley shop, as they are so used to the store and can’t be bothered with the supermarkets, of which there are several,” Judy says. Thanks to the power of the wholesaler, she is able to be very competitive too with the pre-Christmas 12 Deals promotion helping build trade, as just one example. The store receives six chilled and three ambient deliveries weekly with a huge trade in take-away coffee and hot snack food to kick-off each day. The business has seen its biggest impact from the introduction of Barista Bar. “Our in-store oven is going from just after 5am, ready for the 6.15am start and the Barista coffee machine is rarely idle with newspapers flying out each morning and daily staples such as milk and bread very prominent in trade too. “Unusually these days too, newspaper and magazine deliveries remain a large factor with several hundred still delivered weekly by a small and very loyal team of local schoolchildren; several of whom come in both at 7am to deliver before school and then return in the afternoon to take another round.
“We are consistently busy with older shoppers, school run mums and workers all coming in at different times of the day, picking up around tea time when people are coming home from work to discover ‘the cupboard is bare’.
“The main shop trades very well and is open to 10pm daily, including Sundays when we open up a little later. The change to SPAR in August has worked very well with our other shop, just
feet away being a smaller, traditional CTN complementing the overall SPAR offering.”
The CTN boasts the attraction of the Lottery, as well as a wealth of goods, with a whole wall of greetings cards and gift bags and wrapping paper, an extensive stationery selection, sweets and snacks galore – with even jars of Brandy Balls on sale – along with ice cream, soft drinks and a very large selection of magazines filling yet another wall.
Judy said that, while it is a long way from the original CTN at York Road, when stock was literally from hand-to-mouth, things have been advancing well. “For the future, we want to continue to trade here in the three outlets on the Cregagh Road. As this New Year dawns, I can safely say that the change to SPAR (and Vivo up the road) was the largest and most important improvement for many years.
“We will shortly be doing major changes and upgrades at our adjacent CTN and, hopefully, these improvements will continue to encourage our customers to shop with us not just in 2018, but also well into the future. “That may well involve the fourth generation of Hamilton’s. Hopefully the ‘dynasty’ will therefore continue and, given all the hard work all the family and loyal staff have already put in over the years past, I see no reason to doubt our continued success.”