Judy Mercer, local shop owner & NFRN NI District president
WHAT IS YOUR CURRENT ROLE?
Owner/partner with my father Ray Hamilton in four businesses, all located in East Belfast.
BRIEFLY OUTLINE YOUR BACKGROUND
I first started in 1981 in a shop in York Street Station, Belfast after leaving university. It was a real day-to-day start to this new venture, where the first day’s takings bought the next day’s stock, until I was able to establish credit accounts with suppliers. We had a news bill and that’s what really got us going. We moved to our current location on the Cregagh Road in East Belfast in 1985 and, in 1990, purchased Cregagh Post Office, moving it to the current location in our SPAR in 1995.
WHAT DOES YOUR ROLE INVOLVE?
The day-to-day running of four busy businesses. I have a very hands-on approach in the business; ordering, serving the customers, doing rotas and all the other things that busy retailers have to cope with today.
WHAT ARE THE BEST/WORST PARTS OF YOUR JOB?
The best parts are the staff and customers. Over the last 35 years we have become like a family and, especially during these troubled times, we have all helped each other to get through. Many of our staff have been here from the beginning and I really would be lost without them. No day is ever the same and I will never get bored in this job.
The worst parts are the early morning starts and also that you are really never off the job, as many problems can happen even when you aren’t in work. Family life really suffers sometimes, as in this business you never know what problems will delay you in getting home. Retail is always challenging, but over the years we have learnt to evolve and have grown so that we are still in business today.
BRIEFLY OUTLINE A TYPICAL DAY
Start at 5.15am and open the newsagents, with the great help of my poor unpaid husband, Bill. At 6.15am help open our SPAR and get ready for the busy day ahead. The rest of the day is spent preparing delivery rounds for our extensive newspaper delivery service; sorting magazine orders for customers; ordering stock; sorting staffing issues and rotas; setting up offers and seasonal displays; the usual paperwork and, at the minute, trying to keep staff and customers as safe as we can.
PROUDEST MOMENT OF YOUR CAREER TO DATE?
The opening and refit of our SPAR shop and being asked to become district president of the NFRN in Northern Ireland. My father was elected to that same position in 1993.
BEST THING ABOUT THE LOCAL RETAIL INDUSTRY?
We have a great relationship with all of our suppliers – especially during the pandemic, they have been great. Within the Federation we have set up a ‘better together’ WhatsApp group, with about 15 members to date, who regularly keep in touch regarding problems in the trade or if they just need any information. We find that together we can help each other and never feel on our own.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE TO DO TO UNWIND AWAY FROM WORK?
I played wing defence for the Northern Ireland hockey squad, and now play wing defence or centre for my local club on a Saturday and cycle with my husband on a Sunday. I also like a good movie to relax – and the odd glass of wine.
TELL US SOMETHING ABOUT YOURSELF THAT NOT MANY PEOPLE MAY KNOW
I played netball for Northern Ireland until I went to university.