‘Filling stations today are light years away from what they were’
You might have a preconception of a filling station store as a rather soulless pit-stop, filled with big brand groceries. But when it comes to Creightons of Finaghy, that image couldn't be further from the truth.
Amazingly, the south Belfast business celebrated its 80th birthday last year and has no intention of giving up its claim to be at the heart of the community in the urban village of Finaghy.
Not only has the business been championing locally produced food for many years, but managing director Niall Creighton says the business has always prided itself on its support of local good causes and charities.
"We're known now for our Christmas light switch-on with Santa every year, we're known for our Customer Appreciation Week every year and how we go the extra mile," he says.
"We have a reputation for the things we do at Halloween, Valentine's Day and Mother's Day, all things that help to grow the business and help our standing in the community."
The company was founded by Niall's father, the well-known WG Creighton, who came from a farming background and had also worked at Harland & Wolff shipyard.
"He went into the motor trade in the early 1930s at a different garage on the Lisburn Road and then bought the Finaghy garage in 1936 and that is still the headquarters to this day. It's now known as Creightons of Finaghy," Niall says.
But times have changed. "Filling stations are light years away from what they were 20 to 30 years ago.
"We cut our teeth with being repair people - there was an emphasis on car repairs with a couple of petrol pumps outside. That changed over the years, so first there was a small kiosk shop and then we had a bigger shop.
"Now it's nearly a full-blown supermarket."
Creightons of Finaghy remains a family business, owned and run by Niall and his sister Gail Boyd, and still includes a repair garage business and vehicle recovery service. But it has evolved to include a 3,000 sq ft Eurospar store with a delicatessen, post office, florist, car wash, Ticketmaster and fuel store that is open 24 hours a day.
And things are rapidly changing - in the last couple of years, the business has expanded to include a new store at Blacks Road which opened in February 2015 and another in Balmoral which launched one year ago.
The company took over an existing site at Blacks Road and carried out extensive work last year to get it to the same standard.
Meanwhile, conceptual plans for the Balmoral site had been on the go for many years but finally took off last year and the store is celebrating its first anniversary.
The business is proud of its links to the Balmoral Show which was held close by at the Kings Hall for more than a century, up until its move to Lisburn a couple of years ago. "We're interested in farming, we're interested in equestrian events and we've sponsored it for some time. And even though it has moved to the Maze site, we've continued our interest," Niall says.
"We're looking forward to the development that will take place at the Kings Hall, which is the new health village, and we think it's a good fit for the area.
"Currently the King's Hall is a sleeping giant and it will be nice to see it turned into something for the benefit of the community. It will be great for the area and great for business."
That interest in farming has extended to the store's food offering which features an emphasis on locally produced food by artisan producers and suppliers, some of whom have been displaying their wares at the Balmoral Show. Local products include names like Cavanagh Eggs from Co Fermanagh and Kennedy Bacon from Cookstown.
"Most people do it nowadays, but we were one of the trailblazers," Niall says.
Meanwhile, the company even provides meat from its own Co Tyrone farm through its butchery at the Balmoral store. "We have our own in-house butchery supplied with cattle from the family farm. We have a family farm in the Clogher Valley and the meat is processed and ultimately sold through our own in-house butchery through the Balmoral shop," Niall says.
The Balmoral shop also makes its own gelato which will soon be going on sale in the Finaghy store as part of a huge planned refurbishment this year.
"The store at Finaghy is about to undergo a fairly major refurbishment towards the end of August. It will be a makeover to bring it up to as good a level as the other two supermarkets," Niall says. "The shop will be dismantled inside and the floors, and ceilings, lights and shelving refurbished."
The ethos of Creighton's is always to try to satisfy the needs of its customers, Niall stresses.
- Next week, the Big Interview speaks to Lawrence Kenwright, chief executive of Signature Living