Ulster Grocer

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Centra Dunman, Cookstown

Going the extra mile, from double-height retail space & supersized parking to securing the first forecourt partnership with cult local ice cream brand Nugelato, has resulted in instant success, co-owner Peter Conway tells Alyson Magee

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Trevor Magill, managing director, Musgrave, with store owners Declan Conway, Martin Conway, Daniel Conway and Peter Conway.

Trevor Magill, managing director, Musgrave, with store owners Declan Conway, Martin Conway, Daniel Conway and Peter Conway.

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Trevor Magill, managing director, Musgrave, with store owners Declan Conway, Martin Conway, Daniel Conway and Peter Conway.

Creating a spacious, visually impressive store and forecourt to draw in shoppers was a goal for the Conway family when embarking on their first foray into the grocery retail sector.

Brothers Peter, Daniel and Declan have business interests in amusement arcades and property, and previously rented out the site to a tenant retailer.

Identifying an opportunity to redevelop the large plot and realise its potential, the brothers decided to take on the challenge with invaluable support from their extended family circle.

And the move has rapidly paid off, with Centra Dunman reaching its sales projections for five years on mere weeks after opening in April, while also by chance garnering the honour of the 100th Centra store to open in Northern Ireland.

“We knew the size of the site wasn’t being utilised beforehand,” says Peter. “There was another station here and it was stuck right bang in the middle. It didn’t do the site justice.”

From conception and planning approval to completion of the build, redevelopment of the site took around 18 months, with the brothers managing sub-contractors themselves.

A priority was moving the shop to the back of the site, to create a spacious forecourt with easy access to facilitate lorry parking and 44 car spaces.

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“We needed lorry lanes as letting them mix through other traffic would be chaos for everyone,” says Peter. “So, we made it as accessible as possible for lorries and, for everybody else, we put in three-metre carparking spaces.

“Your standard space is 2.4 metres, so we could have crammed in more but decided not to. There’s no point in putting three, four more spaces in when you can make it easier for people, and I actually think it’s a unique selling point.”

Already well utilised, the forecourt space will be able to handle increased traffic after completion of the planned A29 Cookstown Bypass.

A total of £1.4m was invested in the project, with support from Centra brand owner Musgrave Northern Ireland and forecourt partner LCC Oil’s GO brand.

The new shop features around 2,000 square feet of retail space, much of which is double height for the wow factor, while also leaving some first-floor office space for the Conways’ business interests. Being onsite allows the brothers to ensure shop standards are maintained day to day.

FOCUS ON DELI OFFER

Laying out the shop, the brothers’ ethos was to focus on the deli, and grocery will follow. Musgrave’s high-quality deli offer sealed the deal for the Conways when choosing a retail partner.

“They build the shop around the deli,” says Peter. “We have a transient site here and what we are aiming for is a really good deli spend. Musgrave got that.

“I think I’d been into every shop in the country, trying to do my homework, and noticed the quality of their deli offer with the standardised look and processes in place to get that bit extra out of them. We find the deli is the heartbeat of the shop.”

Around £85,000 has been spent on kit for the deli, including £12,000 on a machine producing high-quality chicken goujons from scratch for the hot food counter.

While a prepacked sandwich range is also stocked, Centra Dunman places the emphasis on its sandwich bar and has introduced Musgrave’s new chopped salad brand Green Kitchen.

“We’ve a gym across the way, and everyone is getting more health conscious,” says Peter. “It’s good to have other options as well as hot food.”

The high-profit-margin categories of coffee and ice cream are central to the deli offer, with Peter already a fan of Musgrave’s Frank and Honest coffee brand before entering the partnership.

With ice cream, the Conways made a fruitful decision to partner with the popular Nugelato brand, approaching co-owner Michael Nugent after Peter noticed how its Portadown outlet was always queued out the door.

The ice cream is supplied by Nugelato as a fresh vanilla mix, for finishing in Centra Dunman’s own ice cream machines before the signature lavish toppings are added.

“It’s taken off to a level of sales we never anticipated,” says Peter. “Nugelato has eight stores at the minute, and this is their first foray into petrol stations.

“There’s a lot of hype about the ice cream and the theatre it creates, and we’re actually doing sales similar to what their standalone was. Nugelato’s social media presence is quite high, about 60,000 followers, and we’re seeing people coming in and taking pictures of their ice cream and tagging the shop. It’s created a great buzz.

“When the shop would traditionally have a lull after 7pm, it’s bringing people in through the door and we’re getting great feedback about the ice cream.”

As many as 10 of the 35 full- and part-time staff are dedicated to the ice cream concession, “to give it the attention it needs and room to flourish,” says Peter.

Beyond the deli, the Asian-influenced Karri Kitchen and Musgrave’s new SimpliDish ready meal range prepared by Co Antrim butcher McAtamney’s are selling well.

“With the SimpliDish range, you notice the difference from a standard vacuum-packed ready meal,” says Peter. “You can tell the quality behind it.”

McCloskey’s Bakery and Corner Cakes are among other local suppliers, and the Conways will continue to boost their provenance credentials as they find their feet.

“We’re looking to bring in a few more local suppliers,” says Peter, voicing his support for community and supporting area businesses where possible.

Nugelato’s popularity has created an ideal launch pad for Centra Dunman’s Facebook and Instagram pages, with competitions to win ice cream vouchers and a year’s supply of coffee boosting interest.

Other promotional activity includes door-drop leaflets and ads in local newspapers while Peter, who is armed with a marketing degree, saw the value of maximising the visual appeal of the building and retail space.

“The reason we went for double height in the shop is we thought it adds a presence and the site markets itself in a way,” he says. “People are curious when they go past, think it looks nice and want to call in. Spending that bit more on the building to make it look more attractive, I think will bring more sales in off the back of it.”

As well as passing trade, the shop is attracting regular custom and social media interaction from the surrounding community.

When a lady living across the road reported her granddaughter’s keen interest in watching the redevelopment progress, the Conways invited the girl over as a ‘site inspector’ and ice cream tester the day before the official opening on April 20.

Will Centra Dunman be the first in a retail empire for the Conway brothers? Maybe in a year’s time when the first shop is well established, says Peter: “We’re young and hungry, and I can envisage us going on and up. Once you’re into retail, opportunities seem to arise and we’re willing to push on and go again.”


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