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McFadden’s Specialist Newsagent, Strabane

Carving out its own niche, and a successful partnership with S&W Wholesale, are the secrets of success for McFadden’s as it celebrates 50 years of trading, owner Seamus McFadden tells Alyson Magee

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Shania MCafferty, Seamus and Terri McFadden, and Lorraine McLaughlin.

Shania MCafferty, Seamus and Terri McFadden, and Lorraine McLaughlin.

Damian Campbell, NI business development manager for S&W Wholesale. with Seamus McFadden.

Damian Campbell, NI business development manager for S&W Wholesale. with Seamus McFadden.

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Shania MCafferty, Seamus and Terri McFadden, and Lorraine McLaughlin.

“Fifty years is a long time,” says Seamus McFadden, owner of McFadden’s Specialist Newsagent in Strabane. “What an experience. It’s very seldom you would have the same owners for that long.”

Seamus’ father James opened McFadden’s in 1971, having previously managed one of the old Kelly’s shops which later became Stewarts and Crazy Prices.

After training as a chef at catering college, Seamus joined his dad’s business in 1980 and McFadden’s was redeveloped with a new build the following year.

“You didn’t align yourself back then, it was completely different,” says Seamus. “You were just an independent. Back in the early 1980s, we were supplied by the Irish Agricultural Wholesale Society just outside Derry City and other smaller independent wholesalers. But all of that has evolved and changed.”

McFadden’s partnership with S&W Wholesale dates back to the demise of a former supplier after they kept experiencing supply issues.

“S&W came in like a breath of fresh air and suited my model,” he says. “They don’t encroach on my well-established magazine business, and they are very supportive. I am very happy to have gone with them back then and together we have built on our relationship to what it is today.

“Their service and support are fantastic. The BDM regularly calls and offers sound advice each time to help better the store for my customers. The S&W team all seem to care about the success of my store and are very hands on to make it perform successfully.”

Originally adopting S&W’s Today’s symbol, McFadden’s moved over to its Nearby fascia this year and Seamus was impressed the wholesaler sent over two representatives who collectively spent five full working days assisting in the migration to the new symbol.

“S&W spent days tweaking the shop, which I’m grateful for as sometimes you don’t get a lot of time to see the obvious things that need to be done,” he says. Updates included new shelving and adding revenue drivers to the range such as a new increased section for hanging bags and £1 price marked bays.

“I was over-faced with count lines like a single Mars Bar or Crunchie but under-faced where the growth was,” says Seamus. “They came in, did that work, placed the order and I can see they were right.”

A NICHE IN SPECIALIST TITLES

A specialist newsagent, previously picking up such accolades as CTN of the Year, Seamus says while the sector is in decline, a market still exists for special interest magazines.

For newsagents, traditionally 80% of sales have come from 20% of the stocked titles. “Our little market is there within that 20%, so I’m quite happy to keep our six-metre bay of magazines,” he says. “It’s fairly lengthy, and you don’t see that so much now.

“Here in the north-west, Omagh would be the main town, but people drop in here and say they can’t get what they’re looking for anywhere else, should it be National Geographic, a Bloomberg Election Special or Archaeology Ireland.

“With Eason pulling out of Foyleside in Derry and even the fact we’re right on the border, and magazines in the Republic have VAT, we draw a bit of trade from all those neighbouring areas.”

More recently, Seamus has introduced another point of difference into his shop with a one metre-bay devoted to Games Workshop. After closing its own standalone shops, the Nottingham-based supplier of miniature wargames and models has been refocusing on a presence in newsagents.

“My interest in that came from selling what you call partwork magazines and a magazine called White Dwarf,” he says. “It’s a slow builder, just something different.”

Alongside its comprehensive range of specialist titles and the models, a further strength of the shop is its extensive display of greeting cards and gift bags.

“I have an inlet area with three metres of greeting cards,” says Seamus. “I would do well on cards particularly during Covid because card shops were forced to close. Greeting cards and gift bags would be another strong point for us.”

General grocery is strong, particularly baked goods, with suppliers including Gallagher’s Bakehouse and Highland Bakery just over the border in Donegal and Northern Ireland producers Craig Foods and Cottage Kitchen.

Laurence Kee, owner of Galgorm-based Cottage Kitchen, is an old friend of Seamus from their days together at catering college.

Ready meals are produced for the shop by a local butcher, while a local fishmonger sources salmon and trout from Killybegs for the chilled counter.

McFadden’s food-to-go offer features goods such as jambons, sausage rolls and bacon and cheese turnovers, all freshly baked in the morning alongside the shop’s fresh coffee machine.

50 YEARS OF TRADING

A further redevelopment in 1999 extended the shop to around 1,600 square feet with two manned tills. As was the case for many shops during the pandemic, Seamus has struggled with staffing availability but now has two full-time and seven part-time workers.

Evolving demand during the pandemic has also brought change to McFadden’s hours of operation. Previously 7am to 11pm, attracting later trade in party goers picking up cards and chocolate or locals piling out of a local bingo hall, lockdown brought an end to the trade and the shop now closes at 9pm.

“I found there was no need to be here until 11pm, it was labour- and energy-inefficient,” says Seamus. “I don’t think that’s come back. Covid changed it and people’s habits have changed with it. They all seem to be Netflix-ing in the house now.

“The High Street has changed so much since we started. The irony is back in the day when we had to live with the unrest, there was never a shop unit vacant. Now you go into every town and there’s shutters down everywhere.”

For Seamus, the worst experience in those 50 years was not the tumultuous times of the Troubles but in 1987 when the River Mourne overflowed and flooded the shop with 2.5 feet of water.

“It was in October when we had Christmas stock,” says Seamus. “I remember the police rescuing people from upstairs windows and I couldn’t get to the store until the water subsided and then coming in and looking at the mess. That was easily the worst experience I had.”

A highlight, meanwhile, of the last 50 years was Seamus’ cousin Brian McFadden making an impromptu visit to the shop when his band Westlife was at the height of its fame, causing quite a stir. “He always dropped in here, and just appeared one day when he was number one in the charts,” says Seamus. “It was unbelievable.”

Seamus is thoroughly enjoying the relationship with S&W and the service the team provides. “They understand me and my store,” he says. “I can’t fault their expertise.

“I am enjoying the new Nearby branding also and so are my customers. The external Nearby branding has really lifted the look and feel of the shop and customers have fed this back to me, saying how great it looks.

“For me it was a no brainer to take on their new Nearby brand. Straightaway I loved the name, as we are always nearby for our customers when they need us, and I loved the graphics internally and externally.

“It has done wonders for my store. I am looking forward to what the future brings for my store and the local community.”


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