Ulster Grocer

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Landscape Filling Station, Belfast

An ambitious redevelopment of The Wall Group’s small Crumlin Road forecourt shop into a 5,000-square-foot statement store has been smooth sailing thanks to productive partnerships with the Henderson Group & project contractors, owner Helen Wall tells Alyson Magee

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Martin Agnew, joint managing director, Henderson Group; Helen and Gavan Wall; and Paddy Doody, sales and marketing director, Henderson Group.

Martin Agnew, joint managing director, Henderson Group; Helen and Gavan Wall; and Paddy Doody, sales and marketing director, Henderson Group.

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Martin Agnew, joint managing director, Henderson Group; Helen and Gavan Wall; and Paddy Doody, sales and marketing director, Henderson Group.

Seven years of patience have paid off for Gavan and Helen Wall, the husband-and-wife team behind the successful Wall Group which operates four SPAR stores and four Subways.

The wait was for planning permission to redevelop their Crumlin Road filling station, previously a 453-square-foot “glorified sweet shop” and now an architecturally striking 5,000-square-foot store with an eight-pump GO forecourt.

Focused on the North Belfast area, the Walls’ convenience store portfolio includes another SPAR forecourt operation, Rathcoole Filling Station, as well as SPAR Ardoyne and SPAR Whitewell.

Before getting into the retail trade, Gavan was a barrister and Helen an accountant, working as a financial controller for another retail group and later in banking, financing investment in shops.

“I remember as a retail accountant saying, gee, if somebody handed me one of these stores on a platter, I would hand it back to them,” says Helen. “Twenty years later, I’ve gone full circle.”

Helen only entered the family business full time a few years ago, allowing Gavan to take a step back from retail operations.


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A SMOOTH PROJECT

Landscape Filling Station reopened on January 13 following a £3m investment to redevelop the site, and Helen has only praise for project partners the Henderson Group, Cleary Contracting, Ashley Lamont and Conor McCavitt of Whittaker & Watt Architects, Harry Dunlop Refrigeration, Dougan Contracts, Martin Food Equipement and Little Electrical Engineers.

“We really found Henderson’s and Whittaker & Watt to be great when we were building this store,” she says. “They kept us right with all the things you have to look out for, and it was one of the smoothest projects we’ve ever done.

“Honestly, I thought it was going to be a nightmare, but we had the best builders and architects. Gavan had been in planning for seven years to try and get it built, and then we got planning permission in the middle of Covid. We were very lucky as we got the builders pinned down and a fixed price contract agreed just before everything seemed to spiral out of control pricewise.”

Having the architects project manage was a great asset, with their guidance even extending to getting telephone lines and internet up and running for the store opening. “All the stuff that can cause real problems if it’s not done correctly,” says Helen.

Whereas the original site was essentially a petrol station offering fizzy drinks, cigarettes and sweets, the new shop “encompasses everything we have in our other stores, all in one store”, she says.

Extensive ambient, fresh, convenience and bakery ranges span spacious aisles, 13 fridges and a full deli including a dailyDeli sandwich, wrap and salad bar, chicken bar and selection of hot meals.

Alongside Henderson Group staples Barista Bar coffee and treats to-go, own brands Enjoy Local, The CHEF and The Greengrocer’s fresh fruit & veg and a f’real milkshake bar, the Walls have installed Coca Cola and Fanta Frozen and a Nugelato Ice Cream concession.

While the redeveloped shop is only in its first few weeks of trading, the strong performance of a new fish line has surprised Helen while dailyDeli meal deals and Go Pig or Go Home Ready Meals are also among ranges selling well to date.

“It’s probably too early to tell what’s going to be best for us as we’re doing everything at the moment,” says Helen. “We’re finding our feet.”

Getting the new shop up and running has been the focus, with Landscape Filling Station yet to embark on a marketing push.“We’re going to partner with Henderson’s and do a big leaflet drop to 4,000 houses near us, and we need to go down to the hospital and let them know we have this great new deli,” says Helen.

The impressive new site is serving as its own marketing tool and is well located on an arterial route into Belfast City Centre, close to the Mater Hospital and the Beldoc out-of-hours GP clinic. It’s already pulling in 17,000 shoppers per week.

Landscape Filling Station will partner with Marie Curie as the official charity partner of SPAR across the UK, while also supporting local schools, groups and organisations including the Lower Oldpark Community Association.

“We are in the heart of the community here and believe in supporting those who support us,” says Helen. “Providing funding and essentials for schools and community groups in the area is how we give back, and we look forward to connecting even more with the communities of Crumlin Road, Lower Oldpark, and wider North Belfast.”


LATEST TECHNOLOGY

Special software had to be written to integrate the Nugelato till with the GLORY cash management system which can be incorporated into Henderson Technology’s EDGEPoS software. Used across all Landscape Filling Station’s tills, GLORY removes any need for staff to handle or count cash as well as improving a shop’s cashflow with faster, secure banking.

Further innovation in the store includes electronic price labelling, while eco measures such as closed fridges are proving their worth right now by reducing bills during a time of rocketing utility prices.

“We don’t use 5p bags across any of our stores to try and cut down on plastic,” says Helen. “Subways only use wooden knives and forks and we’re planning on implementing these in our delis too, to get rid of single-use plastics.”

Offering standard amenities such as PayPoint and Lotto, space has also been set aside in the shop for a Post Office concession, pending final approval.

GO branding has been newly installed on the redeveloped forecourt, which features 22 carpark spaces. “We are really competitive with our petrol prices,” says Helen. “GO partners with so many different fuel cards, so we’ll hopefully get all the lorry drivers in.”

Landscape Filling Station is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, “so we don’t even shut the doors,” says Helen. “That comes with its own issues around staffing as well.”

An additional 30 workers were recruited for the reopening, with the new shop now employing a total of 50 staff members managed by Emma.

“You think when you get the shop open, you’re finished, but the hard work is really only beginning now with trying to get staffing right and trying to get the offering right,” says Helen. “We recruited heavily coming up to the opening and tried to put new staff in our other stores for training.”

Paddy Doody, sales and marketing director at the Henderson Group – owner of the SPAR brand in NI - has congratulated The Wall Group on their latest venture.

“Once again, The Wall Group has taken the SPAR concept and made it their own to work entirely for their target demographic in the wider North Belfast area. The striking Landscape Filling Station is a fantastic addition to Crumlin Road, providing vital employment and growth opportunities, driven by a dedicated team. We wish Gavan and Helen the best of luck as they continue to grow their SPAR portfolio in Northern Ireland.”


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