Described also as the 'Kingdom',
this region is Ireland's main tourist area after Dublin. Louis is
very much part of the local community, as he emphasises with
statements such as 'there is a family feeling between us and our
customers' and 'Our customers like us and we love them'.
Please introduce yourself
to our readers:
I was born in Limerick City 40 years ago. My parents were
also self employed, so I knew what it was like to have a family
business. Luckily my wife, Colette, is also from a family business
background so she too understands that it is never a '9 -5' job.
We purchased our first SPAR shop in Tralee in 2001 and took it over
14 days after our first child was born; we now have 3 sons aged 10,
8 and 6 years. In 2007 we bought our second store about 2 km from
the first one.
How did you become a SPAR retailer?
SPAR was the main supplier to a forecourt shop I operated.
In 2001 an existing retailer on the edge of Tralee was about to
retire, so we purchased the store and have enjoyed every year. I
knew I both wanted and needed the skills and resources of a large
retailing brand but I was determined to retain my independence and
be able to alter and adapt my store offering to suit MY customers.
I wanted a brand that would be recognisable to the many
international visitors that come to Kerry but still also be a local
store serving the local community. SPAR ticked all of those
boxes and their team seemed like people I could enjoy doing
business with. It turned out I was right.
Where is your store
The store is located in a residential area approx 2km from
the town centre on one of the main artery roads into Tralee. The
level college (ITT) and Technology Business Park are located
approximately 1km from the store.
Parking is quite restricted with
only 10 car spaces which are in constant demand, especially during
our busy lunch period. Most of our competitors have a similar
problem. We have 3 other symbol group convenience stores within 2km
of ours in addition to a service station shop, a liquor store and a
sandwich bar, so competition is fierce.
Can you tell us something
about the development of the store?
Opened in the early '70s in the front half of a family
house, the store evolved as the years passed and was approx.
90m2 in size when we purchased it in 2001. In 2003 we
completely gutted the building, extending the store to
200m2 and removing the residential section. In 2008 we
purchased the adjacent site and obtained planning permission for a
rebuild of a bigger store in late 2010. Given the current economic
climate, this redevelopment has been postponed for review in late
Can you describe your
We cater to several different customers - local residents,
commuters, visiting tourists, passing traffic, and students during
the academic year. Our business is quite dependent on the enlarged
student population (3,500) present each academic year.
How much are you involved
with your customers?
We are on first-name terms with a lot of our customers and
interaction with all customers is simply part of what we do. We
sponsor several local sports clubs with shirts and we want to be
very much 'part of' the local community, for example during the
annual gathering for local children, we provide them with ice
Our customers like us and we love
them! If a particular staff member is away or I am on holiday,
customers notice and comment on it, asking where we were, how we
got on, etc. There is a very strong 'Family Feeling' between us and
Please share the shopping
pattern of your customers
Instore bakery items such as cakes, muffins and scones are
hugely popular, most especially with our local residents, many of
whom are retired people who like the convenience of walking to the
supermarket rather than driving to town. These customers also like
our freshly made hot meals and that they can purchase good value
own brand products locally. Pizza & hot chicken products are
popular with students whilst sandwiches, rolls & the hot deli
are a hit with the 200+ office workers in the local I.T.
How would you describe
yourself as a manager?
I would describe myself as an overall operations manager.
We have very good people in place who each
have specific roles in areas such
as fresh food, back office & staff training. I am there as a
support for them. Sometimes that takes the form of a new method or
procedure, sometimes retraining is required. It may be necessary to
change a light bulb in the storeroom or lift a bag for a customer.
I have always instilled in staff that the most important person in
the operation is not me or the managers; it is the customer.
We have a very good Store Manager,
Debbie O'Halloran, who is responsible for all aspects that the
customer would be aware of. My own time is split between shop
floor, administration, marketing and accounts for both of our
stores. I try to spend at least 2 hours of each day at the tills
Describe a great day in the
We remodeled the complete store in 2002/03. This literally
involved gutting the building over a 12 week period, from November
to January which is a cold wet period in Ireland. We finally
removed the entire roof for replacement. We never closed the shop
under the clear blue sky overhead. Needless to say, temperatures in
store were chilly at 4°C. One kind lady brought us a bag of hand
knitted woolen hats to keep us warm!
Surprisingly, despite the terrible
store conditions during the project, business didn't drop too much.
It was as if customers thought we were going to all this trouble
for them and they continued to support us. We enjoyed a fantastic
store relaunch day with customers when we were finished and the
store was re-opened by the reigning rose of Tralee and the town