Robert and Dymphna Millen saw a retail niche in Carrickfergus and late last year realised their plans as they opened a brand new Centra/Topaz store which is doing remarkable business…
After 10 years operating a Centra c-store in Antrim, Robert and Dymphna Millen decided to take on a new challenge in their home town of Carrickfergus.
The area was crying out for a convenience store and forecourt and after living in the area for 13 years the couple knew they had the drive and experience to make it work.
A completely new build, the Centra/Topaz on Prince Andrew Way, Carrickfergus opened in October 2013 with great success; impressive turnover figures from week one and continual growth so far in 2014.
Dymphna describes the site as a modern “community store” which features the full grocery and chilled produce range, a busy hot food and sandwich counter, coffee machine, and in-store bakery.
Dymphna and Robert, both ex-Musgrave employees, have obvious experience of the logistical side of retail and with 10 years at their Antrim site they have great experience on the shop floor. However, as Dymphna explains the new store has been a lot of hard, yet rewarding work.
“Working with Musgrave in the past was only half the picture as the other half is on the shop floor and that was a learning curve when we first set out in Antrim. The difference with this store is it has a forecourt and that was unknown territory for us.
“We went with Topaz on the forecourt,” said Dymphna.
“We were worried about how running a forecourt would pan out but it has turned out very simple and we have 16 pumps on four islands.”
“Business on the forecourt is creeping up every week and performing well – in fact every department is doing good business.”
Dymphna says the coffee dock, full bays of sandwiches, salads wraps, fridges with promotional items and deli are attracting customers and the feedback is all positive.
“We see ourselves as a ‘community store’ you can come in and do a trolley shop; we are just slightly under the 3,000 sq ft size and our customers would mainly be locals,” she said.
There has been a lot of development in Carrickfergus in the past 15 years – much of which is ongoing – and the surrounding communities have been missing a dedicated shop and forecourt.
“The customer feedback has been fantastic,” enthused Dymphna.
“Once they knew there was going to be a shop, forecourt and two retail units the excitement was building until we opened and even though we have been trading for a few months the buzz is still there.
“The feedback is all about the handiness, convenience as beforehand people had to travel to the other side of Carrickfergus for fuel.”
There are other convenience stores around the area but they are far enough away from the new site to not have an impact says Dymphna.
There are multiples on the other side of town but the don’t see themselves as competition.
“We are still very much the ‘grab and go’ store and whilst we have trolley shops we are just for convenience – we’re in completely different leagues altogether.”
Aside from the convenience store and forecourt the site has other retail units. There is a chip shop, Chinese take-away and Wineflair off-licence which are all footfall drivers.
Having other businesses on site is a big plus in a time when retailers need all the help they can get but Dymphna says that the couple had made the decision to open the store despite the slow and fragile economic recovery.
“I think we would have opened the site anyway despite the economic climate as the area was crying out for something like this.”
She added: “It was a good decision as everything seems to be moving in the right direction. It’s a constant process of development and its changing from week to week; some departments performing well one week and then being out done by others the next!”
Looking ahead to 2014, Dymphna says David will now focus on increasing turnover as he puts his stamp on the store.
“We will work with new manager David Tipping on ideas and hopefully he can take them forward. It’s early days yet but we will hone in on different departments as the year progresses. Musgrave has the store set out on the planogram system and that is a big help but where possible we can use our own initiative and change things; it’s about finding out what works – and so far it’s all working well!”