Going for Growth: we talk to Gala Retail’s Gary Desmond

Going for Growth: we talk to Gala Retail’s Gary Desmond

As the Gala Group goes for growth this year, rolling out new concepts in store and adding new retailers and stores, CEO of Gala Retail, Gary Desmond, talks to IFCR about Gala’s focus and goals.

As one of Ireland’s leading convenience groups with 248 stores within the Gala Retail family operating nationwide, the Gala Group serves thousands of shoppers daily.

CEO of Gala Retail Gary Desmond is proud of the impressive growth the Group has chalked up in recent years, with Gala Retail stores across the country offering customers great value and variety, fresh concepts and exciting in-store promotions, all whilst delivering the excellent retailing that is synonymous with the Gala brand.

Since 2020 the Group has added 43 new stores to its portfolio, including 13 forecourt stores. Thirty stores have undergone refurbishment, adopting Gala’s new refreshed branding and upgrading their in-store concept offerings.

“Despite the challenges presented to all businesses in recent years and a very competitive landscape in the Irish grocery retailing sector, the Gala Group has continued to grow and evolve, with new stores, refreshed branding and new concepts being added to the portfolio,” Gary says.

“Continued growth and development is an area of ongoing focus for us and the Gala Group is committed to identifying opportunities for further growth through improving the offerings of our stores and ensuring Gala retailers have access to the products, concepts and promotions that cater to the needs of their customers and drive footfall in stores.”

Retail background

Hailing from Macroom in Cork, Gary has worked in the retail sector for more than 25 years, gaining experience in various areas of the retailing business, experience which has stood him in good stead over his years in the industry.

Gary was one of the first employees of the new Gala symbol group when it launched back in 1998, when a group of Irish wholesalers had the vision to develop a new style of convenience retailing symbol group. Since then, the brand has come a long way, with stores in every county in Ireland.

Still privately owned by wholesalers, that Gala vision still rings true almost 25 years later. Gala’s values remain constant: Irishness, community, excellence in retailing and innovation. Its vision – to position Irish communities at the heart of convenience retailing – has come to fruition in 172 Gala branded locations across Ireland.

These values drew Gary to become part of the Gala team, values that Gary is proud the Gala group still stands for today.

“The values of the Gala Group closely reflect my own personal values and this was part of the draw for me when it came to choosing to become part of the Group,” he says.

Gala values

“I believe in the importance of our retailers being central to the cities and towns in which they operate. Being a part of the local community is an integral part of Irish identity, doing what you can to serve your customers and investing and developing your offering as stores mature. This is what Gala’s retailers do every single day.

“At Gala, retailing that’s responsive to the needs of local communities is front and centre for the Group, ensuring that customers have access to quality, value offerings, delivered with excellent customer service in a welcoming environment. Our head office team and Gala wholesalers pride ourselves on equipping our retailers to provide this, and it’s this dual support model that has proven to be the solid foundation of the Gala Group.”

Community is a theme that permeates through the Group’s marketing activities and associations. In-store promotions for 2022 focus on giving back to Gala customers, rewarding them for loyalty, with opportunities to win prizes including family passes for ‘Summer Days’ at some of Ireland’s top attractions. Gala Retailers are also giving away €40,000 of staycation gift card prizes to its customers this summer, with prize winners announced in every Gala store.

Sponsor relationships

“At Gala, it’s important that our values are reflected by our marketing activities. From promotions in-store to sponsorships and charity partnerships, we want to reinforce our values as an organisation. This year, Gala has entered its second year of sponsorship of Starcamp, well known throughout Ireland for its kids’ camps that run in more than 200 towns across the country each year, giving it a strong presence in these communities, much like the 200-strong Gala Group at the heart of communities across the country.

“Gala also continues to be a proud sponsor of Special Olympics Ireland, building on our relationship established back in 2015 and we’re committed to supporting Special Olympics Ireland as a Platinum sponsor in the years ahead.

“With athletes and clubs in locations across Ireland, Special Olympics has a place in the heart of many communities.

“There’s a real connection between Gala retailers and the Special Olympics family across Ireland, and we’re delighted to be supporting athletes in their sporting activities and in realising their potential at events such as the Special Olympics World Summer Games.

Unsung heroes 

For the fourth consecutive year, the Gala Retail Inspiration Awards, in partnership with Virgin Media, are returning later in the year to recognise the unsung heroes in Irish communities.

“Developed to celebrate community spirit and the kind-heartedness of individuals from counties across the country, the Awards have already recognised people from all walks of life who are doing extraordinary things for their communities.

“These awards are now a recognised event in the awards calendar and the judges have their work cut out every year as the calibre of entries and incredible acts of kindness make it so difficult to choose just one deserving winner per country. Giving back to those who do so much for others is the least we can do, and the Gala Retail Inspiration Awards is a campaign that everyone within the Gala Group is 100% committed to.”

An early adopter in recognising the importance of building online communities, Gala quickly introduced social media channels to the Group and now has one of the largest social media communities of any convenience retailer, with a combined following of 240,000, and engagement levels remain high.

Building online

“We are extremely proud of our efforts in building our Gala community online,” says Gary.

“As a brand, the two-way engagement with shoppers is so valuable, but social really came into its own during the pandemic, when our platforms became vital channels in which, as Gala Retail, we could communicate directly with our shoppers across the country.”

In addition to the Gala brand social channels, individual Gala stores have strong followings, amplifying the combined Gala family on social media to millions of followers.

With Gala stores owned locally, supported by the strength and expertise of local wholesalers and Gala HQ, Gala Retail stores are tailored to the communities in which they operate and, because of this, no two Gala stores are the same. Gala retailers often know many of their customers, and maintaining this personable aspect is extremely important to Gala.

“The Gala Group is firmly focused on growing the Gala brand, investing in the development of Gala stores to reflect the fresh, innovative direction of the business,” Gary says.

Dynamic environment

Recognising the roles that innovation and development play in the long-term growth strategy for the Gala Group, Gary says: “We operate in an extremely dynamic environment which means that there’s no time to rest on your laurels. We have to continue to innovate to ensure that the Group progresses.”

Gala retailers can attest to the Group’s commitment to innovation. Over the years the Group has introduced chilled distribution, Gala own-brand products and fresh in-store concepts, keeping ahead of the curve as the market has developed. In addition, a complete brand refresh is rolling out in Gala stores across the country, as the Group responds to changing customer tastes.

“One of the biggest changes in the market over the years during my time with Gala Retail has been the increased demand for fresh food and food-to-go offerings among customers, particularly forecourt customers. As the convenience retail sector has evolved, with fresh food offerings emerging as a key driver for consumers, Gala has responded by making fresh food a central part of our offering,” Gary says.

“In recent years we have invested heavily in the expansion of our Fresh Food team and in the development of our own exclusive range of in store concepts. The Gala Group has more Fresh Food Executives per retailer than any other convenience symbol group, demonstrating the pivotal role of fresh food in convenience retailing.”

Innovative concepts

Gala’s dedication to ensuring Gala retailers have access to innovative concepts that set their stores apart from competitors, delivering quality, convenient and food-to-go options, has proven to be a huge factor in driving footfall and increasing basket spend over the past few years.

“Fresh food-to-go is not just for people on the move. With the busy lifestyles that people are leading these days, they are also looking for high quality, convenient and fresh food-to-go options to enjoy at home and at Gala we are continuously innovating and developing our in-store offerings in order to cater for this market.”

Gala’s Coffee Junction and Baker’s Corner offerings are a cornerstone of Gala stores, and the addition of the ‘New Street Deli’ and ‘Galato’ offerings has proven to be beneficial for retailers in driving sales.

In relation to the future of forecourt retailing, Gary also recognises the need for change and incorporating alternative fuel options and how that will impact the traditional role of the forecourt store.

“As the EV market in Ireland and the subsequent demand for EV charging grows, the infrastructure must evolve to accommodate this as an option for commuters, ensuring access to charging points. As part of Ireland’s journey to Net Zero, we have a responsibility to provide access to these services that are designed to offset emissions and promote a more sustainable way of living.

Changing forecourts

“In terms of the impact that this will have on the Irish forecourt retailing market, it is important to consider the fact that EV charging will directly affect the role that forecourts play in customers’ day-to-day lives. As customers become able to charge EVs from homes, forecourts must diversify their offering for customers, innovating to provide products, services and food options that will encourage drivers to stop at forecourt stores for reasons other than fuelling up.

“Forecourts already provide much more than just fuel, offering locations for customers and commuters to stop and pick up essentials, stretch their legs, grab a coffee and a bite to eat, and recharge themselves while they’re out on the road.

“While EV charging Is increasingly factored into planning and infrastructure, having a population that is predominantly using EVs as their main mode of transport is still a long way off due to the costs and logistics involved for domestic and commercial drivers. So forecourts will continue to provide traditional fuel options for customers, and innovation will continue to play a key role in ensuring that Gala stores remain at the forefront of forecourt retailing in Ireland.”

“Gala is committed to offering customers variety, value and an excellent retailing experience in-store and this is only possible thanks to the great work that the Gala team is doing every day.

“From the teams in stores across the country, the managers and retailers that oversee the daily running of the stores to our wholesalers, suppliers and the team at Gala headquarters, we work together to ‘grow as one’, delivering the very best in convenience retailing to shoppers across Ireland,” Gary says.

To read the full feature in Ireland’s Forecourt & Convenience Retailer, click HERE.