“Stop persecuting retailers” – RGDATA President Colin Fee

“Stop persecuting retailers” – RGDATA President Colin Fee

Ireland’s Forecourt & Convenience Retailer asks RGDATA President Colin Fee about priorities, problems and dealing with political leaders, at all levels.

RGDATA has been trailblazing for independent retailers – lobbying and engaging at every political level for its members. What do you see as the priorities – and how do you prioritise?

“The main priority at present is to persuade the Government to stop persecuting retailers through an unrelenting series of State imposed cost hikes. Government actions are currently leading to massive increases for retailers in labour costs through the National Minimum Wage hike, Pension Auto enrolment, new public holidays, additional sick pay. And at the same time the Government is imposing additional regulatory and compliance costs on retail businesses. They need to back off and provide some real and tangible support to retailers – or else businesses will close” Mr Fee told IF&CR.

“The key priority at present is the cost of employment – this is the number one issue for RGDATA members who actually fear for the future of their businesses due to the substantial increased wage bills they are dealing with since the Minimum wage increased in January and Sick Pay went from three to five days.”

Cost of doing business

The cost of doing business is always a concern.

“We operate in a very competitive market with extremely tight margins so increases in energy costs, banking and payments charges, insurance, cost of theft, commercial rates – all of these additional costs are creating sleepless nights for shop owners.

“The next priority is getting meaningful Government action on Retail Crime. Shoplifting and retail crime is a daily occurrence in shops, we deal with serial shoplifters, organised gangs robbing to order and underage youths who are out of control. What is most concerning is the level of viciousness and the abuse that staff in shops have to put up with and the threatening behaviour.  We need constant high levels of policing and enforcement to protect retailers, their staff and customers.

A significant force

How did you become involved with RGDATA and why?

“Collectively retailers are a significant force – we are at the heart of our communities and interact with thousands of people every day. I believe it is important to get involved in the representative association for your business – I joined RGDATA because it specialised in representing local, family owned community shops that sell fresh food and I could see the benefit of a strong collective voice. RGDATA  has the retailers interest at heart and has your back – that is a real support.”

At the Launch of An Garda Siochana Centra Louth Youth Awards in Tullyallen L to r Garda Noel Loughlan Drogheda, Sgt Michael Pary Jones Drogheda, Garda Anita O Shea Drogheda, Gordon Reilly Centra Rathmullen, Rachel Fallon Centra Mell, Inspector Liam Archbold Dundalk (Coordinator),Nial Lynch Centra Tullyallen, John Heavey Centra Dunleer, Garda Aidan Ryan Drogheda and Colin Fleming Centra Ballsgrove

Being the President

When did you become President of the organisation and what does that involve?

“I was appointed as President in 2016 having been a member of the Board of Directors for a few years before that. I chair the six Board meetings and myself and the other Directors work closely with the Director General to develop that campaigning and representation strategies and to front up delegations and meet with politicians when necessary.”

You run a Centra in Co Louth – tell me more about your business and how you became an independent retailer?

“We operate three sites in Dundalk, two Centras and a Maxol Service Station. Our first site was a Service Station on the Castletown Road in Dundalk that was built by my father Tommy in 1958.  My brother Eugene and I purchased the site from my father in 1989, which was just a kerbside petrol station with a car wash and tyre bay. In 1996 we purchased an adjoining property and development a state of the art service station with convenience store and deli, under the MACE and Maxol brands. We won Forecourt Retailer of the Year in 1997.

“I was working at this time as an engineer for IBM, and after 13 years left in 2000 to concentrate on the retail business. In 2002, we opened our second shop under the MACE brand at Greenacres in Dundalk and operated two sites under licence for Maxol until 2009.

“In 2015 we added the New Maxol Service Station on the Dublin Road and in 2019 we moved the Castletown and Greenacres sites to the CENTRA brand.”

Excellent management team

How do you juggle running the business and the presidential role?

“I am blessed to have an excellent management team and brilliant staff  in my retail business who I have worked very closely with over the years. Without their support and commitment it would be very challenging for me to take on the RGDATA role. I am also fortunate to have excellent support from RGDATA in performing the President’s role and I have direct regular contact with the Director General, Tara Buckley.”

Combating retail crime

What more can be done to combat retail crime?

“There is a lot that can be done to combat retail crime. In the first instance retailers need to feel safe and protected in their businesses and not feel under threat or be otherwise inhibited in their capacity to defend their businesses against theft or robbery.”

RGDATA has four key asks of Government in relation to retail crime;

  • put more visible Gardai on the streets of our cities, towns and villages;
  • provide more prison spaces and custodial sentences for serial offenders
  • and put together a task force to deal with the problem of out of control youths.
  • Give retailers statutory protection to exclude people from their shops without fear of being sued for defamation.


“Independent retailers are facing so many challenges – not least paying staff, and keeping on top of all the other financial requirements – all of which are eating away at the bottom line. Will we see essential community stores shutting up shop because they just can’t compete?

Resilient retailers

“Retailers are resilient and will adapt and change their businesses to deal with most challenges that are thrown at them. However, retailers also need to make a living for the long hours that they spend in their businesses. Excessive State imposed costs, high levels of crime and additional regulatory burdens all work to erode retailers’ confidence in their businesses.

“RGDATA has been meeting with politicians to get the message across to them in as direct a way as possible that the closure of viable stores is possible if things keep going the way they are. Community shopkeepers have dealt with many challenges over the years and they have always been nimble and agile and able to deal with change and get on with things.  We have engaged with all ministers and backbenchers and will be engaging with the new Taoiseach and the new team in the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment.

“Recently a large RGDATA delegation met with the  Fianna Fail Parliamentary Party  and members explained the challenges that they are currently facing with huge increases in wage costs, increasing business costs and fluctuating consumer confidence. Members pointed out that these challenges are creating a particular concern and fear for the future of members businesses that we have not experienced before.

Threats to viable businesses

“Politicians need to take on board the concerns of SMEs on the threats to the viability of businesses and they need to take targeted actions to assist local SME businesses in meeting all these additional costs.

Insurance costs are a big issue – what needs to be done there?

“RGDATA began campaigning on insurance costs back in 2016 and we are appreciative of all of the measures that the Government has introduced over the past few years including the new Duty of Care legislation, the reform of the pay outs for injuries and the reform of PIAB into the Injuries Resolution Board. RGDATA produced Duty of Care legislation for occupiers of buildings, which ultimately led to the new measures passed last year” continued Mr Fee.

“However, as we constantly tell the government the final judgement of all of this activity will be the impact it has on premiums and we are not seeing the decreases in Employer Liability and Public Liability premiums that all these cost savings should be leading to. Government needs to keep the pressure on insurance companies to reduce premiums. This is why RGDATA continues to believe that there should be a tax on insurance company profits if the premiums do not come down.

Free reign

If you had free reign to write an election manifesto for RGDATA, what would your asks be?

“I would ask the new Government to put their words about supporting local SMEs into action and to introduce meaningful supports to assist SMEs in paying for all of the employment, annual leave, sick pay and pension polities that are being rolled out. I would also ask the Government to stop imposing additional costs on SMEs and to introduce a new mechanism to assess the impact of active travel measures in towns and suburbs on local traders. All too often I hear that well intentioned and engineer driven schemes to improve cycle lanes and active travel in key areas are deterring customers from accessing local shops and driving them out of town.

New technologies

Will Artificial Intelligence and new technologies be a help or a hindrance?

“AI and new technology will be used where it can aid community shopkeepers to make their businesses as efficient as possible whilst keeping the personal service that makes our shops unique. It will not replace the person to person contact, but may help improve the efficiency of ordering systems.


How will independent retailing change in the next ten years?

We are at a key crossroads and we need to persuade the Government that they have a key decision to make. If they continue to pile on charges, costs and regulations for local businesses, they will drive them out of existence and we will be left with a retail landscape dominated by foreign owned multiples. With a small bit of support and a commitment to local communities, I have no doubt  that the great fresh food and community convenience retailers that RGDATA represents will adapt and thrive. Without support the landscape could look very different if community shopkeepers sell up and we see fewer local family owned shops and more international multiples,” said Mr Fee.

“It is slowly dawning on political parties, that at a time when sustainability is the priority, the greenest grocer that exists, is the one that is locally owned, locally based and enmeshed in the local community.”

Any closing comments / matters of interest to your members/our readers that are not covered above?

It is vital that retailers continue to support RGDATA – the old saying that united we stand and divided we fall has never been more relevant. As the political and trading climate continue to change it is vital that a strong, retailer focused trade group which represents retailers continues to be heard.