Cathedral Quarter shop pioneers new Centra concept BY ALYSON MAGEE
Owners Donagh and Orla McGoveran.
entra has gone all Superman with its new store in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter. It’s as if the stoic and reliable Clark Kent has taken off his glasses and – wow – is suddenly punching way above his weight. Situated in a prime spot on Donegall Street with an outlook onto Buoy Park and St Anne’s Cathedral, the fit-out is strikingly different from the old Centra look with electric blue subway tiles, industrial-chic ceilings and Scandinavian flair. In-store, the offering similarly diverges with the usual convenience store staples supplemented by an impressive array of food to go ranging from healthier fare such as protein pots, salads and sushi to hot wing and burrito bars. Coffee is a major focus, with Musgrave NI also using the Cathedral Quarter store to pioneer its new Frank and Honest Gourmet Coffee Company concept through both a coffee-to-go counter and 22-seat café fronting onto Buoy Park. Donagh McGoveran – owner and operator of the store and retail partner of Musgrave NI – is targeting a rapidly expanding student market. Ulster University’s Belfast campus is only yards away, while its Jordanstown campus will be moving to adjacent sites in phases over the next few years. Already proprietor of two other Centra stores at Stranmillis and the Malone Road, Donagh has a unique handle on the student market and has tailored his offering accordingly. 22
“We are very focused on food to go, which is really driving the business and is where we see our point of difference over our competitors,” says Donagh. “We’re not going to compete with Tesco on cornflakes, peas and beans and I don’t think we want to, other than having the right products and a value message in those areas.”
Musgrave NI’s team of food-to-go specialists assisted Donagh in bringing many of his ideas to fruition, for example sourcing ingredients and compiling kits for putting together his pre-packed salads and burrito bar. Thompson’s Family Teas supplies a range of loose-leaf speciality teas for the café, while other local suppliers include Zen for sushi, The Pastry Chef in Larne for tray bakes and
cupcakes, Deli Lites in Newry for sandwich ingredients and Soup by James in Bangor. “We make all our own sandwiches, wraps, baguettes and salad boxes,” he says. “It gives us control over the quality of what we’re selling and also, from a margin point of view, there are labour costs involved but we’re still better off.” Donagh has worked with Musgrave since 1997, when he joined its undergraduate recruitment programme. From 1999 to 2005, he was a regional manager in Northern Ireland and completed an MBA at Jordanstown. “It then became clear in my mind that I was interested in working for myself, and that linked in well with the opportunity at Stranmillis in 2005,” he says. “It’s a very different kettle of fish when you actually go into it for yourself but I enjoy it.” With Centra Stranmillis proving a success, Donagh acquired Malone Road in 2008 just before the recession hit. “When times are tough, you learn a lot about yourself and how you run your business and manage costs, overheads and sales,” he says. “It was very challenging but we came out the other side.” Having learned to delegate and create strong management teams when he bought the second store, Donagh has found the stretch to three stores easier and would not rule out expanding his empire further if the right opportunity arose. An investment of around £500,000 went into Centra Cathedral Quarter, turning around the former furniture shop in about 10 weeks for its opening in June. The new store employs 25 mostly parttime staff, and employment is another area of innovation for Musgrave through its I-CARE programme focused on improving staff behaviour and attitude. The right attitude is preferable to experience, says Donagh, and his access to students as part-time staff has paid off as they usually pick up operational training fairly quickly. Technology has been key to running the shops efficiently, with Donagh using cloudbased apps to manage sales and stock control, while a supervisor’s background in social media has been put to good use to market the shops across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Musgrave NI plans to roll out the new Centra format across its retail partners Province-wide.