Holmes’ key role in ‘Centra’ of community


Ollie Holmes was in the thick of it when I arrived in his newly-refurbished Centra store in Ballygar on Tuesday afternoon. The well-known businessman was busy sorting the fruit and veg while chatting to his customers, but agreed to take a break to talk about business in Ballygar.

  It quickly became apparent that the Holmes family knows a thing or two about customer service in the Co. Galway town.

  “Business started here with my father and mother, Gerry and Julia, in 1971 when they had ‘The Bon Bon’ just up the town. The first premises they bought in town was a pub but we closed it in 2007 to bring the license here. We bought this building in 2004 and turned it into the Centra store by completely redeveloping the site in 2006,” he said.

  It was to be the start of an ongoing commitment to provide a modern shopping experience.

  “Ten years on and the place needed investment again. We were ahead of the curve last time, being one of the first stores to revamp to the new image in 2006/2007, and we’re in the same position now,” said Ollie before highlighting the importance of community involvement.

  “We try to engage with the community as much as we can. We sponsor the ladies’ football club, we sponsor the hurling club and local festivals. Not only in Ballygar but surrounding areas such as Newbridge, Ballinamore Bridge, Ballyforan, Four Roads, Mount Talbot and others. There aren’t that many businesses around here so you know you’re one of the businesses the local community has come to rely on. It’s not easy but we do what we can for organisations that come to us,” he said.

  As for facelifts and changing trends, Ollie says it has to be customer centred in order to be worthwhile.

  “I suppose the change in trends is another thing that would’ve been incorporated into the shop. Musgrave’s would have done a lot of work on what the consumer is after now, particularly in locations like Ballygar.

  “Fresh food is the biggest part of it. People are looking for fresh breads, a butcher, fruit and veg, the deli and food to go. Those would’ve been areas we concentrated on and where most of the change would have occurred. We always had a good trade but I suppose Musgrave’s have changed their focus a little bit more towards it and we’ve kept up with the trends of the day.

  “For example, we’ve noticed a massive increase in our sales of freshly made bread and cakes. People have moved away from the packaged breads and cakes into the fresh goods,” he added.

  ‘Consumer-driven’ and ‘customer-focussed’ aren’t merely buzz words here, Ollie and his staff actually reached out to the local community ahead of the development.

  “We had focus groups in February 2016 with customers here in town to find out what issues they had with the store and what they would like to see. That was central to what we did and a lot of the changes would have been consumer-driven. We hope we have achieved about 95% of what customers have requested and wanted to see.

  “When you’re spending money (on the revamp) you want to make sure you hit the points that customers have raised. There’s no point in just satisfying ourselves, it needs to be customer-focussed and that’s what has driven a lot of the change.”

  As for the new layout, it seems to have gone down well with locals and staff alike.

  “It’s very open at the front of the shop. It’s nice to have natural light coming in and it’s nice to have the deli near the front so that people walking by can see where it is. There was also some confusion with the layout of the tills before but now there’s one point of entry and it helps with the overall layout.”

  Revamps aren’t easy and Ollie was quick to show his appreciation to customers, staff and tradesmen alike.

  “There was a lot of patience from customers over the last couple of months while there was disruption in the store. It’s very difficult to keep the standards right while there is construction going on and it does cause disruption for customers and staff alike.

  “The staff were here and there were jackhammers going two hours at a time, it’s not an easy working environment.

  “Also, the local builders, Donal Smith & Sons, did their very best to try and minimise the amount of disruption, noise and inconvenience.”

  The planning, patience and hard work was worth it and Ollie, his customers and staff all appeared to be at home in their new surroundings last Tuesday afternoon.