The Holmes’ family are over 50 years in business at the very heart of Ballygar, and have become a major part of everyday life in the town. From offering a wide range of products and services as well as local employment to sponsoring local sports clubs, organisations and events, Ollie Holmes tells Roscommon People reporter Dan Dooner that the family business is happy to give back to the the local community…
How long have the Holmes family been in business in Ballygar? Who’s involved in the business today?
My parents, Gerry and Julia Holmes, arrived in Ballygar from the USA via Dublin in 1971. They set up family life around a new pub business and the ink was barely dry on that when the opportunity arose to acquire The Bon Bon Supermarket. It was an opportunity that Gerry thought was too good to miss.
I joined the business in the summer of 2000 having left a fledgling marketing career in Dublin to spend two years with Superquinn as trainee manager before returning home. We celebrated our 50th year in business in 2021 but it was strange with the Covid-19 backdrop restricting any meaningful celebrations.
How has the town changed during that time?
Like most rural small towns, the place has suffered due to the shift in demographics and in a massive shift in social change. During those 50 years in business, we’ve seen EU membership, decimalisation, the Euro, and much more.
The business landscape was much different in the 1970s with old-style street markets and fairs, four butcher shops, two cobblers, three ‘general merchants’, four supermarkets, a hardware, chemist, a bicycle and game shop (tackle and hunting, not Playstation!), a shoe shop, and other services.
Ballygar has had to evolve beyond the traditional market town model in that time and into a modern town, which offers convenient services to an expanding population and a transient population of commuters and tourists using the busy N63 throughout the year.
Is the local community supportive of businesses in the area?
The local community has always been very supportive of businesses in the town and this was only strengthened over Covid as people wanted to stay away from the bigger stores
and the busier towns.
Remarkably, those that returned to local shopping at that time have stayed with it. People in Ballygar are well aware that if they don’t use their local businesses they will lose them. If businesses or services are lost to a community like Ballygar it means living here becomes too inconvenient in the long run.
How does Holmes Centra give back to the community?
We have been supporting all things local since 1971. We are the main sponsors for St Brendan’s Ladies senior teams and also the Ballygar Hurling Club junior/underage teams. We also support local organisations and events like the Ballygar Carnival, TidyTowns, Festive Lights, as well as the local schools through various sponsorships and contributions.
We also support events and organisations beyond Ballygar as we are conscious that many of our regular customers come from the likes of Curraghboy, Glinsk, Caltra and Newbridge for example.
How has your business become such a central fixture in Ballygar?
We built a new store in 2006/2007 as part of a changing business landscape and that consolidated our position as an important hub in the community where most people would visit daily.
The Centra brand also has the idea of community and local as its core values and we cover every major life event as well as fundraising for those in need. That focus makes us a first port of call for people living in this area.
We also employ local staff who know the vast majority of customers on a personal basis and we work hard to make new arrivals to the community feel welcome here.
As a town, what’s Ballygar like to do business in?
Like all small rural towns it can be challenging. Mainly because people work largely outside the community. We also lack a critical mass of retail and service infrastructure that would make Ballygar a destination for a wider audience.
Ballygar also has many advantages such as its community spirit and the Trojan voluntary work that goes into organising local groups and cultural and social events. The community really rallies and provides a hectic calendar of events throughout the year.
The town, which is centrally located, is a very pleasant space to live and operate in, largely thanks to the work of the TidyTowns and its small army of volunteers.
Running a business in Ballygar is a privilege as you have close ties with your customers, and those same customers are loyal and friendly and often feel like an extension of your wider family.
You also don’t have issues with anti-social behaviour or theft like in some larger towns.
You’re usually ahead of the curve with store revamps and new services. What’s next for Holmes Centra?
We never sit still because there’s always something to invest in! We have two projects ongoing in both shops at the moment. Our Bon Bon store will be undergoing a transformation over the next 12 months, while in Centra we are upgrading to a more energy efficient refrigeration system. We will also be introducing new technologies designed to speed up the service to our customers while making the overall shopping experience both enjoyable and more efficient.
Needless to say, Artificial Intelligence is very much coming at pace to all aspects of life and we intend to embrace it from a retail perspective and to do it as quickly as possible.