FOOD FOR THOUGHT Niall Heffernan’s Food Store in Claremorris continues to prosper.
ANYBODY who knows Niall Heffernan knows that he loves a challenge.
Because the way he sees it, ‘with every challenge, there are opportunities’.
That’s the way he approaches life and the way he runs his business as a food retailer.
A butcher by trade, Heffernan runs two successful stores in Claremorris that are known far and wide for their award-winning meats, large selection of locally-sourced produce, in-house bakery products and impressive spread of freshly-prepared deli items.
The Heffernan family opened their first butcher shop in Ballina in 1900, and Niall continued the tradition when he opened his own store in his adopted Claremorris in 1988.
By his own admission, he and his wife Attracta — who is very ‘hands on’ — both invest around 80 hours per week into the family business. His children, Simon and Shauna, are both ‘very involved’ in the background too while daughter, Sarah, works on the shop floor.
So Niall Heffernan is well-placed to assess how the unprecedented events of the last eight months have impacted on a Mayo business and their loyal customers.
“Initially, the thought of the unknown and wondering what was going to hit us was devastating,” the 59 year-old father-of-three told The Mayo News last week.
“But we had to adapt, roll with the punches, and make sure that the shops were safe for the staff and the customers. Because our most important responsibility is to them, and we’ve put a lot of time and effort into making sure that the environment is safe.
“Like every challenge, there are opportunities,” he added.
“As a business-owner, it’s tough though. You spend your while life trying to convince people to come into your store. And now you find yourself during a busy period standing at the door telling people they can’t come in, that they have to wait, because there are only a certain amount of people allowed in.
“But we’d be very self-critical of ourselves and constantly be asking, ‘What can we do better?’” he continued. “You have to keep re-inventing yourself and moving forward. In business you can’t stand still.”
Niall Heffernan believes it’s imperative that the Government adopts the same approach.
He has given the future a lot of thought over the last few months and has come to a conclusion about the way the world is moving in light of Covid-19.
“We need to forget about old thinking and embrace new thinking,” he offered.
“Overall, I think the Government have handled the pandemic fairly well.
“But now is the time for them to look forward strategically. There are are more people working from home than ever before, so how can we support that?
“How can we make the commuter-belt more user-friendly? How can we make the centre of big cities better and easier to live in? How can we support provincial towns for people working from home?
“People may need to extend their house for working space; it’s okay for a few months but it’s going to be a challenge when the living space and the work space are the same thing. Especially if there are small kids in the house as well.
“I think everything that’s happening also presents an opportunity to reduce our carbon footprint and our greenhouse gas emissions.
“We need to forget about the old thinking and embrace new thinking.
“It’s been such a tragic and tough time for so many people, but let’s try and get something positive out of it, not just a vaccine.”
‘The Foodstore’ shops in the centre of Claremorris and at the Silverbridge shopping centre are two shining examples of what can be achieved through innovation, positive thinking and sheer hard work.
And despite the challenges presented by public health guidelines and Covid-19 restrictions, Niall Heffernan is upbeat about what the future holds. Some of that comes from his positive disposition but the feedback from customers hasn’t done any harm either.
“I started working more on the meat-counter over the last while, I’m a butcher by trade, and that has re-invigorated me,” he explained.
“Last week we started supplying ‘Dexter’ beef which I would describe as Ireland’s ‘wagu’ beef. It sold out last week in two days.The feedback from customers has been brilliant.
“That’s something that I’ve really noticed since last March; the amount of people who thanked us for staying open. “That was very gratifying and emotional at times.
“People are shopping less but buying more. They are supporting local businesses more.
“It’s not a normal year. Nothing is the same now as last year. The trends are different, the habits are different. So you have to learn from last week as opposed to last year.
“We’re looking forward to 2021, and figuring out what can we do as a nation and as a business.”