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Claremorris store thriving

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Image of Niall Heffernan

No time for standing still

Edwin McGrealMaking the most of now
Edwin McGreal

NIALL Heffernan can tell you all about the difficulties of opening a business in the middle of a recession. Now employing 26 people in two stores in Claremorris, Heffernan is striving to grow his business further, recession or no recession.
The well known Food Store on the Ballyhaunis Road in Claremorris has been a thriving enterprise for years and continues to do well even in troubled times but when Niall Heffernan tried to get the business off the ground in 1988 he ran into difficulties that are very familiar to people looking for capital nowadays. 
“When I opened it was a dreadful time to start a business. I got turned down by three banks. I was a one man operation and I was told I wouldn’t last a year. That was 21 years ago and now I’m employing 26 people,” he says, the pride in his success unmistakable.
Innovation and hard work have always been a key aspect to Heffernan’s success, he points out. He opened for business on March 18, 1988 as Niall Heffernan Meats. His family had been involved as butchers in his native Ballina since 1900 but Heffernan moved away from the traditional victualler of that time.
“We provided beef, lamb and pork but we differed from the usual butchers in how we prepared the meat, how we displayed it and the cuts we did. It wasn’t just chunks of meat thrown out. We tried to be innovative. We looked all around the world for inspiration, to give people something different. We were providing stir fries for instance and in the deli we were cooking our own meats and providing our own salads.”
A little over a decade ago Heffernan and his wife Attracta moved around 100 yards along the Ballyhaunis Road and rebranded their business as The Food Store. It was, he attests, in a bid to move away from the idea that they were simply a butcher shop. Niche grocery products, locally sourced meat, fruit and vegetables and award-winning sausages made on site are all on sale while two years ago Heffernan opened his second store at the Silverbridge Shoppping Centre in Claremorris.
Like everyone Heffernan has had to cut his cloth in the current economic clime but he’s ambitious as ever about growth.
“At the moment everyone has to adapt,” admits Heffernan (48). “It is tougher, no doubt about it. We’ve had to look at everything in terms of costs and expenses. I employ 26 people and I have committed to them that I will be striving to keep their jobs on the same rates and for the same hours. We’ve cut costs from the supply end of things and we’ve also cut energy costs.
“Our aim is to grow the business. We are not looking to stand still. For instance our bakery is growing all the time. Corrib Oil are now stocking our bakery products in eight stores. Home catering is another thing we are hoping to expand into because that is a big area of growth.
“We’re aiming to start a revamp of the premises in the next few weeks. We’re putting a new entrance to the car park and we plan to give the inside of the shop a facelift later in the year.”
Heffernan also speaks glowingly about the loyalty of his customers. It is something he is keen to reciprocate.
“We’re running specials all the time to give people value and they know they don’t have to compromise on quality.
“Our customers have shown great loyalty but it is something that we can’t take for granted. We’re looking at setting up a loyalty scheme because we want to reward people who have been loyal. You can’t buy that kind of loyalty.”
Heffernan is well-known in football circles. A member of the All-Ireland Mayo Minor winning team of 1978, he has been actively involved with Ballina and Claremorris clubs over the years and is currently senior manager of Claremorris.
A knee injury ended his playing career at the age of 20 but that has allowed him some more time for the business and when he talks about his company, the passion is very evident.
“Perfection is what is important to us. We strive for that not only in the quality of our products but in our service. We’re never going to be at a stage where we are completely satisfied, we always want to move forward. We’re always looking at ways we can do this because to stand still, even in the current recession, is to go backwards.”