As we celebrate our 40th anniversary, Checkout visits a pioneering retailer that has seen off rival competition for twice that length of time - Fields SuperValu of Skibbereen. Genna Patterson reports.
Fields of Skibbereen has a proud heritage of providing for the needs of the locals of Skibbereen, West Cork, for the past 80 years. The store has won numerous accolades at Checkout’s Best in Fresh Awards, such as Best Fresh Large Supermarket in Ireland (2012), Most Creative Fresh Food Retailer In Ireland (2013), and Best Deli In Ireland (2014).
According to John Field, the current owner of the SuperValu store, range, quality and value are central to its continued business success. He explains that it is also important to have good management, leadership and a loyal team, many members of which have been at Fields for over 30, or even 40, years. Field says of his team’s role in the store, “It is most important to be available on the shop floor for customers. Our team of 150 workers continues to deliver a loyal service, and I hope Fields has been good for them and their extended families.”
Trading On Tradition
The store premises that Fields occupies has a long history in the town. Field says, “Jeremiah Cullinane, who preceded us, managed his shop and bakery in this premises since before the Famine, in 1845. It has continued to the present day, delivering a service to the people of West Cork.”
Indeed, the store has survived the Famine, two World Wars, a war of independence, a civil war and multiple recessions, while maintaining what is quite possibly Ireland’s oldest bakery. Field says that he believes that the store is successful as a result of appreciating and nurturing its customers, while working closely with and appreciating its staff. He cites the Rudyard Kipling poem ‘If’ as an ethos within the store: ‘If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you, [... then] yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, and—which is more—you’ll be a man, my son!’
The store began as a traditional grocery shop of 800 square feet, with two windows, two counters and a bakery making bread and confectionery to the rear. There were some small improvements prior to 1988, when it joined SuperValu, but Field says that since then, the team has worked hard to keep improving the presentation. “The store grew to 6,000 square feet on joining SuperValu in 1988, and over the next 20 years, selling space increased to 20,000 square feet.”
He cites one of the store’s biggest milestones over the years as the decision to join SuperValu. Field says that the group offers him buying power, growth achievement, problem-solving skills, training, presentation, quality and standards. “As a group, we learn from each other and spend much time visiting each other’s stores, sharing ideas and making comparisons.”
Standards Of Service
The store is somewhat legendary for its high standard of customer service, and Field says that this is quite simply because the staff love their customers and their families. “The customer is king and is always right,” he says. “We watch out for births, deaths and marriages. Also, if somebody is looking for a product, you do not say, ‘Over there – you go and get it.’ Instead, we do the walking for them.”
This kind of care goes a long way in a town that has seen increased competition from the multiples and discounters over the years. Field says that every year since 1935 the store has sought to drive on its business. “We have seen many challenges and increased competition, but hard work has kept us where we are today. To be still able to enjoy my work, 50 years after starting in the grocery trade, makes it all worth it.”
Fields is also renowned for its superior range of quality produce, which ties in with the expectations of quality and excellence of the artisan food on offer from West Cork. Field says, “We are lucky in West Cork, where we are recognised for having the best producers in Ireland – smoked fish, farmhouse cheese, fresh fruit and vegetables, yogurts and eggs, as well as fish, lobster, crayfish, prawns, mussels and crab from the seas off the coast here. Having our own bakery and confectionery has also been an integral part of the business. Our customers and local producers are very important to us. It is our job to bring them together.”
Fields will no doubt continue to succeed within the retail grocery trade for years to come, with innate attention to detail and a mentality that is customer focused. Field expects that his daughter Ruth and her husband Adam, along with the manager Christy, who has been with the store for 40 years (not to mention his son, Barry), will continue to run the store with drive and enjoyment for the foreseeable future. With the right mix of people and attitude, Fields seems sure to progress and develop, but most of all, continue to serve the people of Skibbereen to the highest of standards. As Field says, “Have the range, quality and service, and always satisfy the needs of our customers. Never say no.”
We’re sure that with all that Fields has to offer the locals of Skibbereen, none of them will say no to shopping in such a welcoming place.