Dublin-born Donagh McGoveran opened his second Centra store on Malone Road in Belfast eight months ago and, despite the current economic turmoil, his store has received first-class honours from the students of nearby Queen's University.

Donagh is no stranger to retailing, being a product of Musgrave's graduate recruitment programme which he joined in 1997. But it was in 2005 that he decided to take the plunge and set up on his own. "An opportunity came up to take a site close to here and I decided to fend for myself,"  he explains.

Three years after establishing his first store, the site near Queen's University became available. Although already having a store in the area gave him a headstart, Donagh found that opening a second store came with its own problems. "Opening the Malone Road store has been a different challenge," he says. "The economic climate has changed and we've had to change along with it. It's important that we convey the perception of value to our customers. People generally think that supermarkets are good value so we have to get them thinking that we are as well. We can't undercut the supermarkets on everything so we focus on key products to help promote our good value message."

When opening the Malone Road store, Donagh turned to someone who has first-hand knowledge of Queen's University. "My wife had gone to the university and she said that there weren't many shopping options for the students. The stores around made no attempt to cater for students. They didn't have a decent range and had very little fresh fruit or food to go."

The potential was there; all Donagh had to do was get the store ready and win over the customers. The site needed a lot of work and Donagh had set himself a deadline of August 2008 to open. "The previous owner had let the store become rundown so we had to clear it out and completely refurbish it. A lot of customers who used to come here had decided to shop elsewhere so it was important that we worked quickly to get them back."

To win back customers, Donagh introduced a more student-friendly product range and a DVD rental kiosk, which has proved very successful. "It takes very little management on our part and brings in a lot of customers. It suits the area as most of the students are in rented accommodation and don't have satellite television. Although we wouldn't make much from the machine itself, we have stocked plenty of snacks close to it to capitalise on its popularity."

He also has a wide selection of in-store services. "Customers expect you to have an ATM machine, PayPoint and the National Lottery so it's important that you have these in place. We're currently waiting on the National Lottery as scratchcards seem to be very popular with students."

Because students make up the majority of his customer base, Donagh finds that his weekly routine is different from that of other convenience store owners. "The students usually go home for the weekend so it's quiet from Friday evening until Sunday night. Monday morning is the busiest time of the week. The good thing about this is that it allows me to have Saturday off and catch up on Sunday."

Donagh has a good relationship with his staff and does his best to keep them involved in the store's workings. "I place a strong emphasis on training and conduct regular appraisals. Anyone is free to query anything about the business. I feel this is important as it builds trust. If I can trust my staff then the operation runs more smoothly."

Donagh isn't afraid to take employee's ideas on board, especially as a lot of them are his main customer demographic. "Most of our part-time staff are students, so it helps to get their opinions," he says.

One idea Donagh is working on is expanding his hot drinks area. "We have a table close to the hot drinks machine where people can stand and drink their coffee. This is proving very popular so I'm hoping to take away some of the nearby shelves and install a breakfast bar where people can sit. There's nowhere else on the Malone Road where people can do that."
Management issues
Managing two stores has meant that Donagh has had to learn to delegate. "When I first started running my own store I wanted to do everything myself, but as the business grew this became impossible. I now have managers in charge of particular sectors who can take responsibility for their area.

"It's important to give people a chance when you give them added responsibility. No one is going to be able to do the job perfectly straight away. You have to allow them to make mistakes - it's an important part of the learning process."
shop profile
Centra Quick Shop, Belfast

Size: 2,400sq ft

Turnover: £50,000 per week

Services offered: ATM, PayPoint, DVD rental, Opening hours: 6am - 11pm daily

Staff: 12 full-time and 23 part-time