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Irish grocer Feargal Quinn on 50 years in retail

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On pricing: 

“Price was a very important element in the decision as to where to shop. Food safety, health, nutrition and the environment were never mentioned. We decided to lure our customers to our shop by checking the prices in our competitors’ shops and undercutting their prices by a penny or even a half penny, and that was sufficient to ensure the price element gave us an advantage.”

On competitors:

“Our employees (having changed out of their uniforms) would visit our competitors and do a sample shopping visit. We would then advertise our competitors’ prices as a comparison with our own and, of course, we were always the cheapest!” 

On technology: 

“Technology has changed many things in retailing but by far the most interesting has been the ability of customers to use a smartphone – not only to scan the product they were considering buying but to see and hear the farmer (and the farm) who produced the product and have the calorie count and the price in the competitor’s store at the same time.”

On negotiating with suppliers:

“Now retailers, armed with accurate price information, have the ability to renegotiate with suppliers for better prices and pass savings on to the customer. They can also be ‘closer’ to the market and manage more products, more effectively. They can see in real-time how certain marketing campaigns (including competitors’ ones) have an effect on sales. As in all walks of life, intelligence is power.”

On innovation:

“Superquinn was the first supermarket to offer online shopping to customers in 2000. While this is the norm now, Superquinn was enthusiastic to try out new and innovative ideas. These included Ireland’s first supermarket loyalty card in 1993. It was also the first to introduce bar code technology to highlight Irish-made goods and the first supermarket to introduce self-scanning to speed up the process of shopping. When we first introduced self-scanning, there was a massive ‘wow’ factor. People told me at the time, ‘I can’t believe I’d ever shop any other way again’.”

On customer service:

“I was very fortunate to grow up working in my father’s business, Red Island Holiday Camp, where the objective was not to maximise the profits of this business but to get lifelong customers, to get people to come back holidaying year after year. That is what I call the ‘boomerang principle’ and it should apply to every occupation. When I set up my business in Dundalk in 1960 with seven employees, I said to them that our objective is to give people such a good experience that they’re going to come back again, even if we don’t maximise the sale on this visit. I stand by that today.”

Feargal Quinn opened his first store, known as Quinn’s Supermarket, in 1960. His business was bought by the convenience retail group Musgrave last year. There are currently 24 stores employing more than 2,500 people. Extracts here taken from Profitero.

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