My name is Steven stocks and I’m the centre manager of Nutgrove shopping centre.
Welcome to chamber chats the new podcast from the Dun Laoghaire Rathdown Chamber. In this podcast we chat to members of the chamber about their business and the impact that they have on the Dun Laoghaire Rathdown region. We chat about the positives and negatives of running a business in the current climate and the support that they received from being members of the Dun Laoghaire Rathdown community. As always, I’m your host, Rob Fitzhugh from Filmsmart pro and this week, we are chatting to Steven stocks, the centre manager for Nutgrove Shopping Centre in Rathfarnham. We talk about the highs and lows of operating a retail centre during the pandemic, and how bright the future is moving forward for local community retail.
I was appointed the centre manager of nutgrove Shopping Centre in March 2020. So, I’m a retailer with over 20 years experience in the sector, having started out at Morrison supermarkets and the graduate scheme. And then spending the last 14 years at Marks and Spencer was most recently the store manager in Dundrum. And, and then I was delighted to have the opportunity to be part of the team at nutgrove which has been part of the local community since 1984. And the one thing about Nutgrove is it has such a loyal customer base, and it’s surrounded by loads of chimney pots. The centre itself is a large suburban centre and it’s situated at the heart or in the heart of rathfarnham. And the centre offers a wide range of retail entertainment, food and beverage. And I don’t know if many people know out there but Nutgrove shopping centre was the first, had the first ever McDonald’s drive thru in Europe in 1984 and Nutgrove was actually in the same year voted the European shopping centre of the year.
So has we said before we started I am a born and bred Nutgrove head I know the place very well. I’ve spent many a day there and and i often still to this day still bandy about that that fact about the Nutgrove drive through. When people say where are you from, I say Nutgrove, Do you know that they had the first drive thru in Europe? I didn’t know they were voted what you say European shopping centre of the year,
European shopping centre of the year
You’ve just given me extra juice for when I’m out and I can spice up my Nutgrove facts. But that’s really good. I mean, as I said, I know no company. Well, I grew up with nut g rove. And I remember then they had that hang glider that was above the right over near where they had Roches stores, which is now whatever that is. But em, I spent a lot of time there. And one thing I was very curious about is obviously you’re talking about Nutgrove when it was opened as European shopping centre, the year I’ve seen Nutgrove with my own eyes have to change and adapt over the last couple of years. I mean, I remember no, I remember Nutgrove during the recession 2008 was was pretty grim. And a lot of stuff was closed, a lot of stuff was an operating and but then again, you know, they survived. And one thing I would notice is Nutgrove has changed a lot. I mean, you’ve got bakeries, you’ve got more of an emphasis on food, there’s more of an emphasis on a space for people to meet. And how much of that is is is is by design. And how much of that is is just businesses coming in and saying, Hey, you know, what, wouldn’t it be nice to do this? It seems like there’s a real push to make Nutgrove a place where people would, would want to spend time.
Yeah, retail is evolving and adapting. And, and what customers are looking for nowadays is more of an experience when they when they shop. And this is more pre COVID-19. But there’s definitely more of an emphasis on customers wanting that experience. So they want to come in to their local shopping centre. They want to meet their friends and their family and they want a nice place to have a cup of coffee and catch up. And one of the benefits of Nut grove is we have all the major retail brands in Ireland. The Irish indigenous retail brands such as Pennies, and Dunnes. We have Tesco. We have a lot of local retailers as well, such as Fx buckly. Independence, and that mix and is definitely what customers are wanting. And because that’s what the customers want, we tend to tailor that to the shopping centre. I mean it is a local shopping centre. And it’s good to have local retailers in there alongside some of the major brands because they do complement each other. And one thing we aim to do in Nutgrove is to have that real gentle, friendly environment. So it’s real nice to come and shop. It’s friendly. It’s safe. Is that warm feeling?
Yeah, cuz I would say I’ve seen Nutgrove change over the years but it’s as my granny lives in the Loretto park there and she would often you know, wander over to get her shopping and stuff like that. And even though some of the shops and the approach has changed in general and you feel like it’s, it’s more of a place that’s encouraging you to stay and spend time in it as opposed to come in and buy something, and but it still retains that original look and feel, I mean, it’s still very much the same shopping centre I used to go to as a child but but it’s got a few little kind of different extras a little bit of a different emphasis here and there. And you’re talking to somebody who’s to work into Burger King there, I worked in Burger Kind there. I am well, trenched if you’ve cut me Nutgrove bleeds out of my pores. No I’ve just spent an awful lot of time there. I can’t stress that enough. My opticians is there, that’s where I bought these glasses. Em but from your perspective then, em from the last year and stuff like that. I obviously it’s been a challenge and but in some instances, Tesco itself was allowed to be open, I’d imagine there was a lot of juggling, there was a lot of moving around. What outside of kind of COVID proofing the entire place. What for you was kind of the biggest challenge with all this?
Well, look, I started on March the 16th 2020. So I, I started.
So somebody was like, see you later, I’m not doing that this.
I started the pandemic, I landed into Nutgrove and I have to say that was blessed with the team that’s in Nutgrove shopping centre, they really are the best in class. And they’re really, really helped us out. So yeah, we had to adapt quickly and showing that the centre was, as you said, a safe place to shop, but also providing that best in town experience for our customers and for our staff. And then we’ve had challenges along the way. We’ve had shops close, with often no date in sight. But again, we were in that unique position of having an excellent retail mix. So we have a lot of independent retailers a lot of essential retailers that could stay open. And it was great that our customers remained loyal and they they shop local. And what else did we do? S o we’ve, we’ve we really focused on improving our technology in the centre as well, such as we introduced a new website, we’ve enhanced our digital marketing, and we kind of focus on that end to end omni channel experience. And we now have occupancy rate occupants to rate so we can see how many customers are in the building. And we focused on click and collect services because we know, we knew. And we still know that customers are nervous shopping. And one thing that we introduced was a click and collect curbside. And this is a service that’s used by some of our retailers and allows customers to visit an order online from one of our designated retailers. And they bring the product out to the council, they don’t have to go into the shopping centre as well. So I know we’ve done all the safety measures in the centre have done the Q in we’ve done the one way systems, we’ve also tried to improve the centre digitally as well. And we’ve noticed that a lot of our older customers have gone and checked out our website and use these services.
Yeah, I would imagine like I know that demographic of the areas change over time, but I would imagine for a long time, you’re a lot of your core and customers were an older population. And that’s probably changed of late but but from from growing up, I would always remember there was a core especially in the Loretto Park and all around that they are council houses and they’ve been around for a long time. So they’re kind of an older population. But Em, I would imagine safety then was paramount for them in terms of having them come in. But what I will say is, I remember when Dundrum opened and everyone was like “Well thats the end of Nutgrove” , but Dundrum opened and everyone was like God like, one of the observations I had a big shopping in Dundrum is everyone had to get done up like makeup when Dundrum opened. They were all putting on a lot of effort to go shopping and I was like do you know what. It’s a different experience. If I want to go there and go there. It’s like going to town but if I want if I want something Nutgrove generally tended to have everything I need if you know what I mean, in terms of of a one stop shop and it was less hassle to get in and get out, grab whatever I needed. There was always some extra stuff there some shops I didn’t know I got this stuff. Like I said it was pure essentials that I’d be still going to Nutgrove over. My mobile provider is in Nutgrove, you know, my credit union was there my, my glasses, it was all that sort of stuff. So it was all and and I gravitate, I still choose, I live in Wicklow and for a long time I was still driving up to Nutgrove to buy printer ink because I couldn’t find it anywhere else. And that’s a good 45 minute drive. So something’s going on there. That’s that’s, that’s going correct. But in terms of moving forward, what do you think is how do you see it’s gonna happen now or what kind of changes do you think will happen for you guys out is obviously you’ve been, I suppose you’ve been and since you’ve started given the date you’ve started you’ve just been kind of putting out fires all the time. And what’s going to happen now for you when things start to open back up, and
Steven Speaker 10:01
Look, I am, I’m delighted that we have some clear dates to when we can open up because I know retails a little bit in the dark. So this week we launched, click and collect retail by appointment and then from the 17th, full retail will reopen. And I think there will be challenges going ahead in retail and for the shopping centre. But retail always faces challenges. And one thing that us in Nutgrove shopping centre, want to do and will do is keep ahead of the curve. And we know the customer behaviors are changing fast. Customers have more of a digital mindset. And we need to achieve that blend where customers browse online and then purchase in store. And so from end to end experience or they shop or they look online, and they come into that group shopping centre because they still want to touch and feel that product. Customer loyalty is massive. So keeping customers shopping locally is hard in this sector, as a so much choice. But if we continue to provide the first class experience in Nutgrove and something that excites the customers, so they want to come back and shop with us. Customers expectations is another point, we need to keep up to date with what our customer’s wants and needs are and adapting to their shopping behaviors and meeting them. Modern Marketing is another thing that is important. And if we’ve got to get the marketing, right, whether that’s a new and traditional, so that either working on social media or putting an ad in the paper, we need to get that blend, right. And then people, people are our biggest strength. And it’s the team in Nutrgove that will bring the centre to life and bring our retailers to life. So when our customers come and shop with us, they feel part of the Nutgrove family and want to come back and shop with us again. And that’s how I see evolving in the future.
I know Yeah, it’s it’s funny that you it’s funny that you mentioned about marketing and stuff like that I was actually just looking for something there. And or maybe it wasn’t. Yeah, it must be difficult because you’ve got you’ve got to, you’ve got to do that balancing act of advertising to new people to let them know, Hey, this is what you can get here but also keeping it on brand with the kind of local place that you’ve run in the local kind of crowd there. I remember I was just looking there to check because I couldn’t remember if it was real or not. Crumlin Shopping Centre, social media. Have you ever seen the Crumlin shopping centre social media? I don’t know whether it’s made up or whether it’s the real Crumlin shopping centre social media but they have this very funny voice online, which is like, you know, it just plays in contrast to the fact it’s from Crumlin shopping centre, and they’re very self deprecating. And I I’d like to I pretty sure it is the actual Crumlin shopping centre, I don’t know. But it’s just a weird approach that they took to marketing shop centre. And the fact that I’m having a conversation with you about it suggests that it resonates in some way. But I suppose it’s an example of, of established businesses try to think outside the box, which everyone has to do yourselves included, and in order to kind of entice people to come in. But I wonder now and I wonder now, we’ll see. See what you think of this? With everybody working from home, right, and populations being dispersed I feel anyway and that they’d be more drawn out, there hopefully will be a more resurgence of the community if you know what I mean, people shop and local because they all work local now, people getting coffees locally. And I wonder now will the idea of people want to commute to town or commute and Dundrum, and all that sort of stuff, will that sort of fall by the wayside. And it’ll be more of an idea of you know, I’ll call shop local or go to my local place because I work local, I’m part of this community. And I don’t know if you’ve seen anything like that, or do you think it would go that way?
Yeah, I mean, look, Nutgrove shopping centre’s has been very resilient over the last 12 months. And we certainly have seen a shift to local shopping. And where, yeah, we definitely have seen that that the shift because although footfall has dropped, and we remained ahead of the curve, and we’ve noticed that even when these five kilometre restriction in place, customers were shopping local, whether it’s a local pharmacy, their local butcher, their local cobbler, their local grocer, Nutgrove had everything that they needed, and they definitely did shop more local. And we’ve seen that come through on our feedback as well. Whether that customers have told us this that and the definitely in touch with what we are doing in Nutgrove and they certainly do have an opinion as well on how they would like to see the centre evolve. But yes, definitely, we’ve noticed people shopping more local which is which is which goes to show the strength of being a local shopping centre with a lot of chimney pots around us.
Yeah, because I even I was thinking they’re like, I mean, jeez, I remember when I was growing up, it was just Nutgrove and that was it and then obviously now, and obviously the award winning McDonald’s but and then after that you’ve obviously had the emergence of the smaller complex across the street there with Harvey Norman and all that sort of stuff. But even still, I would still find on this on my own personal experience that if I’m going there, I’m going to Nutgrove. If you know what I mean, I am going to that entire complex. And I might pop into Harvey Norman to get something but I probably pop into Nutgrove because there’s something there that I need or the perceived element. But what I would say is, it’s when I go to Nutgrove I go to Nutgrove for something, if you’re not me, like oh, there’s something I need to get. I get it, I will get it in Nutgrove. Where Dundrum might be a different experience where it might be more in line to just wander around and browse. With Nutgrove. I’m always very much like well, I know they have this I’ll go to get it. And in order to have that. And sure I’m always buying, I will always pop into deals just to pick up some little gizmo or something that I can attach to my phone for whatever reason for the crack. And obviously then there’s that Pennies, which is the Paramount Pennies. And it’s funny you talk about click and collect, I was having a conversation with someone the other day and I was saying, I remember when I was really young, like really young. I am showing my age We’re talking maybe 25/26 years ago, used to be able to go into Nutgrove and that Dunne Stores next to it was not a Dunne Stores. It was like a loading bay place. And you could bring your shopping out in your trolley, and they would load it into boxes and deliver to your house in a van and this was about 20/25 years ago. And my friend’s mother used to avail of it because she had a lot of kids and she couldn’t manage it all. And I remember you put them into cardboard boxes and have them delivered and I was thinking, that was very ahead of the curve and that to have 20 odd years ago to have somebody delivering, I suppose it’s a holdover, maybe it was something that would happen in smaller rural communities. But it had that real feel of it, do you know what I mean, Once you were done shopping, you’d wheel your trolley into that now Dunne Stores area. And they would take it, tag it, put it in boxes and throw in a transit van and bring it to your house. And so yeah, very very rooted in Nutgrove nostalgia. So yeah, so like moving forward, then things are starting to open up. I know you’ve more clear dates in sight? And do you think now it would be time to make some without given the game away without maybe there’s stuff on the horizon to be to start making further changes to add in further stuff to kind of meet that demand?
Yeah, look, look. There is also uncertainty and we need to focus on what the customer shopping habits are and how these are going to change. We need to keep a close in close contact with the customers and stay in touch. And we will continue to focus on our click and collect services. And it’s amazing how the full circle is that you mentioned Robert 25 years ago, and how that that holds that’s coming back to life again, and this whole click and collect, the curbside where we’ve dropped the product out of the car, and online shopping where we’ll deliver the product to the customers houses and we need to be a part of that and be a shopping centre that has all everything under one roof that has the end to end omni channel experience. So we will move more digital whilst staying in keeping with the traditions as well as traditional shopping centre, because we do still want to get people through the doors and experience the shopping centre. But yeah, there will be changes. I mean, it’s very fluid to me. We don’t know what post pandemic retail is going to be like we have an idea.
Well, that was it for our chat with Steven. If you want to find out more about Nutgrove head over to www.nutgroveshoppingcentre.ie. You are listening to chamber chats podcast from the Dun Laoghaire Rathdown chamber. Please like and subscribe to this wherever you listen to your podcasts. Has always, I’m your host, Rob Fitzhugh from Film Smartpro. This has been chamber chats. The Dun Laoghaire Rathdown chamber supporting commerce in the region for more than 70 years.