Limerick shop owner reveals truth behind closure

Aine Fitzgerald

Reporter:

Aine Fitzgerald

Michael Riordan outside his Centra shop on Lord Edward Street, Kilmallock, which closed in September. He says telling his staff their jobs were gone was 'awful - the worst thing I have had to do'. Picture: Michael Cowhey
MICHAEL Riordan loved running his supermarket business, particularly the “wheeling and dealing of it”, but the pressure of trying to look after his staff and keep the door open, he admits, has been “very, very stressful”.

MICHAEL Riordan loved running his supermarket business, particularly the “wheeling and dealing of it”, but the pressure of trying to look after his staff and keep the door open, he admits, has been “very, very stressful”.

The 52-year-old was once one of the biggest employers in Kilmallock, providing jobs for 50 people in his Centra and SuperValu stores.

Today, he reveals he is “actively seeking employment” due to a “huge mound of debt”.

Under the falling darkness of Sunday, September 29 last, Michael closed the front door of his Centra shop on Lord Edward Street for the final time.

Monday-morning shoppers were met with a large hand-written sign across the front door reading: “Shop closed! All support for 22 years greatly appreciated. Thanks all!”

The reason for the closure: simple maths. A reduced turnover as a result of a sharp decline in footfall.

“My mind was made up for me. The business closed with a huge deficit. The turnover wasn’t sustainable,” he said this week. “To open Centra each week – to pay the wages, the banks and overheads, before I got a bob, cost €4,200.”

The Mallow native, who made the move to Kilmallock in 1991, feels the town is “over shopped” for its population, and existing businesses are losing out as a result of locals shopping outside of the town.

“The population level is not big enough but the culture that everywhere else, bar our own place is better, is a significant factor as well,” he said.

The straight-talking businessman said he has “a serious issue” with a minority of community leaders “supposedly advocating shopping locally while it is glaringly obvious that they are not shopping local themselves at all.

“People can shop wherever they like – I’m not questioning people’s liberty to shop but don’t be advocating something for somebody else if you are not doing it yourself.”

He said he was not making the statement “to score points off people” but noted that “people in positions of leadership need to be showing leadership”.

Acknowledging that in the 21st century “the discounters” including Aldi and Lidl “are a very significant part of the grocery shopping experience”, Mr Riordan said he is not “condemning” people for facilitating these outlets.

“In the current economic environment, these offerings are very important to people’s weekly budget. I am simply saying for the balance of your shopping, make a concerted decision to shop local.”

Having purchased the Centra and SuperValu stores in 1991 - he sold SuperValu in 2006 - the entrepreneur, who graduated with a BCL degree from the Law faculty at UCC, says there was a perception locally that five years later, he would be in a very strong financial position. The reality, he said, is he was in a “very precarious position”.

“People had this idea that I was a multi-millionaire – I was anything but! It was a very tough working environment, very tough. People wouldn’t know it. People are still stunned that the shop is closed above.”

While he admits there was a “significant improvement” in trade in the so-called noughties, over the last two years the business suffered a serious decline. “From about May 2012, it became very serious,” he admitted.

“The result was that by the end of March 2013, despite further improvements in the Centra store, it became unsustainable. I knew we were in big trouble and without the support of the Musgrave Group [the parent company] the store would have closed then.”

While originally the date for the closure was earmarked for October 13, “things were so bad, the closure had to be brought forward by two weeks”.

Sitting down with each of the 12 staff to tell them that the store was to shut and their jobs were gone, Mr Riordan describes as “awful. It was the worst thing I have ever had to do I would say, terrible.”

Mr Riordan, who was chairperson of the Town Traders’ Association on two occasions and is currently treasurer of the association, said he would advise any prospective investor in Kilmallock to contact members of the local Trade and Commerce to get an overview of the potential of the town.

“In the last five years, quite a number of businesses have opened and closed very quickly, simply because they hadn’t their homework done. The problem is there are around five sectors, and they are all feeding into the same sectors, including grocery, hospitality, and transport. I would say ‘please service areas not serviced already – find a niche rather than putting your oar in where somebody else is trying to make a living’.”

When asked how he coped with the stress of the store closure, Mr Riordan said dealing with pressure “was bred into me but maybe not as well as I thought.

“I am beginning to realise now it was having more of an effect on me than I thought. About seven weeks before it closed, I was away in the North for about a week and I got a call on a Thursday indicating that I needed certain funds to be put into the bank. I hadn’t any money to put in the bank. I got a pain in my stomach and I promised myself from that moment, I would have to get out because if that reoccurred I could end up getting very sick, I knew instinctively. I knew this thing needs to be put down before it brings me down with it.”

The last time he took any substantial amount of time off was back in 1990, from October to December. While he hasn’t taken a holiday since the closure, he says he is relaxing. “I have spent a lot of time with family – my siblings, and catching up on housework, realising I have a house! I hadn’t seen the house only to collapse into bed since I bought it in 2006.”