GIVING customers what they want has allowed Gleeson’s of Catherine Street stay in business for over half a century.
And loyal customers, it would seem, have responded by naming the city business Limerick’s Newsagent of the Year 2014.
The Limerick Chronicle and Limerick Leader earlier this year asked readers to nominate their favourite newsagent and the callout elicited a huge response.
The awards are run in association with Local Ireland, the industry group representing 35 weekly local newspapers in Ireland, including the Chronicle and the Leader. Shops were assessed for customer service, in-store promotions and commitment to the community.
“We have been selling newspapers in the city for 60 years. Before that my grandfather would have been selling newspapers out in Fedamore. So we are an awful long time in the retail end of the game,” said Shane Gleeson, proprietor of Gleeson’s, Catherine Street.
There was no online competition for newspapers when Shane’s father John Gleeson opened his shop at 42A Catherine Street - a couple of doors down from the current corner location - all those years ago. John was still in his teens when he set off on his venture with the help of his brother Steven.
“He managed to build up a strong local trade and gradually made it into what it is today. Then we opened up the other two shops [on Henry Street and in Castletroy],” said Shane.
The Catherine Street business employs 14 and is actually the smallest of the family’s three Spar outlets, which between them provide a living for over 60 people.
Between them, the shops sell a huge number of copies of the Leader and Chronicle each week, along with all the nationals.
They are busiest at lunchtime and Gleeson’s, explained Shane, was one of the first shops in the city to anticipate a demand from customers for the now ubiquitous deli counter.
“We had a huge trade in cut meats in the early days, selling a huge amount of ham or corned beef every day. There was no pre-packed meats at the time.
“We had a lot of customers from the Limerick Leader and it was one of their guys who asked would we make sandwiches. We started out making eight or nine sandwiches a day for different regulars; then we started making more and putting them up on the counter for the Leader’s print workers, for the HSE staff across the road and for the office workers. Eventually the deli developed out of that business,” said Shane.
Gleeson’s, he said, had been the first shop in the city to bring in Cuisine de France and to bake bread on site every day. “It must be 30 years ago or close to it that we had Cuisine de France come in. People were laughing at us and everybody was saying we were stupid to be putting in this over in with the brick surround to give it a homely appearance and make it look like a chimney. But it took off massively from there,” he said.
Today around four in 10 customers in Catherine Street come in primarily for food from the deli counter, which accounts for “a full quarter” of total turnover, according to Shane.
“Delighted” with winning Newsagent of the Year, Shane said awards were nothing new to this family business. The shop is a perennial industry award winner and all three of the family’s Limerick stores were recently named in the top five for customer service in Spar nationally. “We have a very large number of our customers coming in to us for 30 or 40 years. They have stayed with us come hell or high water so we must be doing something right,” said Shane.