Albany at the forefront of Décor Retailing

In this issue of The Hardware Journal Aoife Kinsella chats to Sean McGuinness from Albany Home Décor, Castlebar about a world of colour and all things home décor. 

Albany Home Décor, Castlebar has been at the forefront of décor retailing in the west of Ireland for over 45 years and has truly earned its reputation as a destination store for décor enthusiasts and trade professionals. From humble beginnings on Main St in Castlebar, Albany now resides at an impressive 8,000 sq.ft décor superstore at Barcastle Retail Park in the town. Managing Director, Sean McGuinness says “We have always strived to deliver a quality offering of brands, service, advice and value, and our expansions and relocation moves have made it possible for us to remain relevant to our customers over the years”. The store has been home for Albany for 12 years now and is surrounded by a cluster of other large home related retailers including Symphony kitchens, Crean’s Ceramic City, Tile Warehouse, Master Carpets & Flooring, Heiton Buckley’s and the well-known McHale Park GAA stadium is a stone’s throw away across the busy N5.

History and background

The Albany store has been in the hands of the McGuinness family since its establishment in 1972, when Paddy McGuinness set up the first Homemaker store on Main St in Castlebar. Since then the business has moved and upscaled a number of times. In the early 1990’s Paddy became one of the founding members of the Albany Group which now has 28 member stores and is Ireland’s leading décor buying and marketing group. The business is now run by Paddy’s youngest son, Sean, since Paddy retired in 2010. Sean is supported by sisters Aisling and Niamh and six other members of staff, many of whom have been with the business for a decade or more.

As part of his main duties as Managing Director Sean puts particular focus on building and maintaining close relations with product representatives who supply their wide range of paint and home décor stock. He schedules regular weekly appointments with these reps ensuring that he has the appropriate time to negotiate deals and best prices for their customers. From 8am to 6pm every day the store is busy with customers, with an approximate split of 65% retail customers (homeowners) and 35% trade (painters and decorators).

Advice & Expertise

All staff are trained and experienced in product knowledge, problem solving and colour consultancy, and Aisling McGuinness is a qualified and experienced Interior Designer. Albany Castlebar also provide a full design and specification service in-store for domestic, trade and commercial customers. In recent times the store has invested in displays and information points to support specific product categories such as Spray Technology, Woodcare Centre and Custom Made Blinds Centre.

Particular focus in training is placed on product knowledge. “We keep it refreshed and up to date as much as possible”, said Sean. With new product launches and updates coming from suppliers Sean and his team make a point to keep their knowledge up to date and attend any product training initiatives made available by their suppliers. At quieter times of year, such as the autumn and winter months, some focus is placed on sales and customer service training.

A world of colour

Albany houses the best in décor brands from paints and wallpapers to blinds, ready made curtains and homewares accessories. In-store you will find the designer colour collections of Farrow & Ball alongside the Little Green collections, Fleetwood Prestige, Dulux Signature, Colortrend and Albany Design Collection ranges in a well appointed 750sq.ft ‘colour station’. This is essentially the backbone of the business with customers indulging in a veritable colour emporium.

Albany’s extensive paint tinting centre with seven separate colour tinting systems is capable of producing an almost infinite range of colours and finishes. The most recent tinting system, under the Zinsser brand, allows for a comprehensive offering in industrial and performance coatings to the trade and manufacturing sector in primers, enamel coatings, floor paints, fire retardant, anti-oxidant, bio and eco-friendly paints. This is one of only a handful of such tinting systems in Ireland at present.

Not just a Paint Store

On the first floor of Albany Home Décor the customers are treated to one of Ireland’s largest collections of stock wallpaper in various styles and tastes from the dramatic to the traditional and an extensive wallpaper book bar with thousands of samples including huge wall murals. The 4,000sq.ft department also contains an extensive lighting stock and showroom with exclusive ranges from Dar Lighting, Paul Neuhaus, Cork Lighting, Pacific Lifestyle and many more brands. It also includes ceiling lamps, wall lamps, pendant lamps, spots and lanterns in every style from Art Deco, industrial, retro and modern to traditional styles.

Albany also has an extensive window blinds centre with a full suite of custom-made blinds from Luxaflex, Hunter Douglas, Ashley Wilde and other notable brands in thousands of fabric options for rollers, roman blinds, venetian’s or vertical blinds for the home, office or industrial and commercial settings. They also carry a large stock of ready-made curtains, cushions and accessories to help inspire their customers’ décor senses.

Finishing Touches

In addition to their soft décor product lines Albany has recently launched its exclusive range of home accessories from Home Square to compliment its growing range of
occasional furniture, mirrors, artwork, murals and other wall fashions. The Home Square range contains a colourful and fun collection of homewares, giftware and fashion items
for the subtle and dramatic finishing touches to any design scheme.

Social Media

Along with their developing webpage Albany Home Décor Castlebar has a growing social media presence with profiles on Instagram and Facebook. Their social media team of
Catherine, Niamh and Aisling update the company profiles regularly with competitions, home décor and upcycling tips, product launches, promotions and other in-store announcements. While it’s difficult to gauge the results and the immediate impact it’s placing on store sales and activity, Sean says they are happy to have a presence, and thanks to the efforts of the online team engagement is growing week on week.

Local Community Support

As part of an initiative to support and show appreciation to the local community, while also building brand awareness, the store sponsors local sports group through providing pitch signage for the Castlebar Celtics, and by purchasing new nets for the Castlebar Mitchells GAA Club. The store also provides Albany branded sports bags to local schools and sports groups.

Trends, Facts & Figures

According to Sean the store has seen a growing trend in upcycling among their retail customers. Over recent months the store has seen several daily enquiries from the public
who make use out of their colour consultancy services, seeking help painting existing features in their homes like their kitchens or furniture. While many of these projects are completed by DIYers trade customers are enjoying that trend as they work closely with those homeowners and provide their services to complete larger more involved projects.
Designer, high quality paint and wallpaper products has also grown in demand. “People don’t mind spending a bit more for quality products, said Sean.

The business has been well positioned to benefit from the growth in the market over the past four to five years. Sean says that “being a specialist paints and décor provider means that our customers rely on us for problem solving advice, one-to-one service for interiors and colour advice and naturally a very wide range of paints, wallpapers and décor accessories”. Since the beginning of the economic recovery in 2013/2014 Albany has seen a steady growth in the market year on year and have recovered all of the volume loss
suffered in the crash. “This is satisfying for us as we know we are right in our strategy to focus on the specialism and expertise that we have rather than downgrade our offering
and fight for market share on price and promotion alone”.

This trend is being replicated right across the Albany Group in their 28 store network. “A big trend for us is the in-store colour events and demonstrations that engage customers
and help them with their design and colour ideas and our customers are responding well to these efforts in both the DIY and Trade end of the business”.