Aoife Kinsella talks to Mike O’Carroll, Store Manager, and Mike Behan, Area Sales Manager of Kerry Agribusiness Ballyduff as they celebrate the re-opening of their newly refurbished store.
Set in the heart of Ballyduff, Kerry Agribusiness’ Rattoo store relaunched in March this year following a six-month refurbishment. The north Kerry village has been home to the store’s dairy and tillage business since its origins as Rattoo Creamery over 50 years ago.
A Story of Growth and Success
In the early 1960s, three small creameries amalgamated to become Rattoo Creamery, taking its name from a local historical landmark, the Rattoo Round Tower.
During these early years, farmers from the area delivered grain to the creamery for milling on site. Butter making was also a key function then, with butter sold on to shops in north Kerry and surrounding regions.
The original creamery was demolished in 1997 and a new store was built in its place.
As the business expanded and customer demand grew over the next twenty years, the need for a complete refurbishment was clear.
A Modern Retail Space
The project commenced in September 2018 and was completed in March 2019. The development work proceeded smoothly thanks to the backing of the store’s committed team led by Store Manager Mike O’Carroll. And, since opening, the new-look premises has been a success and is flourishing.
This transformation brought a significant step up in size, from 7m x 3m to 21m x 9m, without affecting the area of the yard, 40m x 40m.
Today’s new and improved Kerry Agribusiness Ballyduff premises stocks an extensive range of product categories including: animal feed, fertiliser, solid fuel, protective clothing,
veterinary, dairy hygiene, chemical and selected household/ hardware goods.
Keeping Up with Customer Trends
The store prides itself on customer care, in particular providing services for local dairy, beef and grain farmers and hardware/DIY customers.
The business works closely with its 3,200 milk suppliers (who supply 1.16 billion litres of milk annually) to enable them to maximise on-farm efficiencies and profitability, recognising the need to maintain a vibrant rural community in a sustainable and unspoilt environment.
Planned, intelligent merchandising is vital according to Manager Mike O’Carroll. Merchandising is strategised throughout the year to match products with seasonal
demand. Because business is also weather dependent, it’s essential to manage trends and adapt quickly to accommodate customer needs.”
Kerry Agribusiness have noted the following trends in their products, which they use to optimise in-store sales:
- Chemicals: late spring/all summer
- Fuels (coal, briquettes, logs, gas, firelighters): autumn, winter, spring
- Oils (engine/universal): year round
- Fencing: mainly spring but summer also
- Veterinary/Dosing: year round
- Fertiliser: spring, summer, autumn
- Feed: mainly spring but year round
- Seed corn: spring
- Grass seed: spring, summer, autumn
- Silage requirements: year round
- Animal husbandry products: mid/late May to end August/start September
The store also hosts regular seasonal offers throughout the year, such as their autumn fuel promotion.
Mike O’Carroll has a very full week as Ballyduff Store Manager. Opening hours to the public are from 8.30am to 5pm, Monday to Friday and 8.30am to noon on Saturdays. Mike’s diverse array of duties includes managing his small team of three dedicated staff, while dealing with customers, placing orders and receiving shipments, stock control, cash reconciliation and store merchandising (regularly updated to meet seasonal demand).
He is supported by another Mike, Mike Behan, Area Manager for North Kerry, together with a Kerry Agribusiness Sales Representative and a Milk Quality Manager.
“The Rattoo employees work well as a team and are all great problem solvers; friendly, approachable and hard working,” says Behan.
Training is a key focus both for regulatory and staff development purposes, with the entire team educated to a high standard on a yearly basis.
All staff undergo an Induction course, Forklift and Manual Handling training, along with further regulatory instruction in Fire and First Aid, Chemicals and Pesticides, and Veterinary. Courses are matched to the products and services on offer, to ensure the staff deliver efficient, safe services and accurate advice to their customers.
Product knowledge and soft-skill training (sales, customer service, etc) are offered annually as needed, together with any refresher courses.
The Advantages of Group Membership
The Rattoo store (and its customers) benefits from being part of the 32-strong group of retail stores which make up the Kerry Agribusiness family (a division of Kerry Group PLC). The group also includes an animal feed mill in Farranfore, Kerry.
Collectively, Kerry Agribusiness has made huge contributions to the south-west region, including employment and local community development. For its part, Kerry Agribusiness appreciates the assets of being a member of the Allied Merchants Buying Association. Its primary focus is improving value and benefits to members’ businesses, while increasing the market share of participating suppliers.
Kerry Agribusiness is committed to running a lean yet highly effective organisation. Doing so underpins their dedication to be a business that exists not to make profits, but with the sole goal of strengthening members.
“We are now working with like-minded people with a core focus on growing our competitive position and improving product offerings and efficiencies for the betterment of our members and customers,” explains John Collins, Operations Manager.
Milking Online Connectivity
To support customers’ need for quicker, more efficient communication and service, Kerry Agribusiness has developed an in-house MilkedIn APP for use by the group and stores to communicate with milk suppliers.
Introduced in early 2017, the APP allows milk suppliers easy access to their milk and financial data via their mobile phone or tablet. At the touch of a button it’s simple to view current and historical milk collections, constituent results and financial details including milk and trading statements.
A NewsFeed feature allows Kerry Agribusiness to send messages directly to milk suppliers, which can include links to PDFs highlighting special offers, or to videos on farm management practices, and much more. A Tip of the Week focuses on key seasonal topics such as silage making and breeding.
Uptake has been excellent. Approximately 40% of milk suppliers are now using MilkedIn. Kerry Agribusiness reports that it has been very well received.
Although the social media activity of both the Rattoo store and Kerry Agribusiness are at an early stage, Mike Behan expects growing digital activity and demands for more online engagement among younger consumer markets. “We see social media as an important communication tool in the future.”
At the Heart of the Community
Recognising the importance of the community in Ballyduff and Rattoo, the Kerry Agribusiness store contributes to local life by sponsoring organisations and events in the
“Kerry Agribusiness has a proud record of community engagement and support,” says Behan. “We contribute significant time and resources to initiatives and charitable causes in the localities where we operate. Positive engagement with these communities is a core value of our business. Many of our employees live in the area where they work and are intertwined in every aspect of community life and activities.”
At group level, Kerry Agribusiness recently engaged secondary school students from across
the Kerry catchment area in a Grazing Management Competition to promote the adoption of best practice grass management techniques among the next generation of farmers. The competition celebrated the vibrant farming community in the south-west region, and one young participant came from Ballyduff.
Kerry Agribusiness will also be hosting Info Zone Events for milk suppliers as part of an innovative Focus on Profit programme developed with Teagasc.
The programme mission statement sets out its aims: “to empower our client farmers with up-to-date technical advice, deliver financial expertise to set and achieve financial goals, provide a blueprint for profitable and environmentally sustainable farming and ensure an enhanced quality of life”.
Weathering a Changing Economy
The store revamp, together with forward-thinking initiatives by the Kerry Agribusiness group, are providing solid foundations for the future. This investment is vital in a climate of post-recession uncertainty and change.
A primarily farm-related customer base has meant that the recession was not a major factor for the store or the group, particularly given the limited exposure to the building trade. However, with Brexit looming, the Ballyduff store has concerns about the supply and cost of product from some suppliers. But the mood is positive, thanks to their revamped premises.
“This new store symbolises our confidence and ongoing commitment to provide the very best for our customers and local communities, no matter what the future may hold. We’re planning ahead and putting our customers first,” confirms Behan.