The Hardware Journal speaks with Senan Foley, Head of Retail at Glanbia Ireland, about their roots and ongoing support for local farmers and rural communities.
Glanbia Ireland is firmly rooted in Irish soil, with its origins dating back to the start of the 20th century when farmers were just beginning to band together to form co-operatives. Originally set up to service farmers, the Glanbia Ireland network of stores has evolved to service a wide range of consumers.
“Buy from us and you’re supporting your local farming and rural communities,” says Senan Foley, Head of Retail at Glanbia Ireland. In 2005, the company saw the potential of attracting a wider retail customer base. So Glanbia broadened their retail offering, launching CountryLife Garden Centres in 2008, now a hugely important and successful aspect of the Glanbia Ireland retail strategy.
Today Glanbia Ireland is one of Ireland’s leading farm and rural retailers, majority-owned by Irish farmers. The network comprises 52 branches covering the southeast, midlands and northeast; 14 of which incorporate CountryLife Garden Centres, one of Ireland’s largest garden centre groups.
The Company sources 90% of their large range of quality plants from Irish growers and nurseries and have expert horticulturalists in every CountryLife store, to guide gardeners at every level. Customers can shop online also.
All Glanbia Ireland branches offer a complete line-up of products and services: farm supplies, animal feed, fertilisers, agri chemicals, animal health, seeds and hardware. More retailorientated garden supplies, pet care and clothing/workwear ranges are stocked by CountryLife stores.
Senan attributes much of this success to the commitment of the people who keep the branches running. “Our business and our staff are driving every day to go the extra mile for customers.”
This dedication was evident during the ‘Beast from the East’ storm in 2018. Senan cites the staff member who, on his own initiative, walked 8km to open a Glanbia Ireland branch so that farmers could get feed for their animals.
“This was just one example of our team’s willingness to go above and beyond to ensure that our farming partners were supported in a time of need. Our team are often the heartbeat of our branches, they know our customers inside out and are dedicated to servicing their needs.”
Training and development are at the heart of Glanbia Ireland’s retail strategy, ensuring all staff have the skills and knowledge to provide expert advice to customers.The business invests significant time and resources into hosting regular training days, at their Kilkenny head offi ce and through localised training with area suppliers.
For Glanbia Ireland, capacity-building is a very effective way to incentivise and encourage employees. Continual education has also given long-term staff opportunities to upskill and cross-skill. Some have been with the group for up to 40 years, many working their way up to head office.
Glanbia Ireland also fosters fresh talent, bringing in newlyqualified young recruits. “This next generation has the potential to be future leaders within Glanbia Ireland,” Senan notes. “It’s critical to the long-term success of our organisation that there is cross-pollination between our long service members and new colleagues. Getting this balance right between experience and innovative ideas has given our business a fantastic edge that cannot be easily replicated.”
Glanbia Ireland keeps customers at the centre of all activities as it adapts to the consumer demands and the market. Research is vital for evolution, guiding the development of product ranges, services and brand extensions. The group updates its offer continually, based on market trends and consumer research.
As Senan outlines, “We conduct market research annually with our core target customers, and every two to three years undertake a deep-dive study enabling us to stay close to key insights and drivers. Research underpins our strategic thinking and planning, and helps us to enhance our customer experience.”
In response to emerging demand, Glanbia Ireland put a new focus on sustainability in their Gardening division, supporting environmentally-aware customers on their quest for change with the right products, know-how and guidance.
Sustainability is the future and Glanbia Ireland is ready with a range of initiatives signalling a green agenda for customers. A new partnership with SSE Airtricity and Activ8 Solar Energies through an initiative called FarmGen provides a full end-to-end solution for farmers and homeowners to install solar PV panels; thereby harnessing the power of clean energy and making real savings.
On the gardening side, Glanbia Ireland rolled out Operation Pollination and Operation WildNation in 2019, with a mission to educate the nation on creating pollinator and wild bird friendly environments.
Operation Pollination is donating thousands of pollinator-friendly plants to communities, promoting the value of protection and providing safe habitats. Both initiatives have already been hugely successful in connecting Glanbia Ireland to their customers and families regarding causes they really care about. “This campaign captured the hearts and minds of our customers, and we’re very proud to be part of this movement.”
At the same time, through retrofi tting LED lights and fittings in all branches, Glanbia Ireland automatically achieved a 61% reduction in electricity use. Many of the garden centres now use water harvesting systems, which allows these typically heavy users to conserve water.
Digital plays a big part in today’s communications strategy, offering new channels for customer engagement. “We can reach out to agri-customers directly, sharing meaningful and informative content such as articles and videos regularly with technically savvy farmers through our GlanbiaConnect.com portal,” states Senan.
Glanbia Ireland is also able to connect with audiences on an emotive level. Campaigns promoting Operation Pollination and Operation WildNation, motivate viewers with entertaining, educational video and blog content shared across their social media channels.
Senan sums up the benefits. “We see social media and our website as really important platforms, not only to drive awareness of our business, but crucially, to build relationships with current and potential customers.”
The GlanbiaConnect.com online portal was also introduced as a hub for all the information farming partners need from Glanbia Ireland. Everything from seasonally-relevant technical information, to their account trading information, milk performance statistics, plus a one stop shop for all their agri purchasing needs.
As a company rooted in a farming community with a co-op owned structure, the very fabric of Glanbia Ireland’s business is centred on community.
Senan explains, “We leverage this infrastructure and play our part in pumping life back into rural Ireland, be that through the people we employ, the customers coming to purchase goods locally, or the social connections of our branch staff. Support of local communities and activities abounds across the full Glanbia Ireland business, something we take great pride in.”
Industry Connections and Kudos Networking is more important than ever for a business committed to excellence in both the agri and retail sectors.
“We are affiliated with industry groups in both, including a long-standing relationship with Hardware Association Ireland. Glanbia Ireland benefits greatly from the network it provides.”
Within the retail sector, Glanbia Ireland is gaining accolades.“It’s great to see all our hard work rewarded” was Senan’s reaction after Glanbia Ireland won a string of prestigious awards, including CountryLife scooping Best Retail Customer Experience in the Loyalty Awards 2019, plus nominations in four separate categories.
Glanbia Ireland also won the 2019 Retail Excellence Online Retail of the Year Award for their Glanbia Ireland Connect Ecommerce platform.
The agri industry has been resilient during the downturn. Where other businesses may have struggled, Glanbia Ireland has seen their core agribusiness thrive. Senan believes this solid performance is down to continuous customer research to adapt to changing markets, to develop new ranges and categories, and keeping prepared for incoming challenges. “The challenge is to find new categories while still meeting changing customer needs.
Transitioning to suit our customers is an area we are actively working on.” Senan regards technology as a key enabler to all Glanbia Ireland’s functions, but a long-term strategy is needed to keep the future business strong and relevant. “For our businesses to be successful in years to come, we must be technically agile in all areas. We have shown ourselves to be quite capable in this fi eld, however our work is never done. We will continue to develop our technology and it will be the cornerstone of our business going forward.”
Do the basics consistently right, while putting the customer at the heart of decision-making. This has always been the Glanbia Ireland way. Senan affirms it’s a sound strategy for success over the long-term too.