Topline Murtaghs is coming through Covid with healthy sales thanks to a flexible approach, openness to innovation, and an exceptional team. Managing Director Colin Murtagh explains how this family hardware business reinvented itself to serve its community in tough times.
Topline Murtaghs didn’t let a pandemic hold back their plans. Indeed Covid has been a catalyst for a transformation in customer communications and service, a brand refocus and store and market expansion.
For customers in Ashbourne, Meath and Dublin’s Sandymount, and now beyond, Murtaghs is The Home of DIY. Through many booms and busts, Murtaghs has always adapted, yet retains its identity as the local hardware store with the products and advice to guide their customers to get the job done with confidence. Murtaghs began trading in 1887 and is a family-owned business now into its fifth generation.
“The pandemic initially hit us hard, but customer and staff safety came first. We closed our doors in March 2020, pivoting quickly to enable orders for Home Delivery or Click & Collect,” says Managing Director Colin Murtagh, the fourth generation.
Within two weeks Murtaghs had launched a new website, www.murtaghs.ie so customers could order online and by phone or email. This prompt response accelerated the company’s growth and innovation plans.
“It was a very busy, stressful time, as we had to change how we did things, but every employee rose to the challenge to ensure customers received their orders.”
As an Essential Retailer, Murtaghs reopened in May 2020. However, they continue to offer these convenient services. Investment in IT was considerable, yet it represents essential future-proofing; Murtaghs can take orders and deliver nationwide.
An online Retail Grant from Enterprise Ireland helped fund a digital marketing agency to develop their eCommerce.
Now that Murtaghs is doing more business ‘remotely’, they’re bringing their renowned approachability to digital platforms. Social media has become an effective tool for community engagement and updating customers on news and offers.
Covid also prompted a branding review centred on Murtaghs’ ethos: nothing counts more than community; nothing achieves success more than a good team.
Murtaghs also progressed extension plans (within government restrictions), expanding their Ashbourne store to include a collection area for Click & Collect, an online orders zone, and a new Trade Centre which opened in April 2021.
“This dedicated shop for trade customers, stocking all the main trade brands, provides a separate offering of products and services especially for them.”
Though the two stores differ greatly in scale, their welcoming, helpful atmosphere is what customers notice first. Both are wellpositioned at the centre of their communities. Ashbourne encompasses 7,000sq ft of retail, including the Trade Centre, plus a warehouse and spacious yard. Sandymount has 1,500 sq ft.
“Space is a premium; we have to be clever, optimising every inch. We regularly measure sales per square foot to identify what’s not working and change it quickly.”
Product range and services are dictated by customer demand. Services include paint mixing and colour consultancy through partners in Colourtrend, Fleetwood and Dulux Paints, and key cutting.
Both stores feature Paint, Household, DIY, Seasonal (Garden, Christmas), Builders Supplies, Fuel, Agri-Equipment and Supplies, well laid out with clear sections for easy shopping. “Our involvement in the Retail Excellence Ireland Awards helped us focus on merchandising and we always try to have vibrant and quirky window displays”
“We stock well-known brands (Stanley, Makita, Evode, Fleetwood, Irish Cement, CPL, Colourtrend, Dulux, Ronseal, Gypsum), along with less recognisable names chosen for reliability and value. Maintaining strong brands and supplier relationships was an advantage this past year. The key is having good open communications and working together. We’ve teamed up with suppliers to boost joint marketing efforts; creating synergy.”
“For example, customer events have featured CPL Fuels advising on winter fuel, Colourtrend presenting colour consultations or Dulux running a trade, breakfast morning. We’re eager to get back to customer events post Covid.”
“My motto: nothing is too much trouble and the customer is always right! So, we go the extra mile every day.”
Even down to the little things: smiling and saying thank you to every customer every time, loading products into the car, and if something isn’t available in-store, ordering it for them.
Exceptional service is only possible with great people. Murtaghs has a very diverse staff of 26, many being loyal employees for decades. Each has a key role in driving success and Colin cannot rate them highly enough.
“As Managing Director, the buck stops with me but I’m so lucky to have a great team supporting me. No task is too big or small for any of us, and we all support one another through thick and thin.”
“Covid strengthened this resolve. The last year has shown our staff will do whatever it takes to keep the business moving.” “This kept us operating during what was a tough few months.
Ireland embraced DIY during lockdown, and thanks to our customers and staff, we were kept going.”
For Colin, exceptional service comes down to giving staff ample time to learn; becoming familiar with products and comfortable with customers. And giving plenty of praise.
Murtaghs runs ‘Topline’s Customer Exceptional Service’ for new staff, repeating it every couple of years for all employees.
“Bringing on and encouraging younger employees, blending youth with experience and promoting diversity, is crucial to futureproofing our workforce.” Which includes a fifth generation of Murtaghs: Patrick heads up online, while Ella combines work and college.
“If success is measured by how long we keep people, that would be my proudest achievement. They mean everything to me. Their ability to adapt to some serious changes due to Covid has been fantastic.”
Colin believes this sector is blessed to have many long-standing traditional family hardware businesses. “The ability to provide for local communities in a friendly way keeps us ahead and unique.”
However, he warns that not keeping up with the times could make such stores extinct. “We are light years behind our grocery counterparts and need to learn from them and adapt.”
Brexit is the most obvious barrier, summed up by: price, duty, red tape, availability, delivery times and costs; among the massive issues facing all retail.
But the immediate challenge as the pandemic eases, is to continue providing great service to valued customers in a safe environment. Less under Murtaghs’ control are product shortages and delays. Supply chain issues stemming from Covid and Brexit form the biggest obstacles.
Murtaghs are working flat out to cope with incomplete orders and uncertain delivery dates to offer the best service possible. Retailers should consider enclosed storage much more seriously to ensure having stock.
Over the longer term, Colin sees the customer shopping experience changing dramatically. Covid provided a taste of the future, forcing Murtaghs to be proactive.
“We’re lucky to have a very loyal community base in Ashbourne, but we’re always pushing that boundary. Online has extended our market. We’re also actively growing our pool of regular trade customers through our Trade Centre.”
Murtaghs surveyed customers to identify what matters most. Quality and quick availability at the right price came tops for retail and trade buyers. Online shoppers sought reasonable prices and simple ordering.
Customer input, together with ongoing research, drives improvements and change. The Trade Centre was created in response to customer requests.
An annual Marketing and Promotions Plan forms the starting point for all promotional activities. “Things change rapidly in retail. We have a weekly promotions planner so we always know what categories we’re concentrating on.”
“Customers get a unified message across all channels: social media, website, e-newsletters, POS posters/electronic signs, promo shelf ends and prominent displays, plus flyers for quarterly Topline promotions (Spring, Summer, Winter, Christmas).”
Word of mouth in-store builds sales and staff are briefed daily on offers. “Social media has transformed customer engagement. We have ignificiantly increased our Facebook and Instagram followers over the last couple of years. As an extension of our brand, all posts have a similar look and feel for instant recognition.”
Much effort goes in to ensure content is informative, engaging and not too product-heavy. Posts with Tips, How To Guides and anything related to staff are popular.
Membership of the Topline (Amalgamated Hardware) has boosted Murtaghs’effectiveness and competitiveness.
“Topline have been a fantastic aid. Their professionalism and helpfulness helped make us the thriving business we are today.” For the 120 affiliate stores, buying power is Topline’s major advantage, together with marketing, HR, operations callout, fitouts, technology and industry updates.
“Affiliations for example with our national trade representative organisation, Hardware Association Ireland help keep our finger on the pulse, I also get ideas from visiting other retailers, seek managers’ input, consider reports and analysis and often gut instinct.
I always seek innovations and watch for trends.”
Colin’s predictions:“Online reached us a decade ahead of time through Covid-19. Embracing it will ensure we pass a thriving business to the next generation.”
“Hardware stores should be creating far more theatre and an incredible retail experience.
Stack ‘em high and sell ‘em no longer inspires customers. An inviting environment and service, advice, product knowledge and the chance to touch and try a product does.”
“Augmented Reality Commerce; an interactive experience using real
objects enhanced by computer (used by Dulux), will be prevalent in
the near future.”
“Customers today want more sustainable products. For example; moving customers to Eco Wood Briquettes rather than Peat Briquettes.”
Murtaghs constantly invest in their IT and recently replaced all their computers and introduced new hand scanners, signature capture and email invoicing.
“Accurate monthly Management Accounts delivers relevant current information, allowing us to make informed decisions to drive business forward faster. We cannot afford dead stock and must maximise space; computer-aided analysis of turnover vs space is critical.”
2021 and beyond
Colin anticipates a strong 2021, but 2022 is difficult to gauge because “we had a good 2020 and 2021 to date. During lockdown, homes, gardens and spare rooms were painted and decorated. We could have an exodus abroad leaving less money for such projects in 2022.”
Murtaghs will continue developing online, trade and their Sandymount store, and restart loyalty and charity programmes.
Colin proudly credits his staff who put in the hard work to win many awards including:
- 2017/2019 Meath Pride of Place Best Shop Front
- 2018 Meath Business and Tourism Award, Best in Retail Finalist,
- 2019 Top 100 Retail Excellence Ireland Awards
- 2020 Top 30 Retail Excellence Ireland Awards
Community means everything
“We have a huge connection with our community, especially through our Fab Friday sale on the first Friday each month. 5% of takings go to a local charity or group. We look forward to resuming this initiative soon and hope to introduce an OAP shopping time.”
Murtaghs supports local GAA, rugby and soccer and teamed with a Men’s Shed in conjunction with Ash2020 to build planters celebrating Ashbourne’s 200th birthday.
“Our great staff who make Topline Murtaghs tick!”
Every day is a learning day – be ready. With times and habits changing at a mesmerising pace, retailers must adapt while anticipating what’s coming down the track. Expect the unexpected.
Keep pace by investing in staff, online, digital strategy, technology, buildings, plant and equipment; watching trends, listening and visiting other stores in our sector. You don’t have to be first to do everything.
Copy a great idea and do it well. Shop local!