Beyond Bricks and Mortar

As Cleary’s Hardware, Carrick-on-Suir, marks ten years of Phelan ownership, their customers celebrate the friendly service and great range which has provided much-valued continuity through roller-coaster times.

After many years in business, Topline Cleary’s Hardware is proof positive that nothing can ever replace the helpful, face-to-face shopping experience.

The Carrick-on-Suir hardware retailer has been providing free advice, a wide range of products, opportunity for customers to see exactly what they are buying, plus convenient additional services to their local community for decades.

More than a premises, as Covid has highlighted, it’s the social interaction and personal service that matters above all.

“For particular sectors, some things can’t be substituted, and having a bricks and mortar store is key. Hardware shops fall into that category. We will always be a place where customers can be sure of friendly local knowledge and being part of the community,” says Conor Parle, Clearys Branch Manager.

This year the store celebrates ten years under the John Phelan & Co of Durrow umbrella. A decade of unprecedented and unpredictable highs and lows, yet Cleary’s has come through stronger and is looking forward.

A Tipp Tradition

The Carrick-on-Suir community links go back a long way. To the days when then Robert Cleary & Sons Hardware was originally on The Quay in the Tipperary town before moving to its current site on the Clonmel Road.

“This location is very handy for our shoppers to call in, as it is right on the main road and there is plenty of free parking,” Conor explains. Recent years have brought many changes and modernisation. The store underwent a major revamp in 2000, before John Phelan & Co, based in Laois, took ownership in February 2012.

The store is one of three thriving Phelan branches, all Topline members, with sister shops in Ballyragget, Kilkenny and Durrow, Co. Laois.

“As we were still coming out of the last recession, the priority was
to build the business back up,” recounts Conor.

And indeed the business has flourished and developed, thanks to a major upgrade programme. Starting with extending and resurfacing the storage yards and adding a new storage shed for garden and electrical goods to improve the range of products on offer to its Trade, Builder and DIY customers. The car park system was also redesigned.

Cleary’s then carried out a major store revamp in 2016 to create a bright, airy and open shop atmosphere. Combined, the shop and storage areas now encompass 30,000 sq. feet.

Expanding the base

In tandem with these changes, the business altered its focus slightly. Formerly more builder-orientated, Cleary’s now serves all sectors of the hardware business. The new bathroom showroom, unveiled in 2019, formed a major part of this pivot, and has been a real success.

Attractive and extensive, the showroom displays a range of products which can be accessed through the Topline group. Not just the items on show, but also the huge choice listed in the Topline Group bathroom brochure.

Bathroom Showroom

“This brochure is regularly updated and provides an easy to read and understand information pack for our customers,” Conor says.

“And it makes selecting and ordering simple.”

The store has also expanded its flooring and doors department over the past five years. All these developments have been major sources of growth for Cleary’s.

Including the kitchen sink!

Under one roof, shoppers will find departments dedicated to: paint, gifts, furniture, mirrors, bathrooms, doors, floors, stoves, ironmongery, plumbing, heating, hand tools, power tools, workwear, electrical appliances, gardening, cleaning and laundry and Christmas.

Flooring Centre

Customers will also discover a broad selection of trusted quality brand names and Irish-made products, all displayed in an open, bright and modern store environment that makes shopping a pleasure.

Service goes beyond expert assistance in choosing the right products right through to key cutting, delivery and paint mixing. Staff will even help carry larger items to the car or van.

Award-winning team

As the business has grown, Clearys has created increased employment. The current staff of 13 combines a wealth of experience in the sector with up-and-coming young talent.

Tommy Nolan, who is part of the DIY, hardware and building goods sales team, was nominated for new Rising Star category at the Octabuild Builders Excellence Awards in 2019.

Conor Parle defines the team ethos: “Understanding the importance of having a friendly environment to work in and for our customers to shop in. Nearly all our people are local, part of the community with extensive knowledge in their areas when it comes to their customer needs. Service comes first for them.”

Weathering the storms

Cleary’s has come through the pandemic stronger than ever; like many hardware retailers, seeing a huge growth in business. “This has obviously occurred as a result of Covid, and the surge in home improvement over that period. However the outlook for the foreseeable future looks unsettled. Rising prices and shortages of stocks coupled with the impact of the Ukrainian war means that we are all facing an uncertain future in the business.”

Though the outlook for 2022 is uncertain, “We have been through tough times before and hopefully our experiences will help us maintain growth over the near future”.

Conor predicts that energy saving will become ever more important as fuel prices and carbon taxes increase. He added that grants would help encourage efficiencies.

Surviving new challenges

Amid such uncertainty, Conor firmly maintains that “The secret to survival is continuing to excel at the things we are good at and known for, like our great shopping environment, but also have the flexibility to move with the times and adapt to the changing needs of customers”.

“So we keep up to date with new products; making sure we have them in stock and that we have the know-how.”

Covid has demonstrated what an important role technology can play in any business, so Clearys are using it to be more streamlined and reach customers in new ways.

Well-merchandised shelving throughout the store.

“Our primary goal for the future is to develop our eCommerce site and that is now underway, with the help of Intact Software and the Topline Group.”

Reaching out

Clearys reaches its diverse audiences, through its prominent and convenient location, and through local newspapers, radio advertising, a website and Facebook posts.

Getting the Facebook balance right matters. “It’s vital to post regularly and keep our customers updated on offers, new products and seasonal promotions, but not so much as to bombard people with content.”

Cleary’s have taken full of advantage of membership of Amalgamated Hardware (Topline). Indeed the store was also a member under its previous owner and has long valued the benefits.

“Being part of Topline Group gives us the opportunity to be a part of a big family, but operate independently. It is a great sounding board for any problems we might have and gives us access to marketing and IT services which we could never have as an unaffiliated independent.”

Cleary’s also avails of the training and development expertise on offer at Topline. But above all, “We benefit from the buying power of over 150 hardware retailers nationwide, and this allows us to compete successfully with the likes of Chadwick’s, Woodies and B&Q”.

Affiliation with Hardware Association Ireland is also very useful for building networks and sharing knowledge and experiences. John Phelan, CEO of John Phelan & Co, has served on the board of HAI.

Closer to home, Cleary’s supports many community fundraising initiatives, organisations and events, including the GAA, soccer, The Clancy Festival amongst other festivals, The Iverk Show, theatre groups and charities.