Archers Ballina represents four generations in the business; 110 years of resilience, innovation and going the extra mile.
The Archers family knows a thing or two about adapting quickly in tough times and using the experience to drive change and growth.
This is evidenced in more recent years by extensive redevelopment of their Castlebar store and yard infrastructure, coupled with ongoing improvements to their flagship store in Ballina. Archers are primed for future challenges.
Built from trees
The Mayo superstore began as timber specialists, and wood retains special significance for the family.
Born in Tyrone in 1875, Thomas Archer was apprenticed to a Dublin builder’s merchants and timber importers. By 1912, he had established his own outlet in Ballina’s Haymarket, taking over an existing business.
The store flourished; initially managed by son-in-law William Michael, later by grandsons Denis and David Michael. Today Archer’s great grandsons, Garret and William represent the fourth generation of the family to be involved in the business.
In 1928 Archers relocated to Pearse Street, the town centre premises included a sawmill and joinery shop, both extensively fire-damaged in 1941.
Fire and a stop to Scandinavian timber imports during WWII did not deter the family. They purchased a forest near Kiltimagh and began timber production.
To power the sawmill, a steam traction engine was sourced in Tipperary and driven to Mayo by William Michael assisted by Dr. B. Ashton, Dean of Killala, a noted steam enthusiast. Top road speed was 4mph!
The Kiltimagh timber sustained the company through the war, with the surplus sent by rail to other importers. It was also used to rebuild Pearse Street and was still in perfect condition when the site was redeveloped in 2007.
The sawmills and timber division eventually moved to Bachelor’s Walk and from there to Archers current site on Bunree Road in 1975.
The growing builder’s merchant trade also transferred to the new location in 1981. Relocation of the entire business was complete when the paint, homewares and gardening departments followed in 1999; the year of a total rebuild, creating one of the largest modern multi-department home stores West of the Shannon.
In 2014 Archers acquired a Castlebar Agri Feed and Supplies business. And last year: “have now developed our entire Yard and Stores infrastructure, culminating in the launch of our new look Home and Garden shop,” says Senan Monaghan CEO.
Flagship, Ballina store
The 2-storey 32,000sq ft premises is the complete home and garden superstore. A dedicated Building and Plumbing Trade Centre area (4,500sq ft), extensive showroom displays of Electrical Appliances, Bathrooms and Tiles, Stoves, Fireplaces and Doors and Floors (13,000sq ft), plus Paint, Decorating and Homewares (12,000sq ft), and an attractive Garden Centre (2,500sq ft).
Also on site, a dedicated store and yard providing a bespoke service for Agri and Fuel products (2,000sq ft).
Says Senan, “We are constantly refreshing our retail showrooms to incorporate the latest in technology, fashion and design”.
“Wherever possible we source Irish-produced goods. Most of our main building materials suppliers are Irish and include Gypsum, Kingspan, Wavin and Irish Cement. Dulux, Portwest and Merlyn Showers are Irish success stories in other categories.”
International brands will always be important in categories such as Electrical Appliances. Customers can find all leading brands including Samsung, LG, Electrolux, Zanussi, Whirlpool and many more.
Strong, authentic relationships with suppliers is key. “Never more valuable than when times are challenging. Having weathered so much over the past 20+ years, it often feels like the only certainty is future uncertainty,” Senan maintains.
“That is when relationships come to the fore. Cultivate a trusting collaborative relationship and you have an industry partner that will support you when it comes to adapting to the challenges of industry change.”
“Look after your customers…”
Having gone the extra mile to stay in business, Archers culture is rooted in going the extra mile for a diverse customer base, which includes building/plumbing contractors, professional tradespeople, self-builders, homeowners, DIYers, hobby gardeners and farmers.
Archers ‘extra mile’ covers specialist services like timber treatment, steel cutting and bending, to special-ordering non-stock items for customers to ensure they complete their project in the manner and to the finish they desire.
“We add value to customers’ product choices through expert advice in areas such as sustainability and energy efficiency,”
Senan explains, adding that sound guidance can entail managing expectations.
“…and your employees!”
Central to the company’s customer-focused culture are its 75 strong team. Excellent people and service are hallmarks of doing business with Archers.
The team consists of knowledgeable Sales Department staff in Agri Feed and Supplies, Building Materials, Home and Garden, Bathroom & Tiles, Doors & Flooring and Electrical Appliances all guiding, advising and serving customers, whilst working with its delivery planning and fulfilment teams to meet customer expectations.
All activities are supported by a dedicated admin team who liaise with customers, suppliers and non-resale service providers to facilitate streamlined operations. Training takes priority. “We use our considerable internal resources to mentor less experienced staff in developing product knowledge and an in-depth understanding of our customer service procedures.”
Externally, staff take part in Hardware Association Ireland training courses, online and in-person.
“We provide opportunities to upskill in areas specific to their current or developing role. From Merchandising to Stock Control, Credit Control and Digital Marketing; the industry-specific courses bring real benefits.”
Equally important, the networking and learning from sharing experiences.
Recently, Archers joined the Retail Skillnets Apprenticeship programme to prepare leaders and managers for the future. “We are very proud that, thanks to the long-serving nature of our staff, our values have passed down through generations.
But we recognise the changing landscape regarding employee longevity. This is the objective of our investment in our people, to provide opportunities for upskilling and a career pathway.”
Listening and improving
“We’re always reviewing and fine-tuning our processes, ever-conscious of our different customer types and their varying expectations, knowledge and needs.”
“We listen to our customers and employees, formally and informally, to take in their views and ideas. By being more aware, we get it right more often than not.”
Good communications helps manage change too. “We consult with staff at all stages of introducing new processes, listen to concerns and make adjustments, as required.”
Building in customer loyalty
Product quality, value and a trusted relationship form the foundations of well-seasoned partnerships, Senan affirms.
“At the outset, price and value can seem paramount, but to retain long-term business we find product quality, sound advice and committed support are key to cementing the relationship.” In 2018, Archers engaged a market research company to get ‘warts and all’ feedback from the marketplace; insights from customer categories regarding their experience of doing business with Archers.
“All very positive as it highlighted the strengths and points of difference of our offering, along with areas for improvement. These we’ve addressed through team discussion and some additional investment in resources to reach even higher standards.”
This process, together with Covid and other challenges, has spurred innovation.
“The pandemic was the catalyst to develop our online presence and invest in our capability to sell online and enhance our digital marketing.”
“We now use digital to drive people to an online shopping experience or direct to our store. We still believe in-person interaction means more to the customer, especially where expert advice is required and relevant questions can be asked to ensure optimum outcomes.”
Will innovative thinking also help Archers see off the threat of off-site construction?
“It’s getting more prevalent. Seen as safer, cleaner and quicker, it’s a potential rival to the traditional builders merchant. Off-site could eat into our volume, as ‘production-line’ construction outfits do direct deals with suppliers for volume of building materials.”
Reaching out to customers
Because Archers has a broad customer range, the company uses multiple media channels, with great results. Local advertising on radio and print media remains very effective for Trade, Agri and Senior customers.
Social media works for younger audiences, especially beneficial when there is a bigger story. For a heavily-promoted 3-day anniversary sale, “we posted archive images of staff and premises over the 110 years we’ve been trading. This ‘human’ content gets excellent engagement.”
Every platform constantly drives traffic to the website, which, in addition to generating sales, is a very useful ‘shop window’ to research options before phoning or visiting the store.
Supplier content is valuable too; quality, informative, interesting solution-based posts. Viewers like useful DIY projects, such as painting a door; putting up shelving, or learning about the people or story behind a product.
“We focus as much as possible on Irish stories as part of our commitment to the Guaranteed Irish brand.
Power in numbers
Archers are members of the Amalgamated Hardware (Topline brand) and Expert Electrical buying groups. “Membership of both offers access to leading brands of Building Materials, Plumbing, Hardware and Electrical appliance suppliers at competitive prices. Their dedicated marketing functions help us promote our offerings at key times.”
Networking with other independent group members has also built lasting relationships and enabled knowledge sharing. “The Guaranteed Irish brand really appealed to our sense of where we’ve come from and the communities we serve. The brand is going from strength to strength and we look forward to developing our engagement.”
With so many local staff, Archers are heavily invested in community. Contributing widely to local sports clubs, Agri shows, school and charity fund-raisers and much more. “Covid shone a spotlight on our place in the community, about the vital service we provide to such a wide population base. Supplying materials for necessary construction, family farms, homes takes on extra importance at such times.”, Senan states. Hence Archers’ USP and Top Tip in one: provide customers with best quality materials sourced by and sold by knowledgeable, helpful staff.
Having survived fire, war, multiple moves, pandemic, Celtic tiger boom and bust, Brexit and much more, Archers will go the extra mile and come out ahead.