About McBride Retail
The McBride Retail Group is one of Northern Irelands largest independent SPAR Retailers.
The first McBride Retail store was opened in 1988 and the Group now has 11 hugely successful SPAR stores situated throughout Northern Ireland.
The McBride Retail Group also operates 4 ICE Off-Licence stores which are based at the Mullaghmore and Gortin Road stores in Omagh and in the Chanterhill and Lakeside 24hour store’s in Enniskillen.
McBride Retail have also added the Main Post Office at Mullaghmore in Omagh to the Group, together with 3 local Post Offices within the Chanterhill, Scaffog and Dromore stores.
Born and reared at Mullaghmore, Peter was the youngest of four children and got his first ever part time job at the tender age of just ten, working for Ronnie Moore who owned the VG store just yards from Peter’s home.
“It wasn’t a ‘proper’ part time job; I was really young and another boy I knew had started working there, and then Ronnie asked me if I would help out now and again weighing spuds and lugging the gas cylinders – I remember I could hardly lift them – in return for a few pence in wages,” he says.
Having his own money and working to fund the things he wanted was a concept that made a big impression on Peter and indeed, the principle of working in order to afford something, rather than pay it off, is something that he holds store by even today.
He explains: “Gradually I ended up working more regular hours in the evenings and at weekends. I liked the independence of having some money of my own and it meant I could save up for things – and what I really wanted at that time was a bike I had seen in Tommy Hetherington’s shop in the back market, so I saved up until I had enough to buy it.”
Of course, most of Peter’s time was taken up by school. He went to Killyclogher Primary School as a youngster and then moved on to Omagh CBS, although he’s the first to admit he wasn’t the most diligent of students. He was bright, but didn’t enjoy the strict ethos of the grammar school and he left there after five years, opting instead to complete O- and A-levels at Omagh’s Technical College.
“I really enjoyed my time at the College,” he says. “there was a great atmosphere about the place. For some reason I found it much easier than school; I was able to have a social life and I still got good results in my exams. I suppose it felt a bit more grown up, and I liked that I was more in control.”
Certainly to an outsider, it seemed as if the seeds of entrepreneurship were already planted – a strong work ethic and a clear idea of the way he wanted things to be done – but at this point Peter hadn’t made any big decisions about his career.
“There was never a point when I decided I wanted to own a shop or a chain of shops. I was planning to go off to the Business Studies college in Belfast. I had taken on a lot of the day-to-day running of the shop by then and at that stage Ronnie took me aside and said he wasn’t planning to stay in the business long term, and asked if I would consider going full time. My ambition at the time was to buy a car, and by my slightly flawed logic I thought that if I went to college, it would be years before I could afford it, so I said I’d stay for a year or two and see how I got on!”
A few years later, Ronnie followed through with his plan to move on from the business, and offered first refusal on the lease to Peter. He signed up to take over the VG store on July 4, 1988 – a date that is indelibly marked in his mind – and this year he sent a card to the Moore family, with whom he has remained close, to thank them for setting him on the road to success.
“They were very good to me,” he said, “and I will always be very fond of them, and grateful for the start they gave me.”
From that day on, Peter’s life and career would never be the same. Being his own boss allowed his natural flair for business to flourish and he immediately set about making changes to the Mullaghmore shop, despite the limitations that came with working out of rented premises. The business thrived, and when Peter got an opportunity to take over a second store in Enniskillen five years later, he jumped at the chance. This was to prove a real learning experience, and one that resonates even to the present day.
Unlike the Omagh store, running the Enniskillen shop was no bed of roses. Peter struggled with trying to be in two places at once and was forced, necessarily, to relinquish some of the control to members of staff he could rely on – or so he thought.
The ins and outs are nobody’s business but Peter’s; but suffice to say that 20 years and eight shops later, the issue of who to trust still looms large and he wrestles daily with achieving a work-life balance whilst keeping an all-seeing eye on what’s happening throughout the management structure and also on the shop floor.
“It’s probably the toughest lesson I’ve learned in business. I realised that you can’t be blinkered that it’s going on. And it still goes on – I tell other shop owners that there is always somebody stealing from you, and you can’t rule anybody out, even the people you trust the most. I don’t think I’ve let it make me overly suspicious, though. We have 330 staff and you have to trust them, but at the same time you put in place as many systems as you can to prevent it from happening. If I didn’t do that I’d feel morally responsible for almost encouraging that sort of behaviour.”
This very pragmatic approach to what is undoubtedly a sensitive issue is typical of Peter’s easygoing outlook on the world. Since taking over the Lakeside store, he has added eight more to his business portfolio, and now has four stores in Enniskillen as well as those in Derrylin, Strabane, Dromore, Lurgan and two in Omagh – Mullaghmore and Gortin Road. The latter was the first shop Peter bought outright; and this allowed him to get the bit between his teeth in terms of remodelling, and eventually building brand new premises to house his businesses.
Today, McBride’s SPARs operate out of large, bright, purpose built stores with all mod cons – a far cry from the poky surroundings of the old VG store with its individual fridges for dairy products and wooden shelves for tobacco.
But this growth has not come about through any aggressive business strategy – in fact Peter’s strategy, if he has one at all, is much more organic.
He says: “I never set out with a figure in my head, like I never wanted to have five shops, or ten or 20. Opportunities have just presented themselves and if it seemed like a worthwhile challenge and the right thing to do at the time, then I went for it, provided it wouldn’t leave either myself or the businesses heavily indebted.”
Growing the business – especially as part of the Henderson’s group under SPAR – has enabled Peter to achieve greater economies of scale, allowing him to increase profitability while also passing on cost efficiencies to the customer.
“It sounds like a cliché but we really do try to put the customer first. We try to make sure that we meet their needs effectively and we try to become part of the communities we are in. We also employ local people – I don’t like to boast about the things I am ‘proud’ of but that is one thing I genuinely am proud of – that we have created more than 300 worthwhile, sustainable jobs,” he says.
There’s a definite lesson in there for anybody that’s currently in business; and with exam results season just around the corner, Peter’s example is without doubt one that should prove to a generation of school leavers that success is not directly proportionate to academia – nor ruthlessness.
“My message to young people would be that there is always a plan B. There are probably more pressures on young people today than ever but there are also far more opportunities and far more people and organisations who are there to help. I find it so sad that young people now are so stressed. When I was at school there wasn’t the same focus on having your career mapped out as there is now, and in a way that was a good thing. I would say to anybody that if your plans don’t work out, or if you find yourself on a track that you feel isn’t the right one, then don’t be afraid to take a step back and change your approach – there are always other possibilities,” he says.
Fostering entrepreneurial spirit is something Peter takes an active interest in through his position on the Sperrin & Lakeland board for Young Enterprise Northern Ireland. In addition to this, he’s also on the board at the Northern Ireland Independent Retailers’ Association, vice chairman of the Ulster Guild for SPAR and a director of the SPAR UK Guild Board, which means keeping a finger on the pulse of what the company is doing globally (including travel to destinations like Hong Kong, Singapore, Mexico and Malaysia) as well as in the UK and Ireland.
Leisure time, therefore, is rare – and never moreso since Peter and his wife Julie welcomed their daughter Ava almost three years ago, followed by a son, Ben, who is now 1.
“It means I have to try and work more normal hours,” he laughs. “Before, I would have worked late nights, weekends – whatever was needed. But having children has given me a different perspective so I do try to spend more time at home.”
Peter also confesses to a love of motorsport, and his passion for fast cars goes before him – he loves nothing more than hitting the open road in his sports car and says he will sometimes drive it to Lurgan just to get the Sunday papers!
And as if that wasn’t enough adrenaline, horse racing is another passion – he owns shares in two racehorses and hopes that one might have Irish or even Grand National potential.
These are all undoubtedly trappings of a jet-set lifestyle, but in spite of it all, Peter’s feet are firmly on the ground. The business is bigger, the cars are faster – but the man, one suspects, hasn’t changed a bit.
Thanks to Omagh Today for providing the above interview.