LAST September, Sam McCauley announced that they were closing their high profile city centre premises for good with the devastating loss of 27 jobs. The company had been trading, seemingly well, on Broad Street since 2001 and the announcement came as a shock to the whole city. It was followed by the closure of Mothercare, rumours of other premises closing, and the continued delays to the opening of premises like T&H Doolan’s, Wetherspoon and the commencement of the North Quays Development, which had been proposed to start in early 2018.
In an effort to understand why Sam McCauley’s chose to close their Waterford store, while at the same time announcing the opening of a new outlet in New Ross, the Waterford News & Star contacted their CEO, Tony McEntee with a number of questions, the first of which was why they decided to leave in the first place.
“There were three main factors that led to our closing of the Waterford City premises,” Mr McEntee said. “Firstly, retail sales had been in decline for a number of years and had to be supported by additional discounting over and above the rest of the business. The loss of a key part of dispensing business to a former employee lead to the dispensary element becoming uneconomic for us and the local voucher club schemes are an important part of the business but commission on vouchers equates to 10% discount.”
Speaking about the challenges that are facing Waterford right now, Mr McEntee said that most of the issues are the same ones that are facing other parts of the country too.
“Online and discounting are the big problems but Waterford does seem to have an unemployment rate that’s higher than the national average,” Mr McEntee said. “Our unit in Broad Street had been marginal/loss making for a number of years and a significant investment was needed. We had a break clause in our lease and we just couldn’t justify the investment that was necessary.”
As part of an exit interview – of sorts – we asked Mr McEntee what he thought could be done to turn around Waterford’s fortunes.
“I’m not a town planner or an economic consultant, I’m just someone from outside of Waterford who has seen things play out from the inside and outside,” he said. “I do believe though that Waterford City could benefit from an integrated South East development approach across all of the councils in Waterford, Kilkenny, Wexford and even as far as East Cork. A clear city regeneration plan is needed, covering retail, heritage and leisure.”
The CEO pointed to Waterford’s Achilles Heel, and the one area that unless it’s sorted, “could leave the city lagging for many years to come”.
“It’s obvious to me that WIT needs to be upgraded to full university status and it seems incredible that this hasn’t happened yet,” Mr McEntee said. “Universities hugely add to local economies and attract large employers to the area. The importance of this cannot be understated.”
He added that Waterford needs to “focus on growth areas” and become “industry specific”.
“Waterford could become a recognised centre for a specific industry/small number of defined industries,” he said. “And then collaborate with WIT to ensure that they are providing the relevant graduates for these industries.”
Mr McEntee concluded by saying that there is “massive potential” in Waterford, but the pharmacy chain had “no plans to return to the city centre in the medium to long term future”.