The next few weeks are set to be hectic for retail co-ops around the country as customers go bananas for Fairtrade Fortnight; flipping mad for Pancake Tuesday; and flower crazy in the run-up to Valentine's Day and Mothers' Day. Add a very early Easter weekend into the mix plus the Chinese New Year; St David's Day and St Patrick's Day and it's easy to see how the period is already being dubbed 'frantic February meets mad March!' News reporter Sian Barton spoke to Martin Walsh, an operations manager with the Co-operative Group in Northern Ireland . . .
HAVING just recovered from the frenetic festive shopping blitz, Martin Walsh (pictured) and his colleagues are bracing themselves for the next major onslaught as a series of events and special occasions loom large to help lift the winter gloom for Co-op staff and customers alike.
"We're looking forward to the next couple of months with a mixture of excitement and trepidation," said the Belfast-based Co-op Group operations manager.
"A lot of planning has been done to ensure all the operations run smoothly.
"It's a all very challenging and the sequence of promotions present a wonderful opportunity to drive the business forward and start off the year at a real sprint."
This year's Fairtrade Fortnight will be another success story for the Group and the Movement, predicts Mr Walsh. He said there would be many product tasting sessions in the 13 food stores he has responsibility for which would help raise awareness of what Fairtrade is all about and said the province's larger stores in particular would set up prominent Fairtrade displays.
He is keen to beat the increase in the sales of Fairtrade products achieved during the fortnight last year and expects Co-op stores to drives sales of Fairtrade items as much as possible during the two-weeks, especially as Fairtrade products in Co-op stores will be reduced by 20 per cent.
Although promotional campaigns and displays are distributed from the Group's headquarters in Manchester, individual stores up and down the country are encouraged to put their own imprint on special events and Mr Walsh says he is looking forward to seeing staff in Northern Ireland dressed as Easter bunnies and using their flair to create "a sense of theatre" in stores.
He pointed out: "All members of the team have great ideas, not just those right at the top and staff are encouraged to come up with fun ideas and suggestions that help to make the store a fun place to work and a great experience for our customers."
Mr Walsh said he was expecting things to be very busy, but believes the team have planned out the events and promotions thoroughly enough to ensure that everything runs smoothly. He said: "We've got better at it over the last two years because we have the knowledge of how to manage it better and have learned from past mistakes."
As for St Patrick's Day, many stores in Northern Ireland will be decorated with large plastic or paper shamrocks with staff encouraged to dress as leprechauns to amuse and entertain customers.
Mr Walsh is expecting sales of certain products to rise depending upon which events are taking place and is looking forward to implementing the promotions organised by the Group. Aside from Easter eggs he believes traditional party foods, hot cross buns, turkeys, gammon and wines will also sell well in the days preceding the Bank Holiday weekend along with Easter cards and flowers. He said there will be offers throughout stores, particularly in the fresh foods section.
Chocolates, wine and flowers are expected to be in demand before Mother's Day and Valentine's Day and he added that there would be offers on many items.
Valentine's Day will have similar offers and sale uplifts, but Mr Walsh is expecting a rush for roses and champagne plus romantic DVDs and CDs. "Yes, it will be a hectic period for all concerned, but it will be challenging and good fun too so I'm really looking forward to all the events and promotions," said Mr Walsh. "Roll on the end of March!"