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The sale of legendary Irish food retailer Superquinn to Select Retail Holdings was finalized today, marking the end of an era for the company that has largely defined the nature of “world class customer service” for many in the food industry.

It also was announced that Eamonn Quinn, son of company founder Feargal Quinn and deputy chairman of the company since 1991, has left the company and now will be managing the Quinn family’s business interests.

As previously reported, Select Retail Holdings’ Simon Burke, one of the best-known Irish businessmen in the UK, and the chairman of Hamleys from 1999 to 2003, takes the reins of Superquinn as the new executive chairman.

Feargal Quinn becomes non-executive chairman of the business. Quinn, who also has been elected several times to Ireland’s Senate, also will continue to represent Superquinn at international level including CIES and FMI.

Select Retail Holdings is an Irish-owned company in which the Quinn family has a stake. It has been reported that the Quinn family’s remaining stake in the company at about 20 percent, and the sale price of the company is in the neighborhood of $500 million (US).

Commenting on the closure of the deal today, Burke said: “We are proud to have become the owners of Superquinn. Feargal Quinn has left a tremendous heritage in Irish grocery retailing and we intend to build on it. We want to keep Superquinn famous for its quality, its range and its service while also offering good value for money.

“Our customers rightly expect exceptional quality from us, especially in fresh food, and I will see that they get it. There will only be improvements. In the case of range, we have already increased the selection in our stores and dramatically reduced the number of gaps on the shelves. We will continue to search the world for new ideas and products to offer our customers, although our commitment to give priority to Irish suppliers will remain as strong as ever.”

Mr Burke emphasised that his priority is to work with the experienced Superquinn shop floor and support teams to maintain the focus on quality fresh food and world-class customer service that has established Superquinn’s reputation.

“I believe Superquinn has the best team of people anywhere in the Irish supermarket business – grocers, butchers and bakers – many of whom have a lifetime’s experience of giving great service and my goal is to enable them to deliver a world-class service to customers every day,” Burke said. “It is a significant challenge and there is a need for change. It will take time, as all our plans cannot be implemented at once , but we are looking forward to the task and we are glad to be getting started today.”

In an email to MNB this morning, Feargal Quinn wrote, “I’m not sure how easy it will be for me to take my hands off the rudder of Superquinn but my duties in the future will include inculcating into the management team the tradition and culture of customer service that has made Superquinn famous. In addition I will be involved in the induction and training of new comers to the company.”
KC's View:
Feargal Quinn may not have his hand on the rudder of the business, but to continue his metaphor, we suspect he will be very involved in trimming the sales, watching the skies for storms and prevailing winds, and, most of all, making sure that the crew is working together to keep the ship sailing in the right direction.

We’ve probably had the opportunity over the years to spend more time with Feargal Quinn than with any other single retailer; we have been the recipient of his kindness and generosity. So while we don’t pretend to have a lot of objectivity toward him and the company he built, we also think we have a strong sense of how Superquinn works and what makes it special.

In all likelihood, the sale of the company was the smart move. Quinn had told us that operating in a purely independent mode in the increasingly cutthroat Irish market was just too tough – the company was being outbid for real estate, and simply found it too tough to grow and thrive in the ways it wanted to. This deal makes it possible for the company to do what it needs to do, to remain under Irish ownership, and to keep the family involved to some extent.

But there are some things we hope won’t change. When we think of Feargal Quinn, our abiding memories of him walking the sales floor of his stores, chatting up customers, joking and listening, and making sure that associates felt connected to the business’s goals. We have written often in this space that part of the problem with the supermarket industry is that we all tend to complicate it – that it would be a better, stronger industry if we all simply reduced the retailer connection to its most elemental state: shopper and shopkeeper.

Feargal Quinn is the very best kind of shopkeeper.