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On the latest episode of The Retail Tea Break Podcast I’m joined by a guest who said she always knew that she had a great love for people and sales, a true people-person. Sandra Devenney is the General Manager of McElhinneys in Donegal. She’s passionate about customers and their experiences in store and online. She became a household name during lockdown as the face of the company’s marketing campaign that it now has thousands of followers from over 50 countries. With the tagline, “Being independent never goes out of style”. This retail brand really knows who they are. Listen back here

Future Proofing McElhinneys

Sandra is someone that works hard and is target driven, she explains that she (and her team) need something to work towards. “I had this little burning idea in my head about a development program McElhinneys, and because of where we were located, Melissa—we know that some of the skills that we have in here would do so well in the cities. We needed to make this a dynamic, engaging, forward thinking, progressive company. That was where I came out with the idea of the Accelerated Leadership Program.”

She explained that she realised she’d found the team of the future and has been working relentlessly with them every since. “Out of that accelerated leadership program we have almost 15 people in that have now been into leadership roles. Also 50% of our overall team, which is almost 200 staff, have been through a training program, which is called our McElhinneys Academy. It’s all from that initial question for me to John: “I’m lost, what do you want me to do?” And he says, “I want you to future-proof”. Since that day, that is exactly what I’ve been doing.”

McElhinneys is a destination; for customers and the team

Sandra has seen plenty of people that are willing to relocate or to locate to Donegal simply for jobs. It was that vision of John McEhlinney to start turning the store into a destination that led to the continuous upskilling and cultivating of the staff and the environment. She explains that to encourage  these people, they needed to create a really healthy culture

“They’re getting the attention that they need. They’re getting nurtured, they’re getting listened to and that they have trust in the process. And sometimes we have to make decisions; we have a business at the end of the day that maybe they don’t like, but if they trust the process, then they will come with you. And that is what is happening. The last two years of McElhinneys, they’re trusting. So they’re completely behind us. We’re moving faster because of that.” 

McEhlinney’s customers are so loyal; “it’s not a store you’ll walk into in your lunch break, we’re not in the middle of a big mall; you have to make a conscious decision to come to McElhinneys. So as part of our training, we remind our staff about this, every day. There has been a conversation to come to McElhinneys somewhere, so we need to ensure from the minute they see that building coming over the bridge, that that is five star and that we continue to delight and wow, and we do not let them down. So yeah, it is very special.”

Magical McElhinneys

Sandra explains that there’s an expectation that all the new staff members work hard, that they make sure they do better than anybody else. “Because that will allow you to shine. Even if you don’t want to, you’re just happy to go with the process. You’re setting a standard. So yeah, we do. Everybody at McElhinneys does work exceptionally hard.” She talks about the magic in McEhlinney and explains that you either have what it takes or your don’t. Some staff don’t last, they think it’s all too much, too full on. Those that stay are loyal, passionate and become part of ‘the family’. During the episode you’ll hear just how amazing the retention rates are at McEhlinneys!

Marketing and PR: Sandra’s 5@5

There’s now almost 17,000 people on Sandra’s 5@5 Facebook group from all over the world. “It is just the most beautiful community of empowerment and fashion and helping women who maybe need that wee bit of support with their skin or all those things. It’s a beautiful community of people.” The followers are so engaged and loyal to the brand that they regularly travel to the store. 

Sandra finishes by explaining that one thing they always say at McElhinneys is that they want to take retail to places it’s never been before. “I fully believe we have the right team here to do it. You can never take your eye off the business point. Obviously looking at the business and you have to pay wages and stuff like that. We’re hugely focused on that. But the other side of that is tapping into the creativity of our team and our marketing and taking it to places and taking risks because all the risks we’ve taken since lockdown have been the good thing. So we’re just taking a leap of faith, a little bit of self-belief and just going, really just jumping into real blue sky thinking that let’s do it. Because I think it’s a competitive market out there and you have to work very hard, but the ideas don’t just come from yourself. 

Some of the best ideas could be the little girl in on a Saturday. It’s about listening to them, taking the ideas from the full team and running with them. We’re going to take retail to where it’s never been before. So there, I’m going to put my name on it.”

Listen to Sandra’s episode

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