BY DECLAN VARLEY, Galway Advertiser, Thu, Jun 02, 2022
Through all of the major world events of the last century, world war, the foundation of the State and the evolution of a new Ireland, one constant in Claregalway has been the practise of locals getting their groceries and essential from the local Hughes family.
Now, Hughes SuperValu is a fourth generation business, started by the great grandmother of the current managing durector Eva Hughes. With the supermarket having recently undergone a major renovation with massive enhancements in terms of shopping experience and carbon footprint, it is worth looking at the role the family has played in the history of retail in the village.
Mary (Egan ) Hughes took over the post office in 1929 and was ideally suited to the role. Her personable nature and affability laid the foundation for the business to prosper. Known as Momma Hughes, she was married to Mike Hughes who worked for the Land Registry at the time.
However, one is sure that she could never have envisaged that a century later, her fledgeling business would still be thriving, having served a loyal community well through sponsorship of teams and community activities for three more generations so far.
With the support of everyone else in the family, Momma Hughes passed the business (the post office, small shop and a small farm ) to her grandson Micheál, who she recognised as possessing entrepreneurial skills.
In this she was prophetic, as Micheál took the business in all kinds of innovative directions including the branding as a VG store in the 60s and 70s; to being an independent supermarket of the 80s and 90s; while also adding on bicycle shops in Galway city and hardware in Claregalway. He even founded his own electronic point of sale company (EPOS ) in the 90s creating one of the first online shopping capabilities in the country.
Micheál also took a hand in building houses and farming, always with the latest gadgets he could find. Everyone who came in contact with him recall that he was great fun and loved life, his family, friends and retained an incessant ambition to move forward with technology in all matter of forms.
With his wife Margaret, they were a great team, who worked incredibly hard to keep the business going through very tough times in the 80s and 90s. Margaret helped to run the shop, the post office and the household with a great sense of humour and pride in her work and family.
Micheál’s brother Martin has worked in the business for most of his working life, and managing director Eva Hughes said that without him there would be no business.
“His skill in buying to get the best value for our customers is legendary and he is relentless in the pursuit of value to pass on, all the while taking time to chat to and help every customer he can,” she added.
“Dad’s other brother Jimmy has been a central character in the business for the past 30 years, going the extra mile, looking after customers and staff alike while playing or supporting all kinds of sport.
“Jimmy and Martin are the business, both gentlemen of the highest standards who have helped to build the company to what it is today.
“They have taught us that the customers pay all the bills and deserve the best value, quality and service we can give. No more than two in a queue” is the mantra that we all try hard to achieve.
“My sister Mary and I came back into the business over 20 years ago, me from a career as a management consultant travelling and working both here and abroad, and Mary from a nursing career followed by a career in IT and our EPOS company.
“Unfortunately, our parents didn’t get a chance to enjoy the fruits of their labour for very long, as they both passed away within three years of one another in 2009 and 2012 respectively.
“This coincided with the financial crash of the time and just after Dad had invested heavily in the retail and residential units at the rear of the supermarket.
“Everything was lost after he passed away, but to the rest of us, it didn’t mean anything, we had lost him which was the greatest loss of all.”
Finally in March 2021 after long-running and traumatic discussions with the bank and in the midst of the pandemic, Eva secured the business back into family ownership. Soon afterwards, she proceeded with her plans for the massive facelift of the store which has been embraced by loyal customers.
“The decision to revamp wasn’t taken lightly as it means more borrowing, but we wanted to bring the shop into this century properly, future proof it as much as possible, as well as reducing our carbon footprint and give the best shopping experience possible to our customers.
“We have the best customers and staff and feel privileged to be able to run a business in the community. We wanted to make it even better for them and continue to provide value, quality, and service to all,” she said.
“We are so lucky to have the most incredibly hard working, good humoured, kind people working with us. We have staff who have worked here over 40 years and students who have worked from the age of 16 or 17 to 22. Everyone brings something and we learn from them all,” she added.
Now to a new future in a business with a proud past.