Clearhill Celebrates 25 Years in Business
In 2017 Clearhill turns 25! It’s a huge achievement for what began as a small family business in Northern Ireland, and marks a major milestone for a company that has demonstrated a sustained focus on growth and investment, both locally and across Great Britain.
In a highly competitive and fast-paced industry, Clearhill has established itself as one of the largest and most innovative providers of retail entertainment equipment, with no signs of slowing down.
To mark the occasion Brendan, Brian and John McAreavey, our company directors, have put pen to paper and reflect on the company’s past, present and future.
After turning our attention to shopping malls, Clearhill won its first two centres in 1992 – Castlecourt and Yorkgate Belfast, centres which we still trade in to this day. The commercial landscape back then was very different, with multiple companies supplying their own category of equipment; the “one stop shop” model of a single company providing all types of retail entertainment equipment had yet to arrive.
We continued to grow the business steadily in Ireland before acquiring our largest competitor in 2005, which was a big step up in terms of scale and geographical coverage.
This growth in our customer base allowed us to turn our attention to expanding our product offering and so we designed and built a new self-service confectionery unit called a “Candy Cart“. After showing it to Bill Moss at Westfield we were delighted to receive two thumbs up and a request to supply their GB centres, which enabled us to grow our presence in the UK.
Reflecting back over our company’s 25 year history, it’s incredible how rapidly and dramatically the retail entertainment industry has evolved. The movement of equipment from lobby areas and corridors into the main mall and thoroughfares physically reflects the shift in its importance for Landlords and Asset Managers, who recognise the financial potential of what’s now known as “Mall Commercialisation“.
As Landlords defend their market from the constant threat of ecommerce, there is growing need to provide customers with an experience – a differentiating factor which cannot be achieved online. This has led to the acknowledgment that mall kiosks and play equipment are not just a valuable revenue stream but also serve to provide much needed theatre and atmosphere, features which enhance a consumer’s perception of a shopping trip.
Personally, I strongly believe in the need for what we call “fun on the run” in the modern shopping centre. Happier children make for happier parents, which in turn lead to return visits. In a world of grey, a splash of colour and an affordable and accessible opportunity to create a smile is very welcome. This is where Clearhill come in. We provide the kiddie rides and candy & toy carts which bring children’s imaginations to life, which offer delight and excitement and afford parents a few moments’ respite, all at pocket money prices.
I recently read an interesting study by Sean Curtis, which showed the measurable and impressive effect of increased dwell time on centre revenue. Shopping centres evolved from the perception of a collection of stores to a community location where visitors came to relax, eat, play… and spend. This is surely where the future of our malls and retail locations lies. By integrating with the local community and increasing their function beyond the solely retail, centres can become robust against fluctuations in spend, although this requires an investment in auxiliary services including the provision of play.
Clearhill see their future in the space of providing free and “pay for play” opportunities and we are continuing our investment in this area, with new and exclusive fun solutions coming in 2017 and beyond.
With the challenges of Brexit, available space, consumer demands and rising costs there’s lots to tackle in the coming months and years, but by remaining close to our customers, understanding their pressures and needs and working very hard to deliver for them, we’re determined to achieve our goals. It is this determination which will see us through these challenges and we’ve no doubt it will serve us well, as it has for the past 25 years.
I’d like to personally thank all our customers for their continued support and look forward to working together in the exciting years ahead.
When you hit a milestone like this it’s important to look back and reflect on how far we’ve come. I often think back to the time my father founded this business, what his thoughts and feelings might have been and and if he’d had any idea of the journey that lay ahead. This then leads me to think about my own perspective of our business, and the first thought that always comes to mind is family.
I am very proud of the company Clearhill has become; we are fortunate to have loyal, committed and talented people in our business who have helped us push Clearhill to the next level. We work every day with people that we love and share a deep passion with, and that passion is the shared success of our business. It runs through our veins and is hardwired into our DNA.
The core of our business is built on providing play and generating special moments – watching a child’s face light up as they play on our machines, enjoying their laughter and excitement as they explore, learn and discover, and parents capturing memories to share with family and friends. These moments are priceless, and yet there is a huge amount of work that goes on behind the scenes to deliver them. It’s our job to ensure this is a process that’s seamless, which runs as efficiently as possible and without issue for our customers. We work on this everyday and as we continue to win new contracts, it’s clearly something we’re doing well.
As I’m putting this reflection together I’m looking forward and wondering what the next 25 years look like. The retail arena where our business is conducted has evolved immensely in my 16 years in the business, and yet the underlying principles remain the same. Our customers want value, engagement and fun. We do a pretty good job at understanding these needs already but with continued investment in our business and our people we will ensure we meet these needs consistently for our customers today, tomorrow and in the years ahead.
I like to reflect both in life and in business. Taking stock and looking forward with a view to the next challenge is what keeps business so interesting and in Clearhill there are many challenges, although – perhaps more importantly – there are even more opportunities. Clearhill as we exist today hasn’t always been this way – there were many different ventures over the years and more than likely that trend will continue. The constant however has always been the goal to entertain, to encourage smiles and to create happiness. Whether this is achieved via a two minute ride on a Paw Patrol fire truck, a handful of gum balls or by winning a Peppa Pig teddy, it’s ultimately the experience that counts.
To deliver these experiences we have relied on talented and loyal colleagues, and I’d like to thank everyone who has been with us in the six years I have been here. Without a crystal ball it’s impossible to know how the next 25 years will look for Clearhill, but as long as we’re surrounded by committed and highly talented colleagues who strive to make Clearhill better at everything we do, then I’m confident we’ll be in a great place.
The environment in which we operate has always been fast and ever changing, and the Retail, Leisure and Grocery sectors are now closer aligned than ever before. The challenge posed by ecommerce, as well as changing consumer behaviours will continue to ask questions of all stakeholders, but the demand and necessity for experiences that evoke feelings of fun, curiousity and excitement will always remain. That’s what Clearhill will always deliver.
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