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From humble beginnings – Robinson’s is building bigger and better in Ballymena

The excitement is building as plans press ahead for a completely revamped bigger and better Robinson’s Supermarket and filling station in Ballymena.

Based on Cullybackey Road in the town, Robinson’s is a success story centred on a local family-run business, founded on aspiration, hard work and dedication, seeing it grow and evolve with the times and changes that have come over the last recent decades.

Robinson’s have been trading on their current site since 1985, although there had been a petrol station forecourt on the site since the 1960s. The original premises was purchased from Austin McGillian who, at the time, was only a few years into his relatively new business venture, Ace Fixings.

Current owners, brothers Finlay and Ken Robinson, are sons of Cecil Robinson who was a well known local businessman throughout the 60s, 70s, and 80s, with forecourt sites on the bottom of William Street and in turn on the Doury Road in Ballymena.

Cecil was also well-known from his days in the car accessory trade (Driverite Accessories), and from an era and generation where car modification was a huge aftermarket business.

Robinson’s relocation and arrival on the Cullybackey Road in 1985 was a humble affair with a small forecourt served operated from a shed before undergoing its first redevelopment into a BP forecourt shop toward the end of the decade and became one of the first Costcutter stores in Northern Ireland.

The changes were widely welcomed in the town and it proved a fast success, albeit limited to a 2000sq ft shop.

Over the next 25 years the trading landscape was transformed as multinational supermarkets moved into Northern Ireland, and petrol retailing, initially the ‘business driver’, for small independent forecourt businesses, became increasingly secondary to convenience and grocery retailing.

By the early 2000s the major supermarket chains had become established competition to local wholesalers and independent shops in the high street and across the borough. Robinsons, like many other resilient independent retailers, coupled with people’s desire to shop and support local business, evolved successfully and the next phase on the Cullybackey road was planned, with a larger store opening in January 2006, and the building most of us know today.

A complete new-build at the time, the existing forecourt and car park was provided by the acquisition of the old Ballymena Car Hire business next door, originally John Kenny Auto repairs).

Over the last 16 years the shop has went from strength from strength, leaving the Costcutter brand for Nisa independence and continues to thrive, employing 60 staff and working with approximately 100 direct to store suppliers. Shop Local Support Local encapsulates the family business model.

Talking to Love Ballymena, Manager Gary Olphert, was excited to share what’s in the pipeline for the many customers that have come to depend on convenience, range and service offered at Robinson’s.

“The image (above) is an artists’ impression of the next part of the story on the Cullybackey Road. Although the external finish and signage are not finalised, it provides a glimpse of where we are heading,” said Gary.

“Having acquired the three properties behind the existing shop, the expansion will take the retail floor space at Robinson’s to around 10500sq ft, making room for a bigger, fresher and somewhat bespoke retail offering in Ballymena, concentrating on an expanded fresh and deli range. Our customers will enjoy an overall food hall experience, underpinned by what is already on offer, but in a brighter modern building with contemporary fixtures and fittings.”

Gary added: “Covid and its various trade and supply factors had a major impact in slowing the project from getting out of the ground.

“Our regular customers will be familiar that we announced the expansion perhaps 3-4 years ago. But we’re working ahead quickly now and foresee a completion date for the project of late Spring 2023.

“We hope when we pull back the curtain we will have reached our customers expectations and it will have been worth the wait!”


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