Tucked away in a winding lane off Moira Road in County Antrim, Glenavy’s Denis Wilson has been a go-to shop for all the community’s farming, DIY and crafting needs for over 45 years.
The family business has grown into more than just an acclaimed hardware store since its inception in 1977 and is known as a hub for community support and expert knowledge.
Darren and Emma Wilson have evolved the store’s offering since taking over the business from Darren’s father in 2017.
Speaking to Belfast Live, Darren said: “My dad started the business in 1977. At the time he had a dairy herd on the site here and he was also a teacher and then he started the business in side.
“As the business grew he had to drop something so he decided to quit teaching and a few years later in 1985 he decided to quit dairy farming The cattle are gone and all attention is on the store.
“We’ve lived on site here and it’s been the family home for 200 years, so I guess I grew up in the business as a kid and went there full time after I left the school at 18.
Emma added: “When I arrived I was doing a bit of work clothes and accounts. As Darren’s parents headed into retirement I took on different items and I’m taking care of everything. which is operational these days – whatever it looks like.
“Everyone has to come to work every day but we try to make it as pleasant as possible. There’s a real family atmosphere and that’s something we tried to keep, even during Covid when it was more difficult .
“There are always laughs that come out of the tea room and that’s what makes you happy.
“We want to do what we can and do it very well, but we want to have fun along the way.”
The couple have worked hard to diversify Denis Wilson while staying true to the traditional values the community knows and loves, with Denis himself always keeping a watchful eye.
“My dad is now 71 – he’s what he calls retired but he’s still around every day and still loves getting out in the van and making deliveries,” laughed Darren.
“He’s a real person who likes to talk to people, so he likes to go out and see the customers.”
Darren and Emma constantly aim to evolve the business over time to open up their respected service to a whole new clientele.
Darren continued, “Our last big decision was to invest heavily in an online platform, which required us to completely change our software system.
“Behind that, we’ve built a new web team of about six people so far and the proper launch of that was in 2019, which was just in time to get us into lockdown.
“That side has really expanded for us in this time and we’re just working to try to be modern while also keeping the family and community side.
“The last two years have been the fastest change for us in our 45 year history so far – if you go back four years we barely had a computer on site, everything was done with pen and paper.”
“We’ve tried a lot of different things during this time to see what worked and what didn’t. It’s even been interesting to see the change in people’s attitudes, from total fear to going back to the store and to take their time, which is great to see,” Emma shared.
“It has certainly been difficult, but we are only working one day at a time and trying our best.”
Their business goes beyond the business side of an independent business, as Dean Wilson has also spent the past 45 years building a positive relationship with the area.
Darren said: “We have always done our best to support our local community. We sponsor many of our local teams, Glenavy FC and the local Gaelic club, as well as a number of smaller sporting and community groups in the area. wider than we like to try to help when we can.
“Because we had the same guys at the counter, they made a good relationship with everyone. I think a lot of locals will come because they know the person they’re dealing with and know them by their first names, enough often know their family, so there’s a bit of a community there that draws people in.
“I think that’s where local businesses can win over the likes of the big guys.
“Local stores have so much more to offer in terms of personal service and I think it’s important that people know that what you invest in local business comes back.”
Looking to the future, they hope to continue to grow and support more local projects which, in turn, will benefit the community that has supported them over the past four decades.
Emma added: “As for the shop, we would like to roll out some works in all the premises just to make it more appealing. People love to come in and walk around to look at things and we just want to make that as nice as possible.
“People always tell us that they walked past and wondered what was in the way and they’re so impressed when they come in. I love hearing that and surprising people, so we just want to keep going. build on that physical space and the community offering.”