In Dublin city centre the signs were good on the first week-end of ‘return to normal.’ Nothing, it seems, can compare with the touch and feel of garments, the ability to try them on and the advice seasoned retailers have to offer ….
According to Richard Guiney, CEO of Dublin Town, footfall was back to 87% of what it had been pre lockdown; the 56% recorded during the week, he says, is a reflection on the current status of office workers, many of whom are still working remotely from their desks in the City Centre.
The tourists are also conspicuous by their absence. But, Richard is hopeful that when workers can return to their offices and when /if the international travel restrictions are lifted, the city will feel like its old, vibrant self.
But, if the lack of tourists is having an impact on Dublin City Centre spare a thought for the tourist attraction that is the Cliffs of Moher in north County Clare. In 2019 the Cliffs had a staggering 1.5 million visitors, many of whom stopped off at the Shannon Heritage Craft & Gift Store which is part of the visitor centre there. In 2020, due to lockdowns and travel restrictions, the visitor numbers plummeted to under 300,000.
The store, part of the Shannon Heritage Group which also manages tourist attractions such as Bunratty Castle, (also in Clare) Dun Guaire (in Galway) and Malahide Castle, Newbridge House and the GPO (all in Dublin) is in the hands of Retail Manager Chris O’Brien, who, since 2009 has invested heavily in Irish suppliers. The shop carries everything from candles to soap, clothes to porcelain, artisan food stuffs to artwork, with a strong emphasis on local, sustainable goods that engender a sense of place.
The drop in numbers has had a huge impact not just on the store itself, which does not as yet, have an on-line presence, but also on the many suppliers who depend on it. However, like Richard, Chris is optimistic about the future.
“The weather was not good for the first week of opening up but once it picks up and the families come down to the area for their holidays we’ll have people back.. We saw a lot of Irish visitors last year – people who maybe would not have come to the attraction were it not for the restrictions on travel. Hopefully, as well as returning Irish visitors, we will have our international visitors back later in the summer…
Chris and his staff, who he describes as “a wonderful group of colleagues who have great pride in how they present their shop” have used the downtime COVID has enforced on them to re imagine their retail space.
“There’s a lot to factor in now …. The capacity of the shop has been reduced due to social distancing and we can’t do anything about the size of the building, also, we learned that Irish people in particular don’t queue well, — we get put off by lines of people ahead of us! — so it was important for us to get as much stock as we could out on view (to reduce the length of time people spent browsing.) We also needed to re think some of our stock . If we’re dependent on Irish people they’re not so interested in certain woollen garments as their international counterparts might be, for instance.”
To get the suppliers take on what’s happening we asked Bernadette Collins, Marketing Manager atD&B Designs, one of the few Irish based jewellery manufacturers, for her take on what’s happening on the ground.
“It’s great to see the re opening of jewellery shops, and judging by the volume of orders coming into D&B Designs, the retail customers are very excited to be shopping in person at their local jewellers.
According to Bernadette, being a local manufacturer was a boon to D&B Designs during lockdown. This is a sentiment expressed by many local suppliers who benefitted from the various campaigns organisations such as Chambers Ireland ran during lockdown, to promote local industry and suppliers.
“We know firsthand from talking to retailers during the last year, the value placed by customers in having their rings designed and handcrafted in Ireland. We kept in close contact with our customers during lockdown and as they prepared to re open, in order to offer the first class service they need,” she says.
As with many other manufacturers, suppliers and retailers, D&B Designs used their lockdown time to redevelop their website (check it out on https://dbdesigns.ie ) and they have reaped the benefits.
“The feedback from retailers has been wonderful. They are delighted that they now have easy access for their staff to display our range of rings to their customers while considering a purchase, and this is reflected in strong sales numbers.
The allowing of greater numbers at weddings has been particularly significant for jewellers in general, and for D&B Designs in particular. “It’s great to see a big increase in the sale of wedding rings as more weddings are expected to take place. Our new range of Platinum 600 plain and pattern bands are proving very popular as a gent’s wedding ring. We’re also receiving great feed back on the new designs we added to our extensive range of crafted wedding, eternity and bespoke rings.”
And there’s another silver lining for the Irish manufacturer, not COVID related …
“With the ongoing customs clearance problems and other delays due to Brexit, having an Irish manufacturing supplier has never been more important for Irish jewellery stores. When customers order from D&B Designs they are assured of quality, delivered in a timely manner that enables them to service their customers,” says Bernadette who is optimistic for the remainder of 2021.