How COVID-19 has shown how important retail really is

To say it has been a trying few months for retail is probably the understatement of the century. No-one paying even passing attention could argue that the past few months haven’t been some of the most stressful and confusing retailers have ever faced. Most have thankfully re-opened and are now successfully operating in a socially distanced world but there is still a long road to go. Much support will be needed from central government, local councils and consumers over the coming months.

BUT…..there have been rays of light for retailers

One of the most striking things from the staggered re-openings of retailers has been consumers’ reaction. The anticipation and excitement for shops to re-open and then the pure joy when they did were remarkable. The fanfare of Penney’s re-opening was huge and notably driven by the brand’s loyal customers rather than any marketing from the retailer itself, with queues for most of its stores beginning in the early hours and stretching through neighbouring streets.

While Penneys made national headlines, a walk down Dublin’s Henry Street (close to Excel HQ) saw similar queues for retailers of all kinds in the days and weeks since re-opening.

Need and want

While online shopping proved a lifeline for those who were cocooning and a welcome distraction for those simply bored at home, there are customer needs and goals that online shopping can never meet as successfully as bricks and mortar stores. While online shopping soared during lockdown, so did buyer’s remorse and returns. There are many purchases customers far prefer making in-person from cosmetics to a new pair of jeans to investing in an expensive piece of tech. E-commerce sites constantly revise and refine how they present products but there’s little that can replicate seeing, feeling and experience a product in real life before you buy.

The shopping experience

There are also purchases where the experience of buying is almost as important as the actual item itself, such as a luxury handbag or a brand’s latest ‘must-have’ release. Customers value the expertise and input of experienced sales consultants and brand experts when making an important purchase. On a much more fundamental level what has become clear is, people like shopping. Lockdown proved more than anything that we are social creatures and missed the chance to get out and engage with other humans. With more and more people choosing to holiday at home this year, that practise can only continue.

E-commerce and online shopping aren’t going anywhere, but it’s becoming clearer and clearer they won’t not going to be the trigger of the ‘retail apocalypse’ that many predicted. Traditional retailing shouldn’t be trying to compete with online, but instead tapping into what makes it special. This isn’t the time for the retail industry to try to simply ride out the storm, instead redouble efforts into ensuring well-trained, knowledgable salespeople combined friendly, genuine customer service and a personalised, engaging customer experience should be the focus.

Green is the new Black (Friday)

A national campaign hopes to encourage consumers to buy Irish this Black Friday.

The “Green Friday” campaign aims to encourage people to shop locally and support Irish brands and businesses this Christmas shopping period. Beginning in America, the Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales events have been enthusiastically embraced by consumers here and last year saw more than €50m spent over the course of the weekend.

But there has been growing concern in recent years that the majority of this spending is going to overseas retailers online. The Green Friday campaign is asking people to support jobs and their local economies and contribute to Ireland’s creative community, manufacturers and service providers by buying Irish this November 25th.

The new initiative is led by Marian O’Gorman, CEO of Kilkenny retail group and supported trade associations including the Design & Crafts Council of Ireland, Retail Excellence, Chambers Ireland, the Small Firms Association and Irish brands and retail businesses countrywide.

Up to €4.65 billion will be spent by Irish consumers during the Christmas period, based on research by Retail Ireland. Brands and businesses are being encouraged to get involved and market their products under the Green Friday banner this Christmas to highlighting the value of shopping locally.

“With Brexit uncertainty and trade tariffs lingering, now, more than ever, we need to reawaken people to the significance of buying Irish and shopping local” says Marian O’Gorman “Irish brands and designers are second to none, with many that are leaders on a world stage. We, as consumers, need to appreciate the fundamental fact that by keeping money in circulation in our own communities, we are protecting jobs and public services.”

SFA Director Sven Spollen-Behrens said that Christmas can add a major economic impetus when shoppers back small businesses and help maintain jobs.

“If each adult spent just €20 extra in small local businesses this Christmas, this would amount to an injection of over €73m for small firms and would have a huge, positive impact on local jobs and the vibrancy of town and village centres.”

Brown Thomas win National Retailer of they Year

Brown Thomas win big at Retail Excellence Awards

Saturday saw the cream of the retail crop descend on the stunning Great Southern Hotel in Killarney to see Ireland’s top retailers and the winners of the 2019 Retail Excellence Awards revealed.

Brown Thomas of Grafton Street scooped the top two awards of the night, taking home the title of ‘Retailer of the Year’ and ‘National Store of the Year’.

Brown Thomas win National Retailer of they Year
Brown Thomas win National Retailer of they Year

The other Top5 Store winners included Arboretum, Carlow, Hook & Ladder, Limerick, Petstop, Limerick and Windyridge Nursery & Garden Centre, Dublin. Other awards included Best in Ecommerce which went to Vaughan Shoes and Retail Industry Advocate of the Year which was awarded to Enterprise Ireland. The great city of Cork was named as Ireland’s Friendliest Place.

Celebrating excellence across retail, the awards also highlighted exceptional talent within the retail industry. Excel CEO Barry Whelan was delighted to be asked to resume his role as Head Judge for the Manager of the Year and Rising Star categories.

Barry says “The standard of entry for Manager of the Year and Rising Star, is always very high but this year, in particular, was exceptional. The level of energy, passion, drive and innovation on display from retailers around the country is really exciting.”

CEO Barry Whelan presents the award for Manager of the Year to Eamon Kelleher
CEO Barry Whelan presents the award for Manager of the Year to Eamon Kelleher

Barry was delighted to present Manager of the Year to Eamonn Kelleher of Co-Op Superstores while Eoife Clarke of Golden Discs took home Rising Star of the Year.

“We are delighted to recognize and award the very best in Irish retail We are particularly pleased that across all of our categories of awards Irish retailers, both big and small, urban and rural competed to deliver that exceptional standard of service to customers regardless of their size.”

Excel Recruitment would like to say a massive congratulations to each of the 2019 Retail Excellence Award winners. Each of the winners and shortlisted stores and managers represents the best in the retail industry in Ireland. All show an unquestionable commitment to meeting and exceeding customer expectations as well as innovation in store and in-service delivery.

Established by Retail Excellence in 1997, The Awards is the biggest event in the Irish retail industry calendar and aims to promote best practice and encourage high standards in the Irish retail industry.

National Retailer of the Year 2020Brown Thomas Group
National Store of the Year 2020Brown Thomas, Dublin
Top5 Store & National Garden Centre of the Year 2020Arboretum, Carlow
Top5 Store & Restaurant & Coffee House of the Year 2020Hook & Ladder, Limerick
Top5 Store & National Pet Store of the Year 2020Petstop, Limerick
Top5 Store 2020Windyridge Nurseries & Garden Centre, Dublin
National Electronic & Tech Store of the Year 2020Fun Tech Global, Dublin
National Book Store of the YearVibes & Scribes, Cork
National Supermarket of the Year 2020Garvey’s SuperValu, Limerick
National Pharmacy of the Year 2020Cunningham’s Pharmacy, Athlone
National Visitor Store of the Year 2020Nano Nagle Place, Cork
National Home / Interiors Store of the Year 2020Casey’s Furniture, Limerick
National Jewellery Store of the Year 2020Gerry Browne Jewellers, Portlaoise
National Optician of the Year 2020McMahons Opticians, Carrick-on-Shannon
Retail Industry Advocate of the Year 2020Enterprise Ireland
Suppliers of the Year 2020MJ Flood Technology & Seachange
Ireland’s Friendliest Place 2020Cork City
Manager of the Year 2020Eamonn Kelleher, Co-Op Superstores
Rising Star of the Year 2020Eoife Clarke, Golden Discs
Online Retailer of the Year


Retailer FAO Schwarz open on Henry Street

Iconic toy retailer opens on Henry Street

Iconic American toy retailer, FAO Schwarz has officially opened in Arnotts on Henry Street, just in time for Christmas!

The retailer became famous when it featured in the 1988 Tom Hanks movie, BIG and is well-known worldwide for its iconic floor piano. The Arnotts store is one of two locations in Europe and is only the fourth worldwide after New York, Beijing and Arnott’s sister store at Selfridges in London, which was only opened last week. Its former flagship New York store on Fifth Avenue was the third most visited location by tourists prior to closing in 2015 due to high rents.

Arnotts have said customers visiting FAO Schwarz “will experience the same magic and wonderment as the plethora of tourists who visit the New York flagship every day”. Bosses say the store will bring its “trademark plush stuffed animals, captivating in-store performances and of course, the infamous walk-on piano”.

The store’s arrival is part of a strategy by Arnotts to create a family ‘destination’ in the city centre. It will be joined by another well-known US brand, Pottery Barn who is bringing its nursery range to Ireland for the first time. Arnotts new child-focused area will cover 17,000 sq ft in total.

The store will also include a replica of the FAO clock tower, giant stuffed animals and a toy train complete with toy soldiers. Other must visits include Build Your Own Race Car station, a Baby Doll Adoption Centre and am ‘FAO Schweetz’ shop.

The 6,000 sq ft shop is set to employ up to 50 people.

Barry Whelan, CEO Excel Recruitment

New Year, New Career? 10 tips on how to reach your career goals in 2019

Here at Excel Recruitment we always see a sharp spike of people ‘looking at their options’ in January and this year is no different. New Year is always a great time to take stock and reflect on your goals for the year ahead, particularly your career goals . Whether you’re actively looking for a move or just want to reach your full potenial in your current job, CEO of Excel Recruitment Barry Whelan serves up 10 tips to help you make the most of your career in 2019.

January is a great time to assess your career and take steps to accentuate it. With an economy full of opportunity, why not focus the next few months on making 2019 your most successful career year ever?

Boost your essential job skills
There is probably a reason you were recruited to your current position; perhaps it is your management skills or selling ability. No matter what is the case, make an effort to ramp up the skills that make you good at what you do. You can take courses, attend seminars, or pursue a professional qualification to advance your existing talents.

Volunteer more often
Stepping up in your job really does set you apart from the pack. If you have shied away from volunteering in the past, make the coming year one in which you offer to take on more responsibility. It’s a great way to expand your horizons and send management the message that you are not afraid to offer to help and try new things.

Develop a skill that no one else at your company has
Why not make yourself a key player within your company? This will set the stage for a promotion – or at least give you job security. You may not be the only person at your company who is a good merchandiser or strong negotiator. However, if you work on developing a skill that no one else at your company seems to have, you will make yourself indispensable.

Get more feedback
Feedback can be tough; you don’t only get to hear the positive, but obviously also the negative. Nevertheless, it is hard to assess your own performance when you are deep in deadlines and tasks. If you want to take your career to an exciting new level in the coming year, you need to make a point of pursuing ongoing feedback from both your manager and peers. Figure out where you are excelling and where there is clear room for improvement. The more insight you get from those around you, the better positioned you will be to take action.

Take criticism graciously
While on the note of feedback, it is also not easy to be on the receiving end of criticism, even if it is constructive and helpful. Accepting that criticism courteously is a good way to set yourself apart from colleagues who are known to get defensive or ignore the feedback. Most of us are not perfect employees, but if you learn from your shortcomings and improve upon them tremendously, you’ll get close.

Work on your soft skills
Boosting your job-specific skills is important, but don’t forget about those general skills that apply to any given role, such as time management and organistion. The more you improve your soft skills, the more valuable an employee you will be, so think about the areas you are lacking in and try to do better.

Be a team player
Don’t underestimate the importance of being a strong team player. If you jump in when your colleagues need help or agree to collaborate on a project you would rather be running solo, you will show your manager that you’re agreeable and adaptable. These are qualities that could land you a step up the ladder.

Embrace risks
If you don’t take some risks, you’ll miss out on key opportunities to wow your boss and add real value to your company. Don’t stay quiet when a great idea comes to mind, and don’t hesitate to dive into a new project or initiative you feel will be a game-changer. Even if you don’t end up succeeding, there is a good chance your company will acknowledge your effort and courage.


The people you know can be just as helpful, if not more so, than the things you know, when it comes to furthering your career. That is why it is always a good idea to expand your network. You can do so by attending conferences and industry events or asking your existing contacts for introductions. But don’t just network outside your company; get to know people from different departments and teams internally as well.

And…Don’t forget the mistakes of the past
Maybe you messed up a major project last year or tanked in a presentation you worked hard on. Rather than carry the burden of those mistakes with you into the new year, take some time to assess what went wrong and map out a plan to avoid a repeat during your next opportunity. Learning from previous mistakes without letting them hold you back not only shows tremendous growth, but courage as well.

JYSK opening in Ireland

Danish retailer JYSK planning to open up to 15 Irish stores

Danish homeware retailer and Ikea rival JYSK is set to make its Irish debut soon and has scouted 20 locations across the Republic as potential future locations for its planned Irish rollout.

The Nordic retailer announced today it will set up a head office in Dublin followed by the first official Irish store opening in April. The retailer’s first store Irish store will be located in Naas, Co. Kildare and the brand will start selling online and offer home delivery to Irish customers from 15 April. The retail brand, which sells homewares products like mattresses and living room furniture, will open two further locations in Drogheda and Navan during the month of May. A fourth branch in Portlaoise is scheduled to open by the end of summer. In total, JYSK – which is pronounced “yusk” – aims to open 15 stores across the Republic.

The new branches are set to feature a refreshed store concept launched by the brand last year, which includes a newly designed storefront and refreshed interiors. While there are no details currently on further planned locations. Ireland country manager Roni Tuominen told Fora the retailer is looking at locations that can deliver the highest footfall: “We are aiming to be close to the customer. Our target is to be where the customers are.”

JYSK will be joining Scandinavian rivals already well-established in the Irish market, Ikea and Søstrene Grene, which also sell affordable homewares products. Tuominen said “We’re working in 51 countries, so of course these companies are well-known for us. I think for the customers, competition is good and actually creates value,” he said. Jennifer Johnston, who is sales and marketing manager of JYSK Ireland, told Fora the retailer differentiates itself by rolling out new products on a more regular basis to cater for changing design trends. “One thing that we are very strong on is Scandinavian designed products. We are very good at launching new products regularly,” she said.

The 40-year-old brand, which is pronounced “yusk”, operates some 2,700 stores across 51 countries. It employs over 23,000 people around the world and reported sales of €3.5 billion last year.

Irish shoppers are set to spend over €1 billion on their Christmas groceries

Irish shoppers are set to spend over €1 billion on groceries throughout December for the first time as competition gets even fiercer between grocery retailers over the Christmas period.
According to research from Kantar World Panel, Irish households spent €968.2 million last December in supermarkets, and “all the signs so far indicate that this year Irish households will break the €1 billion threshold for the first time”

Overall the grocery market grew by 2.9% in the 12 weeks to 2 December according to Kantar’s latest figures. Dunnes Stores remains the largest grocery retailer, with a market share of 22.4% after seeing sales growth of 3.4% for the period. SuperValu’s sales rose by 1.3% over the same 12 weeks, cementing it in second place with 21.7% share of the market. Tesco is in third place with a 21.6% market share and growth of 0.3%, However, discount retailers Aldi and Lidl saw the strongest growth of all for the second consecutive period, with sales up 7% and 4.1% respectfully. Aldi now has 11.6% of the market, with Lidl on 11.3%. Aldi UK & Ireland Chief Executive Giles Hurley said the retailer is “delighted to be the fastest growing retailer in Ireland for the third month in a row,” adding Aldi has “opened new stores in Blackrock, Co. Dublin, Graiguenamanagh, Youghal, and Killaloe over the last month.”

Consumer Insight Director at Kantar Worldpanel Douglas Faughnan said of the figures: “Promotions continue to play an important role among the traditional retailers as they try to attract new shoppers and encourage customers to spend more in store. “SuperValu has performed strongest here, with the average value of a trip to the retailer increasing by €1.56 to €24.20 this period. As preparations for Christmas accelerate during December that figure is only likely to rise. “However, Dunnes’ long-running voucher programme means shoppers spend significantly more on each trip there than at any other retailer. Dunnes’ average spend per trip of €42.60 is one of the main reasons the retailer has retained the number one spot this period.”

Grocery Retail

Shoppers spend €65m across the border as Christmas spending begins

With Brexit continuing to dominate the news and the impact of a hard border still unclear, the latest grocery market share figures from Kantar Worldpanel show the value of cross-border shopping is at its highest level for five years. €64.5 million was spent shoppers from the Republic of Ireland in the 12 months ending in November 2018.

Over the past year just over one in eight households from the Republic of Ireland made at least one trip north of the border to do a grocery shop. That equates to more than 207,000 shoppers” says Douglas Faughnan, consumer insight director at Kantar Worldpanel.

“While these excursions account for a relatively small percentage of each family’s supermarket visits – on average, eight out of 270 annual trips – they spend substantially more shopping when they cross the border. Shoppers from the Republic spent €38.50 on an average shop in Northern Ireland while the average spend back home is €23.70. This is likely to be because they want to make the extra effort worthwhile.”

One of the biggest attractions for shoppers looking for a cross-border bargain is alcohol. Douglas Faughnan explains: “Of the €65 million spent by Republic of Ireland shoppers in Northern Ireland over the past year, a quarter went on alcohol, adding up to just over €16 million. No other food or drink category comes close, with dairy products accounting for the next largest share of cross-border spend, at 5.9%.”

The strength of the euro against sterling over the past two years has made cross-border shopping even more appealing, but there have been benefits for those spending in the Republic as well. Douglas Faughnan explains: “The cost of importing products to Ireland from Britain has fallen while goods made in Ireland with British ingredients have typically been cheaper to produce. This has allowed retailers to pass savings on to their customers – vital in such a competitive market – and as a result, grocery prices in Ireland have for the most part been falling since March 2017.”

“However, for only the second time in 21 months, grocery prices have increased, suggesting the prolonged period of grocery price deflation may be coming to an end.”

Halloween provided €30m boo-st

The four week run up to Halloween generated an uplift of almost €30 million for supermarkets. Supplies for parties and trick or treating were in high demand with confectionery sales up 4% compared with the same period last year. 17% of Irish households bought a pumpkin this Halloween, spending a collective €1.5 million on the seasonal vegetable.

Faughnan says: “With Halloween wrapped up and the arrival of the much-anticipated Christmas TV adverts this week, Irish shoppers are already getting excited for the festive season. In fact, more than 50,000 people had already bought a Christmas pudding by the 4th November.

St. Andrew's church to become food hall

New food hall to open in former Dublin church

A continental style food hall is to open in Dublin city centre next summer. The new dining experience will consist of 15 different outlets serving up to 400 diners is set to open in St. Andrew’s Church on the corner of Suffolk Street and St Andrew’s Street.

The church, which measures almost 20,000 sq. ft. and operated as a tourist office until 4 years ago, will undergo a € 6 million fit-out and renovation. Construction is set to start in January with an opening date expected in June. Well-known hospitality group Michael JF Wright Hospitality Group have signed a 25-year lease on the building. The group currently operates eight Dublin bars, restaurants and Marquette airport outlets, employing 700 people.

The current plans for the hall include 10 food vendors operating from the main body of the church, and a further three dessert and patisserie outlets, two coffee kiosks and two bars. Communal seating will occupy the central aisle of the church, with additional tables for smaller groups on the first floor. The former parochial hall behind the church will be linked to the main structure by an enclosed walkway “wrapped in black zinc”, and will accommodate an additional 100 diners. Further seating will be available in an outdoor garden setting.

A purpose built stage is planned to facilitate cookery demonstration with regular musical and theatre performances also planned. According to Wright, the venue is expected to operate as a cultural space as well as a dining venue.

“The idea is to create an indoor urban food hall for the city centre; a new casual dining experience with emphasis on great food, social interaction and entertainment,” says Michael Wright. “I had visited food halls all over Europe and the US and had seen how popular and atmospheric they were. Irish hospitality and the Irish welcome are legendary; eating, drinking and entertainment are at the heart of this, and to me it made complete sense that Dublin should have one.”

A strategic mix of high-quality vendors is seen as pivotal to the success of the project.Wright continues “Our concept is to bring the best of Irish artisan food to this location. Really high-quality Irish food and Irish ingredients, but with a global flavour. Hopefully, this will translate into a really great choice of foods – something to suit all palates, from traditional Irish dishes to Korean delicacies, to the latest in vegan offerings. The mix is central to the success of the food hall,” says Wright.

According to Ewan McDonald, chief operating officer for Michael Wright Hospitality, the group is in advanced negotiations with a selection of high-profile operators on the Dublin dining scene including John Farrell, whose restaurants include Luna, 777 and Butcher Grill; Niall Sabongi (The Seafood Café, Klaw, Klaw Poke) and Shane Mitchell (Asador).

“We want to add something very different to the Dublin food scene,” says McDonald, speaking to the Irish Times. The venue will be open 7 days a week from 8am to 11pm.

€1.25m E-commerce fund for retailers open for applications

A new scheme meant to help Irish SMEs and retailers grow their e-commerce capabilities has opened for applications. The scheme, which is run by Enterprise Ireland, will allocate €1.25 million in funding to facilitate the acceleration of online retailer’s digital and e-commerce capabilities.

The scheme will see grants of between €10,000 and €25,000 awarded on a match fund basis with the specific purpose of supporting retailers to enhancing their online sales capabilities, ensuring they are better equipped to deal with increasing competition from overseas and help scale their businesses in international markets.

“Enterprise Ireland is committed to supporting Irish companies to realise their global ambition by providing the mentoring and financial support necessary to scale in international markets,” said Stephen Hughes, head of consumer, Enterprise Ireland.

“Ireland’s retail sector is a primary contributor to our economy, both nationally and at a regional level but it is under significant pressure, particularly from international competitors with the digital means to extend their reach to Irish consumers. By delivering the Online Retail Scheme, we intend to support Irish retailers to innovate and through innovation, to increase their competitiveness and enhance their online presence.”

“While no single intervention will solve the challenge posed by the emergence of digital commerce in recent years to traditional bricks and mortar retailers, today’s announcement marks a significant step forward by Government in firstly acknowledging the challenge faced by the Irish retail sector and secondly by beginning to put in place supports for Ireland’s largest private sector employer,” said Thomas Burke, director at Retail Ireland, the IBEC group which represents the retail industry.

The Online Retail Scheme is open to applications from retail SMEs with 20-249 employees across the island of Ireland, and who have a retail outlet. Closing date for applications is 5 December 2018.

Further information on the fund and details on how to apply are available at