Retailers reflect on a changing business environment

Updated / Monday, 24 Dec 2018 12:04

For retail, the lead-up to Christmas is crucial, as a good month at this time of year can make up for all kinds of hardship between January and November

By Adam Maguire

The economy is anticipated to grow by more than 7% this year.

At the same time unemployment has fallen to ten-year lows and tourism and export figures are heading for record highs.

But while the overall picture is good, it can of course be a different story for individual companies depending on their industry or location.

For retail, the lead-up to Christmas is crucial, as a good month at this time of year can make up for all kinds of hardship between January and November.

According to Mark Delaney, Managing Director of Dixon Carphone Ireland, it's been a good trading period for his business - though shopping patterns have changed considerably.

"I think you're seeing shopping extending over the Christmas period, starting with Black Friday and working all the way through into the January period.

"There is going to be less footfall over a concentrated period ... but you are actually seeing high confidence in the consumer, translating into good sales.

The year as a whole has been positive too, with the business pushing back against online competitors to reach record sales.

Though Mr Delaney feels there is still a little bit of room for growth in 2019.

Consumer sentiment is on the up, with booming economic growth and plummeting unemployment finally trickling through to the high street.

But for John O'Neill - owner of the Hamlet Court Hotel in Enfield, Co Meath - that improving picture has only materialised in his business in recent weeks.

Mr O'Neill said: "Just towards the end of this year we're beginning to see a trickle of it. Certainly the first half of the year there was no significant growth for us."

It's not that the area hasn't been benefiting from the economy's recovery but, somewhat ironically, the improved picture has had a somewhat adverse impact on local trade.

"It's noticeable here in our village. You can see the commuter traffic is starting earlier and earlier. It actually starts now around 5am.

"We think that part of the knock-on of that is the tiredness factor - so literally you don't see customers Monday to Thursday".

He is confident that initiatives like Ireland's Ancient East will ultimately help to counter that trend by opening the region up to more foreign visitors but that will take time to bear fruit.

Up the road in Ráth Chairn and the award winning Turmec has also had a mixed year. Brian Thornton is Managing Director of the company, which manufactures recycling plant machinery.

Turmec is an export-heavy business, and much of that is currently focused on the British market, meaning it is quite exposed to the impact of Brexit.

What that has meant for the business in the past 12 to 24 months is a lot of dragging of feet by would-be clients, who are hesitant to make a multi-million euro commitment against such an uncertain backdrop.

But Mr Thornton says he is blazé about Brexit, as he feels there is no point in worrying about the unknown.

Instead he is focusing on expanding into other markets - particularly Australia - while he is also confident that his British clients will pull the trigger on their purchases eventually.

"A point comes in their business where they have to make a decision, that's why waste comes in and never stops," Mr Thornton said.