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Independents need to play to their strengths

Kevin Monahan is a menswear agent in Ireland and has represented Fred Perry since 1998.

Kevin Monahan

Kevin Monahan

When I was a young lad growing up in Dublin, there were two local jeans retailers selling Levi’s jeans - O’Connors Jeans on Abbey Street and The Gap [later renamed Makullas] on Grafton Street. It was 1985 and Levi’s had just launched the Nick Kamen launderette advert, resulting in a massive upsurge on the cool barometer, and a huge increase in business.

Of the two retailers, The Gap was selling 501s at a £4 premium - however, the shop had the advantage of kudos, so the young hipsters somehow found that extra £4 to go to that shop. With the same pair of 501s available in both shops, the difference was in the way the two retailers set out their retail offer. It’s not just a question of selling the sausage; you have to sell the sizzle with the sausage.

For many years through the economic boom in the late 1990s and early 2000s, higher-end independent retailers in Ireland started to look like photocopies of one another, as though they were operators of a menswear franchise, with their own name above the door. But now the consumer has become highly aware and educated about product and brands - the new ‘cool hunter’ wants to seek out the original, the real and the special.

Over the past couple of years, a groundswell of creative and unique independent retailers have started popping up in Dublin; shops with an engaging and unique offer that appeal to the heart and soul.

In a time when customers can go into a shop, try on a top, photograph the label and then order it on the internet from another source via their smartphone while still in the changing room, independent retailers need to respond by being independent. This means looking at their unique selling points and playing to those strengths. They need to become a destination shop with a sense of originality in their shopfits, have a product offer that shows a creative flair and a customer-centric attitude that provide a different experience to a visit to a multiple retailer.

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