Irish retailers enjoyed an upturn in trade during March but much of it was driven by strong footfall in Dublin, while smaller towns struggled.
Brown Thomas Dublin
“Recovery is beginning to take hold,” said Stephen Sealey, managing director of premium department store chain Brown Thomas, which has branches in Dublin, Cork, Galway and Limerick.
“It has been a bit more mixed [than last year] as the weather has been poor and there was uncertainty around the general election [in February]. But we have seen a good lift in sales, driven by our Dublin stores and online.
“We have capitalised on tourism in the city as the weak euro made it an attractive destination for many.”
Michael Walsh, marketing director and co-owner of heritage footwear and clothing brand Dubarry of Ireland, said sales in its Dublin store had picked up “significantly” in March. However, some of its stockists in regional towns – it has 175 across the country – have been suffering from high shop vacancy rates in the local area, which has led to lower footfall.
“More tourists came to Dublin for the St Patrick’s Day celebrations [on March 17], so we saw a significant spike in footfall, and the Six Nations rugby tournament also brought a welcome boost in the capital.
”However, a lot of the good feeling is Dublin-focused and smaller towns are still suffering, as there is still a high level of empty units.”
Others found St Patrick’s Day had a negative impact on sales, as many people went away for the long weekend.
Louis Copeland, owner of the eponymous six-store menswear business, said: “Trade was down slightly last week with St Patrick’s Day and a lot of people will go away for Easter, so it could be quiet this weekend.”
However, he added that sales were 10% up on this time last year.
The director of one womenswear multiple agreed that St Patrick’s Day hampered sales last week: “It is still very challenging. The last four weeks have been a bit better but then last Saturday [March 19] was terrible as St Patrick’s Day was on a Thursday, so many people went away.
“It’s tough out there. A lot of people blame the weather but the economy is still difficult. Footfall is down and trade is driven by discounting.”
Dublin will mark the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising with a series of events on March 26 to 29.
“The centennial celebrations could be disruptive, but it will drive tourism, so we will make back any lost sales,” Sealey concluded.
Walsh agreed. “A lot of the events will happen on Easter Sunday, when most shops will be closed anyway. Others are staggered over the long weekend but they will bring more people into the city, so any restrictions on parking will be outweighed by increased footfall.”