Businesswoman Stephanie Lynch - who recently bowed out after 27 years running the city fashion boutique which bore her name at Eyre Square - says determination, dedication and an ability to learn from mistakes are the keys to retail success.
The Cork woman, who moved here from Belfast - where she had her first boutique - decided to close her business to spend more time with her husband, Joe Lynch, a retired environmental health officer, and her two grandchildren, twins Ben and Lucy Lynch.
She says running a business has taught her many lessons. “You have to be a very positive person, you have to be good at decision making and with staff. It is important to have a team spirit, to have people working with you rather than for you, to have a good atmosphere.
“You have to be very dedicated too. I ate and slept the business! Whenever I was on holiday - I never took more than a week - I’d be thinking how I could improve the boutique. You have to have a passion for it too, determination, flair and not to give up. If you make mistakes cut your losses, it’s not the end of the world. You learn by your mistakes.”
Stephanie’s husband has business in his blood, she says, and arrived home one day with a set of keys heralding a new venture.
“Joe’s father had a shop in Athenry so there was an entrepreneurial thing there. He came home one day with a set of keys saying he had found a business. We took over the building in Eyre Square. I was always interested in clothes. I had a friend with a boutique in London in the 1960s and I used to give her a hand on Saturdays.”
From the start, she had a loyal clientele, women who travelled across the country to her boutique which stocked a “middle to upmarket” range of fashions. Stephanie had a flair for finding exciting new designers and introducing their creations to the west. She built up relationships with many of the designers, visiting them on her trips abroad and being invited to their parties.
“I was the first to bring young Irish designers to Galway, such as Sharon Hoey (she was brilliant, she did very unusual prints and we stocked her for years ) and John Hegarty. We had a great following. I started to travel and was one of the first to go to Paris and stock many international labels. We stocked Christian Lacroix, Emmanuel Ungaro and Yves Saint Laurent. Suits in those days were figure hugging, the only problem was that people in Ireland tended to be pear shaped and the outfits were too tight on the hips! One complaint people had initially was that I stocked small sizes, I’m petite myself, a size 10/12.
“I stocked a very good designer called Natalie Garcon from Marseilles who designed for the theatre in Paris. All her colours were inspirational. Another label Rodika Zanian was very popular, also. While it was expensive the pieces were very very well made. We stocked Zapa, which is famous for its dresses and coats, as well. People used to flock to us from the beginning of December for the coats. I remember in the early days hearing about someone who had attended a ball at the Hong Kong Embassy and she was asked where she had got her dress. She got it here. We always did a good line in eveningwear. We used to get clients coming from as far as Donegal and Dublin. A lot of our clients were from Dublin - many had houses in Oughterard. We were always on the more expensive side but the garments had a timeless quality and people could wear them years later.”
When her son Colin and his wife Jenny Prendergast had their twins seven months ago she was eager to spend time with the children. Stephanie travelled frequently to trade shows as part of her job and was away from home a lot. It took her six weeks to make the decision to close the boutique.
“It didn’t come that easily but once I had made the decision I was fine. I was sad of course, especially when clients were saying they would miss me. A lot of customers became friends. I had very good staff and there was great teamwork. The good thing is that I own the property and am only leasing it for five years. It’s not as if I’m selling the building. It’s final but not too final.
“My husband Joe who came on all the buying trips with me is retired for 12 years and liked me to spend more time with him, too. He has always been tremendously supportive. We are looking forward to travelling, to enjoying the countries I couldn’t before because I was always working. When I was in Italy I’d always be looking at the shops. Everywhere I went when I was holiday I ended up going to see the shops.”
She believes customers are particularly focused on getting value for money during the recession and says the secret of success for shop owners is to concentrate on customer relations.
“Keep in constant contact with your customers. Ring them up if you’ve got something in. Stick to the market you are happy with, for instance if you stock something exclusive. Keep sourcing different things, I always used to source my own jewellery and scarves. Try to have something exciting.”