Galway's fashion stores bursting with value and style as sector seizes new opportunities

Anthony Ryan setting up the sanitising station at the enterance to his Shop Street store prior to its reopening this summer. Photo:-Mike Shaughnessy

Anthony Ryan setting up the sanitising station at the enterance to his Shop Street store prior to its reopening this summer. Photo:-Mike Shaughnessy

The biggest surprise Anthony Ryan got when he re-opened his fashion shop after the lockdown was the demand for underwear.

Items for both men and women were literally hopping off the shelves as eager customers rushed into his Shop Street store which recently celebrated 110 years in business.

The unprecedented demand has continued as the shop adjusts to the new reality imposed by the pandemic. Very little browsing and buying mainly functional clothing is one of the key shopping trends to emerge during the health emergency. And, of course, topping up underwear drawers!

"There is huge demand for underwear for both genders," he says. "Lingerie is particularly popular. It is the best part of our fashion business at the moment."

Schoolwear and women's casual fashions are other busy areas. "The schoolwear season came late but it was very successful, the last three weeks were bedlam. Our schoolwear online was four times busier this year than last year."

Business is quieter in the women's fashion area, particularly the special occasion section because people are no longer attending social events. "Women's wear is challenging," he says. "There are no events on so it is more difficult to sell occasion wear. Weddings, Christenings, confirmations, Holy Communions, and The Galway Races were a huge loss, both in terms of ladies' and men's fashions."

However, as people's lifestyles changed so too have their wardrobes and there is greater demand for casual wear. "People are doing their gardens and baking, the casual life has become more mainstream. Ladies casual wear, such as T-shirts, tops, and casual pants, is very strong at the minute."

Supply chains

There is also the seasonality aspect of fashion. "We lost three months of spring/summer trade, we are selling [this stock] off now, as an end of sale clearance event. We have been quite successful at clearing it. Now is an ideal time to buy for an occasion as there is up to 70 per cent off certain ends of it."

The disruption in supply chains because of Covid-19 has resulted in delivery delays to retailers, according to Anthony Ryan. "We put out our autumn fashions last week, normally we would have them out in July."

He says Ryan's is fortunate in that it has a fashion and homeware store. The latter has reported brisk business throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

"Homeware is very busy, business is well ahead of this period last year. People are at home all day and are doing up their homes. One week in mid-May during the lockdown, we were busier [online] in our homeware store than in the same period last year."

He is positive about the future. "I have a great philosophy: don't worry about things you cannot control. We had a very, very successful warehouse sales last year, we were hoovering up money."

But a new landscape requires a new mindset. "Lockdown made a lot of businesses examine their cost base and find savings. They stepped back and looked at new opportunities."

A greater online presence, new ranges, and continuing to provide a safe shopping environment for customers is top of his priority list now.

"In a month to six weeks we are launching a new online platform which is very powerful. This lockdown has brought about a technological revolution, online has become a more significant part of distribution now, you have got to be in that place to survive in the future."

Transaction value

A commitment to quality is essential, he maintains. "People will look for this in the long run. Transaction value has gone up, people will make a good purchase now, they are going for better quality. We find the dwelling time in the shop is reduced, there are fewer browsers, shopping has become less recreational and more functional. People are coming in and doing their business and leaving, they don't hang about."

He believes it is important that retailers adapt to new consumer trends. "Sustainability will be big in the future. Throwaway fashion will become more scrutinised, young people are more clued into the planet."

What is his message to shoppers? "I'd tell them to spend their money! We are 111 years in business this week, our unique selling point is the quality of our clothing, a good level of customer service, and attention to detail. We are giving people a safe shopping environment, we have protocols in place which we adhere to to make shopping safe.

"One of the interesting statistics of lockdown was that while there were 20,000 people employed in essential retail [nationally], for example, Dunnes, Tesco, Aldi, and Lidl, the statistics show they had only 20 cases of Covid. Retail is safe provided you follow the Government guidelines."

Mary BennettMary Bennett

Mary Bennett, the owner of the Treasure Chest giftware and fashion shop in William Street, says she is focusing more on the local market now.

"In order to keep the shop going, we changed it completely. We have all new displays and we have a department of Irish clothing which we never had, capes, coats, etc. We put in a new baby corner, it is going marvellously, people love it. We brought up pottery and china, which was hidden in the back, to the front. We're putting in a new website. We are on Facebook and Instagram now.

"We are getting our Christmas shop ready, too, it will be up and running in October. It always gives us a lot of pleasure. We already have a Christmas section downstairs."

Financial support

She is grateful to the Government for the financial support it gave businesses during the pandemic. "It has to be commended for helping them keep going. The Covid-payment helped us all to retain as many jobs as possible. It is great that so many companies could hold on to their staff."

Local support is essential to keep retailers in business, she says. "A big thank you to the locals who support us, we depend so much on them, We don't need them to buy everything. If they gave everybody a little turn it will help everyone."

She hopes people will buy Irish products because it is more important than ever to support Irish manufacturers and save jobs.

Businesses are experiencing challenging times, she says, but she is optimistic that their fighting spirit will prevail.

"It is a challenge to stay in business. You want to put your best foot forward, at times that is not easy. But you have got to make an effort. They [business owners] have all gone through hell.

"I think if we continue to do what we have been doing and Covid-19 is contained we should all be back. It will be a struggle, but struggling is the life of trade."

What are the keys to survival in business? "Service is so important. You must make people feel welcome and provide very good service. Shopping has to be an experience and a nice one."

Whole city

It is important to keep the heart of the city alive, according to Mary Bennett. "One thing I feel very strongly about, if you haven't a heart in your body, it won't keep going. Galway city needs to have its heart to keep the whole city alive. When people come into the city they always like to come into the centre, we are so lucky we have such a lovely introduction to the city.

"We are urging people to come to Eyre Square, shop in the city, go to the museum, the Spanish Arch, go to Waterside and feed the swans, or go to St Nicholas' Collegiate Church. Value which is around us, I think we are blessed to live here.

"If you take in Eyre Square to Mainguard Street, in terms of retail outlets, there are over 20 indigenous businesses there, including Colleran's Butchers, Anthony Ryan's, Powell's, McCambridge's, Matt O' Flaherty's, Joe Hanley's, etc. Many of these have been there for years."

She says while the pandemic has created challenges for local businesses it has also reignited their fighting spirits. "Covid-19 put us on our toes and made us more innovative. You have to put a little more elbow grease into it [business] and that's no harm.

"I was always planning, I used to say what would I be doing tomorrow. Now I plan for the day because it changes so rapidly. With Covid, if you can plan for one day you are lucky. There are many lessons to be learned, for instance, the importance of living one day at a time, the necessity of changing tactics quickly to meet challenges face-on, and the impermanence of everything. Covid has hurt the whole world and we have seen how quickly things changed."


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