01 Sep 2020 | 08.25 am
The High Street Shops Succeeding Online
With a little help from taxpayers...
01 Sep 2020 | 08.25 am
It doesn’t cost much to establish an online shop, but successful e-commerce requires large investment, writes Darren O’Loughlin
The lockdown and its consequences have sparked a huge interest in online trading. This is evidenced by the very large attendances at the compulsory online webinars for anyone seeking the €2,500 Trading Online Voucher (TOV) available from Local Enterprise Offices.
Co-funding from successful applicants is only 10%, so if you have €250 to spare and you secure a TOV then you can start your website journey. The LEO in Dun Laoghaire is one of the hardest working when it comes to hosting the introductory three-hour Zoominars, which can have up to 400 people logging on, half of them sole traders.
LEOs say that as of May 21 there were 3,000 TOV applications since March and 1,250 approvals, with an average grant of €2,300. The IEDR reports that through May the number of dot ie domain name registrations surged by 30% year-on-year.
After the webinar, TOV applicants have to secure three quotes for whatever services they want the funding for, such as website build, Shopify membership, photography, content, payment facilities etc. These suppliers are present at the Zoominars too, announcing their presence repeatedly when the lecture ends and the Q&A session starts.
TOVs aren’t given out for brochure sites – there has to be some level of interactivity, though even adding an online booking function qualifies. From Google My Business and its associated website, to DIY templates from Squarespace, Wix and Shopify, it has never been easier to establish some sort of online presence. The question is whether many of these TOV recipients are wasting their time.
It makes sense for established firms to bolster their online presence. However, it’s another matter for startups with a sole focus on online retail. Trading successfully online costs money, and the government knows that too.
The Enterprise Ireland Online Retail Scheme offers competitive grant funding to established Irish retailers, with the latest scheme offering up to €40,000 if the retailer will put up €10,000 of their own. If the project doesn’t have a base spend of €12,500 then it doesn’t qualify for consideration.
The pilot scheme in 2019 offered grants of €10,000 to €25,000. Twenty nine retailers received funding, and TOV recipients should check them out to see how online retail is done properly and what they’re up against. The following retailers are five of the initial Online Retail Scheme awardees.
The Vibes and Scribes book and craft shops in Cork garnered national attention in May when founder Joan Lucey featured in the RTE show ‘The Speech’, where presenter Kathyrn Thomas helps individuals to overcome their fear of public speaking.
Lucey has nothing to be bashful about, as her successful business is one of a kind. She opened a book store in Macroom in 1981 before expanding to arts and crafts supplies and then to fabric, wool, yarn, haberdashery and upholstery supplies. With two Cork shops and the online store, Lucey’s operating company is thriving, booking a net profit of €140,000 in 2018 and with year-end net worth of €1m.
Vibes and Scribes has a chunky, colourful e-commerce site selling crafts materials, fabrics, millinery and books. From product to checkout takes a couple of clicks and it handles payments via Stripe or PayPal. Lucy also runs a subsidiary site called Yarn Vibes, which sells knitting yarn made from Irish fleece. Also designed by Cork web agency StudioForty9, Yarn Vibes shows why big images that don’t slow down a site can make the ‘shop’ element of a webpage less ostentatious.
Byrnes Books & Toys puts the emphasis on clear functionality for its e-commerce site, byrnesonline.ie. The website sells a variety of toys, board games and outdoor products such as inflatable pools. It also majors on Lego products.
Manager Damian Byrne (47) operates bricks-and-mortar toy/book stores in Enniscorthy, Gorey and Wexford town. That business is owned by Thomas Byrne, who runs EEW, an electrical goods and services business with net worth of €1.3m in 2018.
Byrnes Books and Toys worked with web design company Graphedia to develop its e-commerce site. The resulting effort eschews flashiness for ease of use, with an uncluttered home page and drop-down menus taking users to the various toys and games for sale. The site is quick, sparing with large images and provides a straightforward journey from browsing to purchasing.
This third-generation Meath family business has been on the go since 1975. Manager Jenny Conway (57) took over the Ashbourne store from her mother Dolores, and Jenny’s daughters, Louise and Grace, are now also in the business. The fashion retailer has stores in Ashbourne and Dunshaughlin, as well as boutiques in Malahide and Cork.
Fashion is all about visual appeal and Jenny’s Boutique’s e-commerce site delivers, with an image-led design and drop-down menus to navigate the various clothing brands and types. Users can get from product to checkout in just a few clicks – an important element in converting visitors to customers. Despite the image-heavy design, Jenny’s Boutique’s website loads quickly and the overall design is clean and unfussy. StudioForty9 also built this one.
A standout example of how a good website can transform an otherwise conventional business is provided by Kerrigans, a craft butcher established in 1973 in Donaghmede by Brendan Kerrigan. Sons Shane (50) and Barry (41) have since built up the business to comprise three butchery outlets in Dublin, as well as launching a nationwide delivery service.
The Kerrigan brothers have astutely tapped the fitness market with a ‘foods for fitness’ range of food packs to whet the appetite for protein and lean meats. It’s good for the bottom line too, with the Kerrigan holding company reporting a net worth of €1.8m at the end of 2018.
Kerrigans.ie is a bold, slick website, with a busy homepage selling themed produce for breakfasts, barbecues, parties, dieters, vegetarians and meat lovers. The site also sells protein bars and other fitness products, while the content-rich approach offers recipes, diet plans and more. The overall aesthetic, implemented by Ocean Media & Communications in Sligo, is trendy and engaging.
This Bantry business comprises a shop, café and bakery in Bantry. Run by sisters Hannah (44) and Rachel Dare (40), Organico employs 30 people. Revenue was c.€2m in 2018 and the business booked a profit of €46,000. The Dare sisters took over the business from their father Alan, who set it up in the 1990s. The bakery specialises in breads and snacks, which are served in the café and sold in the shop, alongside health foods and beauty products.
Organico’s e-commerce site illustrates how a local food store can take a leap online. Listed in the ‘groceries, food and drink’ section of the site are 1,200 items, while the beauty section has 690 SKUs. Vendors of this sort can benefit from extra online content and Organico maintains an updated blog, as well as providing recipes for healthy food.
Photo: Vibes and Scribes founder Joan Lucey (left) and RTE’s Kathryn Thomas