Duncan Graham, Retail Excellence: Tough times for retailers

Duncan Graham, Retail Excellence: Tough times for retailers

“When the going gets tough, the tough get going” to quote from a popular eighties tune – but never has the saying been more true than now for Retail Excellence Ireland.

Retail Excellence is a not-for-profit body representing 2,200 retailers across Ireland. Its members are facing a complicated and difficult trading environment – battling COVID-19, lockdowns, closures, deserted high streets, complex layers of legislation, landlords and leases – its not surprising that many have been struggling to survive.

Never has the sector needed optimism and a visionary approach than now.

On the bright side though, Retail Excellence has appointed a new Chief Executive to not just take the organisation forward, but to fight the retailers corner no matter where the metaphorical battle is taking place.

Fighting on all fronts

It seems that retailers are fighting on all fronts, but there is hope. Duncan Graham took up the post in the early summer of 2020, and faced something of a ‘baptism of fire.’
“There were three or four significant things happening as soon as I came through the door,” said Duncan. “The first thing was the July stimulus. VAT was reduced, there was a waiver on rates, the new employer wage subsidies and retail grants became available, so there were some significant developments

Toughest three months

“Retail had just gone through its toughest three months ever. Following the re-opening in mid-June, there was a reasonable bounce back but the next 4 months look very uncertain’’
No sooner had Duncan joined Retail Excellence than the results for the first and second quarters came out in the media. The results, which included the lockdown period, showed that sales were down 30 percent.

“Non-essential retail in particular took a right battering” said Duncan. “Then face coverings became compulsory and the effort put in by retailers and the overall compliance from the public has been impressive. It really has been an unprecedented tough time for retail’’

Crunch time

“The kids have now gone back to school, so we’re in to the period when retailers start gearing up for Christmas trade – this year they’ll have to cope with that amidst hand sanitisers, face coverings and social distancing. It will literally be crunch time for many retailers.

“They will have to adapt to survive. What we’ve witnessed over the past five to six months – since lock down – is the movement to online, a process which was expected to take five to six years happened in five months. The creativity and adaptability shown by retailers has been very impressive’’

One step in the right direction has been the go-ahead by the Minister of State for Business, Employment and Retail, Damien English TD for a new €5.5 million COVID-19 Online Retail Scheme as announced in the government’s July Jobs Stimulus package.

New digital capability fund

The new fund will be administered by Enterprise Ireland, on behalf of the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, and supports retail businesses to enhance their digital capability, drive online sales and grow their customer base.

Targeted at indigenous retailers with a pre-existing online presence, this fund will accelerate their online offerings to respond to both domestic and international consumer demand.
The grant can be used to fund fees for service providers, to develop and implement a digital strategy supported by in-house training, and to enhance the retailer’s website and related systems.

Successful applicants will receive a grant of up to 80 per cent of project costs, with these grants ranging from €10,000 to a maximum of €40,000.

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