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Feargal Quinn's Retail Therapy

Monday, 15 March 2010

Feargal Quinn's Retail Therapy

Retail in Ireland is on the floor. It's a big employer in our economy. The sector provides jobs in the hundred of thousands. The economic downturn has taken a wrecking ball to businesses that have been going concerns for decades. Only the very smart, unique and adaptive will survive. Irish independent retailers are under particular pressure as they struggle to keep up with the big multinational chains.

In Feargal Quinn's Retail Therapy, retail mastermind, Feargal Quinn works with six independent shops to help them battle the downturn and remain relevant in a cut throat and over-crowded market. As the founder of the Superquinn chain of supermarkets in the 1960s, Feargal built the business up into one of Ireland's most popular and respected brands.

Feargal knows how hard retail can be, but also knows how to make it work brilliantly. It's his life's passion. Feargal became a millionaire in Ireland's last deep recession during the 1980s. It is during these years that he really learnt his skills as a retail street fighter. Feargal will be sharing knowledge he has gained from years of being at the cutting edge of Ireland's supermarket wars where the devil is truly in the detail Thirty years later, having built up Superquinn, one of Ireland's most successful home grown retail brands - Feargal is now rolling up his sleeves and going on a mission to give something back by helping struggling retail business' across the country survive and in some cases thrive.

The Businesses:

X-IT Department Store, Finglas Main Centre, Dublin

Husband and wife team, Derek & Fionnuala Law, have been running their small discount store in the rundown Finglas Main Centre for 18 years. The business is almost on its knees and Feargal is horrified by its poor standards and the general lack of attention to housekeeping. Can he convince Derek & Fionnuala to clean up their act? And can Feargal encourage the locals to support their local retailers to prevent the Finglas Main Centre from becoming even more dilapidated and abandoned?

Green Stores, Claremorris, Co Mayo

Run by Florence Higgins, Green Stores is a department store in Co. Mayo. In the family since the early 1970's, times have never been tougher for Green's and Florence is feeling the heat. Feargal is worried by the shops old-fashioned stock and image and works with Florence to bring new customers to the store and give it 21st century feel without compromising on their traditional values.

BMC, Cobh

Denis Murphy has been carrying on the family tradition passed down from his father and grandfather all his working life at the helm of BMC convenience store in Cobh. With a long working week and increased competition from multi-national and German discount stores, survival is a constant battle for Denis. Feargal travels to Cobh to find a shop in disarray with a poor deli and gone-off produce. He has three short months to transform BMC and help Denis compete with the big boys.

Liberty Florist, The Coombe, Dublin 8

Kim Buckley has been running Liberty Florist for 18 years. In the heart of the Liberties, Kim has been working flat out to continue the legacy of her Great-grandmother Biddy McGrail, who was a well-known Dublin flower seller. However, times are extremely tough and many surrounding businesses in the Liberties have had to shut up shop. Feargal discovers that Kim has no corporate contacts and needs to work very hard on her confidence to ensure the survival of her shop.

Burgess Department Store, Athlone

Rosie Boles and her father Ian are at the helm in Burgess department store in Athlone. At 170 years, it is Ireland's oldest department store and Rosie is keen to carry on for another 170. However, Athlone changed hugely during the boom years and Rosie and her father must contend with the competition posed by the Athlone Town Centre which houses fashion chains from all over the world. Can Feargal help them transform their store into a landmark Athlone destination?

JC's Supermarket, Swords

JC's supermarket in Swords is one of Ireland's last remaining independent supermarkets. Owner JC is a legend in the area and has been putting it up the multinationals for years. JC is the first to admit that other shops might do everything by the book, in JC's there is no book! But with shops like Tesco dropping their prices and the German discounters becoming ever more popular, JC needs to keep ahead of the game and ensure his shop survives into the next generation. Feargal works with JC and his three sons to help them improve their standards and give his sons more responsibility.

How did you get involved in the TV project?

I was approached by Amino Productions and I decided I would take it as I love a challenge.

You met with 6 shop owners - was any of your advice met with resistance?

Yes it was. I first of all went to see them and then I went away for 2 weeks and when I came back I made suggestions to them. In one instance I suggested they change the name of the business and some of the companies did but some didn't. I also suggested to one company to open on Sunday and they said no. I also suggested that one company get a coffee bar in and they decided against that idea too. There were various things that were not accepted by some of the businesses.

If they had of taken your advice do you think their businesses would have improved even more?

They all took most of the advice and the advice I gave on most cases wasn't that difficult to see the logic of. In the show the other day you could see me suggesting to Fionnula to use €10,000 for the shop and she said if she had that much money she would use it on stock instead of tidying up the shop. She did end up changing her mind.

It's a similar concept to Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares - have you watched that show for inspiration?

No I haven't but I've heard of it and I wouldn't dare use that kind of language.

What are your top tips for improving a business?

One top tip I have is the boomerang principle- which is when you take the long term approach and everything you do is to encourage the customer to come back again. The second long term approach is that you can't do that on your own you have got to get good people with you that understand what you are trying to do. The last thing you must be able to do is being great at one thing - because you can be ok at other things but you must be great at one thing for people to be able to come into your shop instead of walking past it.

Were you shocked by any of the practices of these businesses?

Yes I was but I don't think it would show. There were some things that scared me as a business practice. There are some things in hygiene that you can't try to change - you just have to be up on your hygiene practices.

It's obviously a tough time for the retail business - is there anything they can do in order to whether the storm?

It is a very tough time and as far as I can see from our participants none of them were ahead of themselves last year but they are now.

I think with our show you can see very visibly the changes that were made and we also don't repeat ourselves through out the series.

Next weeks episode deals with Green Stores - what problems were they facing?

At the start I didn't know what they were selling - I thought they were a green grocer not a department store and I got them to change the shop front. The interesting thing was that later the other shops around them had to change their shop fronts as they felt that they were now dated.

So that brings up the look of the whole street. The other one I got them to do was to change any of the signs they had up, like for example - 'We don't take returns after 14 days' so I got them to change it to 'We are happy to take returns for up to 14 days'

I also read recently that you are trying to get Ireland to join CET - why is that such an important issue for you?

I am so enthusiastic about that that I have said that if England doesn't follow we sound leave the nursery even if Mammy doesn't come with us. The only problem would be that the north would be an hour ahead of us. I am trying to argue that Northern Ireland should join us and we would all save energy and be able to have an extra hour of daylight for our activities.

Another item going through the Seanad is that I want to make a change to organ donation - called assumed consent where we assume the person has given person unless otherwise stated. It is called opt out. It has been put forward and the Minister is currently carrying out survey's to see if this is possible.