Ireland was a late developer in terms of its retail scene and now, happily, it is behind the UK in terms of an economic slowdown. Its retail businesses are still enjoying the good times.
For now, that is. Its economy is far from immune to the problems facing all developed economies and there are distant signals on the horizon that retailers may have to brace themselves for more difficult times ahead.
This won’t come as any surprise to many. In the past, as with any emerging market, it was a case of striking while the iron was hot and maximising the gains to be had. But the property market, for one, needs to exercise more caution (page 13). It is no longer a landlord’s market and while Dublin continues to thrive, developers elsewhere are likely to find it more difficult to maintain occupancy.
There are even signs that Dublin’s department store scene, which has prospered on the back of the economic boom, is starting to feel the pinch (page 6). Nigel Blow, chief executive of upmarket department store Brown Thomas, admits that this year is proving tougher than last.
Nevertheless, it’s important to put this into perspective. There is still plenty of opportunity – reflected in the fact that many new retailers have arrived in the country in the past 12 months, or are in the midst of preparing for their first store openings on Irish turf; Fat Face, Gant, Snow+Rock and Wickes among them. Irish developer Chartered Land thinks it could fill a 1.7 million sq ft retail-led scheme in Dublin – the plans for which it submitted to Dublin City Council at the end of April.
And as Boots Ireland director Rhys Iley points out, while the economy may be cooling off, it is still forecast to grow at twice the rate of the UK’s (page 4). The population is also growing because of inward migration and the typical Irish customer is still revelling in the country’s relatively new-found wealth and enjoying spending their increased disposable income.
Retailers may not have much to smile about in the UK, but those with outlets in Ireland can still look across the Irish Sea for some cheer.
The question is though; have those yet to embark on Irish expansion missed the boat?
Charlotte Dennis-Jones, Supplement editor