With 17 shops spread throughout Ireland, the initial impact of the Covid-19 lockdown on design and craft retailer Kilkenny was sudden and severe.
Most of the shops are in prime high-street locations and are reliant on heavy footfall for their trade, especially from tourists. With the global tourism industry decimated and the domestic market isolating at home, the outlook did not look good for the Kilkenny Group, its 350 employees, or the companies and craftspeople who make the homeware, wellness, jewellery and fashion products that the shops sell.
Evelyn Moynihan, Director of Marketing and Business Development at Kilkenny Group, explains: “Kilkenny is all about championing Irish design and craft, about 72% of what we do is Irish made or designed. We stock just under 300 Irish designers and makers in our stores and online, and Covid-19 has had a huge impact on our business.
“We temporarily closed our shops and restaurants on the 16th of March. It was obviously a very difficult decision but it was the only one we could make for safety of our staff and customers.”
Kilkennyshop.com was now the group’s only means of generating sales revenue. Fortunately the Kilkenny team had the capacity to pivot and ramp up online sales as a result of their participation in Enterprise Ireland’s Online Retail Scheme last year. The company received funding through the scheme to improve the performance of the Kilkennyshop.com website and develop a better understanding of their online customers.
Evelyn says: “The Online Retail Scheme helped us put a proper structure and way of working in place so that we were set up for growth:
“We used the funding to complete key steps like conducting a UX (user experience) and UI (user interface) audit of the website, and to outline a clear digital marketing strategy for our business. We also used the funding to complete a strong inventory consolidation for our eCommerce business.”
Kilkenny responded to the Coivd-19 challenge by redeploying staff working from home to support their online and telesales operations. The group’s started operating split shifts for warehouse staff over six days rather than five in order to ensure that it operated efficiently and also meet strict social distancing guidelines.
“We’ve gone from eight employees working on our online team prior to Covid-19 to now having 18 employees working across our online and telesales operation,” Evelyn says. “These are long-term staff members, so they know our products and our brands and are really passionate about the Kilkenny business. It’s fabulous to see that care and attention being put into our online and our customer service phone lines.”
The Kilkenny Group’s ability to adapt has been rewarded with a dramatic increase in online sales. Evelyn says: “We’ve seen huge growth online – more than 400% since the 16th of March, which has been great for our business. Telesales has been an interesting new channel where lots of people are ringing up and ordering gifts to be sent out to their loved ones. Some of the cocooners who maybe aren’t as confident shopping online, are using that channel.
“Prior to the virus, online was circa five percent of our total business. Now, when we look out for the rest of this financial year, we believe that it will finished at 15% of our business, which is great to see.” says Evelyn Moynihan, Director of Marketing and Business Development at Kilkenny Group
The Covid-19 Online Retail Scheme
The Covid-19 Online Retail Scheme, which has €5.5m available, is open for traditional retailers who want to invest in their online offering and grow their markets in Ireland and internationally. It is offering an 80pc grant rate – meaning companies can apply funding of up to €40,000 against a project spend of up to €50,000.
Stephen Hughes, Head of Consumer at Enterprise Ireland, says:
“The Covid-19 Online Retail Scheme is not just for large retailers – there’s no reason why smaller niche, regional or local companies can’t use it to grow their online business and end up trading internationally, if they have an ambition to do so.”
The Kilkenny Group is now making plans to reopen shops later this summer in accordance with the Government’s phased easing of Covid-19 restrictions – but continuing to grow online sales remain a priority.
Evelyn says: “International sales are a key area of growth that we’re setting ourselves for the rest of the year towards 2021. There are so many people with strong Irish connections or roots – we know from the shops that the market’s there and we know the products that they like.
“Although no one could have predicted the impact of Covid-19, the investment that we made and the work we did with Enterprise Ireland last year was critical for us to be ready to take on the growth that we see now in our business today.”
Learn how the Covid-19 Online Retail Scheme can support your retail business online growth.