Northern Ireland fabric outlet reaches global market with online move
A Northern Ireland family-run retailer is aiming to transcend its local name to expand its online business.
The Spinning Wheel in Donegall Square West has been a mainstay of Northern Ireland's fabric trade for almost 40 years, but with a £30,000 investment and a new title, it is hoped the firm will reach out to customers across the globe.
Its latest site, 365curtains.com offers a shopping portal, with orders coming from as far away as Norway and Australia.
Despite having had an online presence for more than 10 years, director Rory Curran said this new site and new name will take the brand to the next level.
"This is an extension of The Spinning Wheel, and it's a strong brand name to push us across the UK and further afield," said Mr Curran.
With 365blinds.com and 365 fabrics.com still to come, the firm is trading on existing know-how.
Mr Curran said: "It's still the Spinning Wheel products and expertise, so what's sold online is also sold in the shops.
"We do a lot of made-to-measure and bespoke, so if someone orders fabric to make curtains, that's carried out in store."
As well as increasing global orders, the move aims to keep The Spinning Wheel relevant to a customer base that has largely shifted its focus from the high street to the desktop.
"Being online is fundamental to shopping. We already see people in our store going on their mobile phones and pricing against us, so we are better off being part of that than not," said Mr Curran.
The Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) said even small retailers should ensure they have an online presence to sell, or at least market their business.
Chief executive Glyn Roberts said: "It's probably very hard for any type of retail to exist without an online presence, but it needs to go alongside a well-stocked premises.
"Technology is moving, and people are buying on their mobile phone, so this is about keeping ahead of the trend and up-to-date with people.
"You see a lot of members who have stores doing an extra 40% online to complement their shop.
"There are no excuses. Ignore new ways of reaching out to customers at your peril."
One Belfast technology company says websites can make a huge impact on sales. Export Technologies provides firms with software and advice on how to turn a successful existing business into a virtual shopfront.
Chris McEldowney, vice-president of client operations, said: "Businesses need the right technology. But that's only half the battle, they also need a dedicated team to understand digital commerce. It is like having another shop."
But the tech expert warns that online ventures must be user-friendly and optimised for mobile, desktop and tablet.
"Our platform has already transacted £1bn. And for our clients, on average 35% of their online income is from outside the UK - for some businesses that's as high as 70%."
And he said retailers should always keep international customers in mind. "It's important to optimise for other countries, so someone landing on your site does not see any barriers - the shipping and charges should all be in their native currency," he said.
The amount of extra trade that some stores are new doing online