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Why S.D Kells still takes pride in personal touch and shuns online sales

By Rachel Martin

Published 06/10/2015

S.D. Kells managing director Ian Kells puts the chain’s success down to customer care and attention to detail
S.D. Kells managing director Ian Kells puts the chain’s success down to customer care and attention to detail

The boss of one of Northern Ireland's longest-established department store chains says he prefers his shops to have the personal touch rather than chase online sales.

S.D. Kells, which is based in Lisnaskea in Co Fermanagh, has so far resisted the drive to digital pursued by many retailers, in favour of its more traditional approach to sales.

The business employs a total of 150 staff members across 10 S.D. Kells stores, and six Regatta shops stocking the outdoor clothing brand.

Managing director Ian Kells said he put the chain's success down to a focus on customers and attention to detail, as well as "very loyal and dedicated staff".

"We still consider ourselves to be a family-run business," he said. "The main focus is the customers. The people that run our company are the staff and we just try to give our customers what they want."

He said the company's shops each have a different personality and style.

They range from a swish menswear store on Bedford Street in Belfast to the more homely shops in Enniskillen and Lisnaskea.

But he said the company strives to ensure the same high level of service across all the stores.

Mr Kells said his biggest challenge on the high street was pleasing all his customers. "There's more and more choice and more options every day, and we need to keep up with that," he said.

"The customers in the east don't expect the same level of service that our customers are used to in the west. It helps us to stand out among our competitors, because we still bring that same level of customer service into Belfast, and that's all down to the staff.

"Another strength of our company is the spread of our goods. When ladieswear is going really well, there could be another department having a tough time.

"Similarly, if the west has a good season, things might be tough in Newtownards or another shop. We don't have all our eggs in one basket."

Many of the S.D. Kells stores stock everything from ladies' fashions to menswear, to suits to home furnishings.

The first store was founded by Mr Kells' grandparents, Samuel and Mary Kells, in Lisnaskea in 1928. Their son, Roy Kells - Ian's father - has also been involved with the business all his life and said he remembers the first store starting out as a small country shop.

Today, Roy's three sons - Andrew, David and Ian - as well as long-serving staff member Stanley McElwaine have taken the lead in the business.

Buying through the Association of Independent Stores (AIS) has allowed the managers to keep prices competitive, while keeping up-to-date with trends.

While S.D. Kells' Regatta range is online, the rest of the stock has not yet gone digital.

Mr Kells defends his position, saying he "would rather talk to his customers face-to-face."

As for the future, Mr Kells simply said he was "quietly confident", and added that the business was "going in the right direction".

Next week's Retail Focus features Wardens in Newtownards, Co Down

Belfast Telegraph

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