Belfast Telegraph

Our independent retailers who are still determined to hold on to tradition of January sales

Ian Kells of SD Kells
Ian Kells of SD Kells
Menarys director Stephen McCammon
Aodhan Connolly
Margaret Canning

By Margaret Canning

One of Northern Ireland's best-known independent retailers has said it's maintaining the tradition of January sales despite a glut of discounting in the sector before Christmas.

For the big national chains, January sales have been superseded by discounting in the run-up to Christmas, while others such as Next hold high-profile Boxing Day sales.

According to figures from information service Springboard, shops UK-wide reported a disappointing drop in footfall of -8.6% from Boxing Day last year.

But independents here, from SD Kells to Menarys, are sticking to the January sales concept.

Ian Kells, a director of SD Kells Menswear, which has 10 stores around Northern Ireland, said January sales were important to its shoppers. He said the company's 10 stores would have discounts of up to 70% on its menswear.

But he said SD Kells did not hold Boxing Day sales.

"We do believe our staff should get a proper Christmas break so we didn't go back to work until December 27."

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He said SD Kells did not closely observe the more recent trend for Black Friday sales on the last Friday in November. But its sister business, Outdoor Active Regatta, which also has 10 stores, was "fully immersed" in Black Friday because of a different customer demographic to that drawn to SD Kells.

Aodhan Connolly, director of the NI Retail Consortium, said post-Christmas and January sales were still "alive and kicking".

"It's driven by the NI consumers' love for a bargain, though they are not as big as they once were," he said.

"This year the sales started earlier and with a wider range, which has been good news for consumers as not only has this made Christmas more affordable but it also means that they have been able to spread the cost of Christmas a bit more.

"With the car parks on high streets and in shopping centres being bunged this past few days, it's very clear that there are plenty of bargains to be had in-store across Northern Ireland and that our shoppers are availing of them."

Glyn Roberts, chief executive of Retail NI, said January sales were still a key part of the retail calendar. "Retailers have a lot of stock they want to shift so it's obviously a key part of the calendar for them."

He acknowledged that the sales were not quite as important as previous years thanks to the trend for earlier discounting, but added: "Christmas and New Year is still harvest-time for retailers where they make a significant amount of money."

Mr Kells said that while the retail trade was changing, retailers still needed to have faith in what they could offer through their physical stores. He said Black Friday had brought people through their doors as there were more people out on the street, lured by the hype around the shopping event.

"Our customers are probably reasonably traditional but more importantly they want service, they like service and they will get service. Lots of people still want to be looked after."

Meanwhile, homegrown department store Menarys, which is led by Stephen McCammon, is holding a New Year's Day clearance sale after already offering Boxing Day and Black Friday discounts. It has 18 stores around the province after opening new shops in Ballymena and Enniskillen during the year.

But another independent retailer, who did not wish to be named, said the trend for prolonged discounting had undermined the sector.

"Unfortunately the vast majority of bigger retailers have gone on sale right from early October.

"They go from a 20%-off day to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, so that if a person has X amount of pounds to spend, then it's gone. It's a conundrum because yes, shops have high rates to pay and still have to get money in.

"People used to come to January sales with such excitement in the past, but now it's all been tainted."

Belfast Telegraph

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