Belfast Telegraph

Awards celebrate a retail sector that’s strong in face of challenges

By Glyn Roberts

A Belfast Telegraph article recently lamented the closure of one of Belfast's most beloved independent retailers, WM McMaster.

The DIY emporium had been trading from Church Lane for 122 years and passed down through generations of the McMaster family, who customers relied upon for trusted advice, steadfast service and unique Belfast charm.

Sadly, it's a headline we are becoming increasingly familiar with. The pressures and challenges of the 21st century retail sphere are forcing more and more of our local trade shops, electrical shops, butchers and greengrocers to pull down the shutters for good.

And independently-run, family-owned business like McMaster's appear to be first in the firing line, causing a ripple of nostalgia amongst shoppers who fondly remember the 'good old days'.

To say the retail industry in Northern Ireland has changed drastically could well be the greatest understatement of the year. We see the change on our high streets, feel the financial strain in our pockets and interact with shops in a whole new way, using concepts that were entirely alien when WM McMaster opened its doors, but are now part and parcel of everyday life.

Yet, in spite of all these challenges, when I look at the state of Northern Ireland's retail industry, I see much cause for optimism.

I am proud that Retail NI can represent more than 1,700 members from such a vibrant and resilient sector.

I must therefore commend the 2018 Belfast Telegraph Business Awards in partnership with Ulster Bank for introducing a 'Retailer of the Year' category, giving due recognition to this industry which today accounts for more than 80,000 jobs across Northern Ireland.

Retail NI has proactively supported thousands of local businesses to grow and develop, all whilst embracing the changing nature of the sector.

We now encourage as many members as possible to submit their entries to the Belfast Telegraph Business Awards and allow their drive and determination to be given the recognition it so richly deserves. It can be daunting to put your business forward to be judged but also deeply rewarding and a great way to generate the next wave of champions and ambassadors for the sector.

The category is open to all retailers in Northern Ireland, irrespective of size, and applications are welcome from both independent and multiple outlets.

Hopeful applicants must demonstrate unique features, exceptional customer service and a commitment to furthering their local community, to an esteemed panel of judges from a host of differing backgrounds and industries.

It is clear that the road ahead will not be without bumps for the local retail sector but there exists enough positive momentum to pause and celebrate how far this industry has come.

Belfast is now ranked in the top 20 UK shopping destinations and as our flagship shopping outlet, Victoria Square, marks 10 years in the city, it's encouraging to see it continues to attract leading brands from around the world.

We may no longer have the shops like WM McMaster or Austin's department store, which played such an iconic part of our cities' histories, but we do have an exciting, modern retail industry, which will continue to evolve with the high street's future.

I look forward to attending the 2018 Belfast Telegraph Business Awards and celebrating with all of the winners on the night.

Award categories

1. Excellence in Marketing

2. Excellence in Exporting

3. Excellence in the Development of Management and Leadership

4. Excellence in Innovation

5. Best Use of Digital and/or Social Media

6. Young Businessperson of the Year

7. IT Company or Team of the Year

8. Retailer of the Year

9. Excellence in Workplace Health and Well-being

10. Best Established Small/Medium Business

11. Emerging Business/Start up of the Year

12. Excellence in Corporate Social Responsibility

13. SME Healthcare Business of Year

Two special judges' awards, the Lifetime Achievement Award and Overall Business of the Year sponsored by Ulster Bank, will also be awarded

How to enter for this year's event

  •  Full details on categories and criteria and how to enter are available at www.belfast telegraph.co.uk/business/news/business-awards
  •  The closing date for entries is Thursday, March 8, at noon
  • The gala awards dinner takes place on Thursday, April 26, at the Crowne Plaza, Shaw's Bridge, Belfast
  • A table of 10 costs £1,400 plus Vat, while individual places are available at £150 plus Vat
  • To book, please contact Karen McGarvey at Belfast Telegraph on, tel: 028 9026 4345 or events@belfasttelegraph.co.uk