Our economic fortune tellers and our political gurus have informed us that the RECESSION is over. The question is do the Irish public believe them? Sure they have never got it wrong in the past? As someone involved in Irish retail I always take these latest economic figures and surveys with a healthy dose of scepticism. After all, if you really want to know what’s happening in the ‘real’ Irish economy, the one that affects you and me, then talk to a small independent Irish retailer.
So this weekend I did a little survey among some of my fellow Irish retailers and here is their take on our economic recovery.
The queues for the Car Wash
Last Saturday afternoon in Galway nearly every car wash had a queue of cars waiting to be washed, polished and shined. Yes, customers were not just going for the basic quick wash. They were willing to pay that €2 or €3 extra for the deluxe option. It is a long time since I have seen a queue at a car wash. Joe public was simply not prepared to spend that €6/€7 on a car wash. That was simply a luxury they could not afford. Now I am not saying people have really any extra money in their pocket but they do seem to be prepared to spend a little more on non essential services.
Suppliers back in the market
In the last four months I have noticed that the UK wholesalers are back in the market and are prepared to open new accounts and to offer lines of credit to these new accounts. When the crap hit the fan six years ago UK wholesalers ran out of Ireland like the devil was after them. Their primary market, the UK, was suffering and they were not prepared to extend lines of credit to the feckless paddies. This hit Irish retailers hard as a lot of the big wholesalers, certainly in our business, are UK based and we felt their loss keenly. The good news is I have taken a lot of calls from UK based sales reps. wanting to set up appointments to show me their wares. This is good news for Irish retailers and their staff.
Customers are happier, less guilt around.
I know it sounds simple but its true. Irish customers seem a little bit happier, a little less burdened and as any good retailer will tell you a happier customer is more prepared to spend. For the last number of years Irish customers felt so guilty, particularly the mums, if they even considered treating themselves to something small. Hence there was very little impulse buying. Customers were budgeting to within an inch of their lives. There was no room for impulse buys. Again its only a marginal improvement but there is a lot less guilt around. I think the Irish consumer is beginning to forgive themselves for the economic mess and beginning to treat themselves again but in small ways.
These improvements are marginal but because they come from the ground up I put a lot more store in them than any statistics or figures from our economic and political mandarins. Hopefully this pattern will continue, even after the October budget, and we will see a steady return to more normal customer spending patterns over the next 24 months. It is not blue skies all the way but there are patches of sunlight getting through to us on the ground.