Best Shops 2014

The judging begins...


Nominations have closed for the Best Shops 2014, and now it is over to our judges to whittle down the 2,700 shops you’ve voted for to a shortlist of 100. Not an easy task, but between them the judges have decades of experience in various aspects of retail. Simon Pratt has overseen the growth of his family’s business, Avoca, into a group that includes 11 shops and 12 cafes. Designers Sonya Lennon and Brendan Courtney run their own fashion store and have toured the country assessing Ireland’s style for TV, and for their own fashion app, frockadvisor. Eddie Shanahan is a brand, retail, fashion and home wares consultant and is also chairman of the Council of Irish Fashion Designers. Alanna Gallagher is a writer with The Irish Times whose beat includes shopping and interiors and whose Bargain Hunter column appears on Thursdays. Finally, a late entry to the judging panel is Robert Doherty, of AIB Merchant Services, who has more than 20 years’ experience in the payments industry.

So what, according to our judges, makes a good shop great?

“A great shop is an uplifting experience, says Simon Pratt. “It needs to be visually and spiritually uplifting, deliver on service and price and provide an element of theatre.”

“You want to feel that your life is slightly enhanced by being in that shop,” Pratt explains. “People work hard for a living. They want to spend their free time and their money in an environment that appeals to them, that they’re going to out of choice rather than necessity.”

Customers want to be recognised and remembered, says Eddie Shanahan. “It’s not rocket science, it comes down to good old fashioned common sense. A good shop helps people to buy the goods that suit their lifestyle and solve their lifestyle problems.”

“For me what makes a shop great is the people, the smile when you come through the door, the right level of service – not too much, not too little. It’s reading people, being able to read a new customer and know they don’t want to be bothered, they just want to browse, to back off,” adds Brendan Courtney. He believes it is merchandising that feeds the eye. This can be anything that catches your attention. “By doing things differently, you catch the eye and that draws customers in.”

The shop front is very important, Courtney says. “It has to engage you. The shop window is like going for an interview, those first five seconds create a lasting impression. You have about the same amount of time to convince a customer to enter your shop, or to pass it by.”

“When you walk into a shop that is doing it well, there is a sense of discovery; the atmosphere is right, you like what you see,” adds Sonya Lennon. “The offer is driven by the passion of the person who has put that curation together. Their presentation makes you want to buy. We’re all mindful of where our money goes these days and we want the experience to be special.”

There are three elements a good shop has to have, according to Robert Doherty. “A great appearance on the outside, a great layout inside, and friendly staff.” When the three combine, the customer is convinced. “Leaving with a purchase I didn’t intend to buy is a good shopping day,” he says.

According to Alanna Gallagher, shopping is now considered a pastime, one that contributes to the economy, but also to the health of areas, towns and villages. “A good shop is a hub, a place you go where you don’t feel you have to buy, but rather where you want to buy because of the offer, the engagement from the shopkeeper and the great goods sourced for our pleasure.”

Simon Pratt agrees that community is an important factor in shopping, from both sides of the counter.

“By shopping locally you’re doing more than spending money in the area, you’re building a community around which a support structure builds up,” Pratt says. “It’s very important that the retailers are genuine about getting involved. They have to put it into their DNA that people really trust that you are part of the long term viability of their town.”

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