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Back from the dead: Shuttered retail giants in bid for high street revival

Can there be a second act in bricks and mortar or are failed brands postponing the inevitable?

While there may be no second acts for us mere mortals, for a host of well-known retail brands, closing down and reopening – often in a different format – has become a trend. But will such an approach revive failed brands – or is it merely postponing the inevitable?

Consider Aldo. Last year, the Irish and UK arms of the Canadian shoe brand sought creditor protection after the pandemic hit its business hard, resulting in an effective exit from the Irish market, with the closure of four stores and its ecommerce site. Now the brand is back in business, having been acquired by Birmingham-based firm Bushell Investment Group (BIG).

Aldo has thus far reopened 12 stores across the United Kingdom and Ireland including two in Dublin, on Dublin’s Mary Street and in Blanchardstown shopping centre. A spokesman says the brand will return to Dundrum Town Centre in January, while “further development” is in the plans for 2022.

It’s not the only international brand looking to maintain a physical “bricks and mortar” presence in Ireland.


Earlier this summer, US retail giant Gap said it would close all its UK and Irish stores with a view to taking its business online “in a phased manner” and become a digital-first company, after years of making losses. Figures for its Irish stores show it made a loss of some €263,763 in the year to February 1st, 2020.

Subsequently, high-profile branches of the chain closed in Ireland, including in Dundrum Town Centre and Limerick’s Crescent Shopping Centre.

But this may not yet be the end of the brand in shopping centres and retail parks across the country. UK retailing behemoth Next has recently signed an agreement with the US chain. Already, it has started selling Gap-branded clothes on its website, but from next year, its plan is to host Gap-branded "shop-in-shops" at select retail locations.

According to a spokesman, it is not yet clear which shops in Ireland will have Gap concessions, however, all Next stores that offer a click-and-collect service in Ireland will also offer this facility for Gap products.

Whether the approach works remains to be seen however, with customers now used to the casual clothing retailer’s aggressive discounting approach.

Gap is not the only shop closure that Next has used to its potential advantage; it has also snatched up UK classic home brand Laura Ashley for its “total platform”.

Back in 2020 the brand, which had a number of stores in Ireland, including Athlone and Blanchardstown, as well as a concession in Dundrum, collapsed into administration.

Now Laura Ashley’s famed floral wallpapers are back in shops, such as Next’s home outlet in Carrickmines, south Dublin, as well as being sold online.

Both brands are part of Next’s “total platform”, a service that offers third-party brands access to its online logistics and back-end systems, as well as, in some cases, a presence in its physical stores.

Meanwhile Mike Ashley's Frasers Group, which acquired the then struggling House of Fraser back in 2018, only for a raft of these department stores to close, including at Dundrum Town Centre, is bringing the name back. The brand will take over two units formerly occupied by Debenhams (also owned by the group) at Mahon Point Shopping Centre in Cork and Whitewater Shopping Centre in Kildare, in a move that the company says demonstrates its "commitment to bricks-and-mortar".

The stores, branded as “Frasers”, which will stock hundreds of brands, across beauty, fashion, accessories and designer childrenswear, as well as featuring Sports Direct outlets, are expected to open in 2022.


But can this approach mark a new successful departure for a brand that once closed down – or is it a case of if it didn’t work first time around, why would it work in a second incarnation?

For Matthew Brown, a UK-based retail expert with Echochamber, attempts to resurrect such brands feels a bit like "zombie retail".

“They failed for a reason and poor quality concessions are hardly likely to inspire customers anymore,” he says, noting that if such brands weren’t a success in their earlier incarnations, then “they’re unlikely to be a roaring success now”.

He is also dubious about the approach some retailers have taken to close physical stores and sell exclusively online.

Debenhams is a case in point. The British department store closed its 11 Irish outlets back in 2020, but is still selling its range of brands online.

But as Brown notes, an online only presence has its issues – “the whole issue of returns is massively challenging”.

He is a bit more positive about the approach taken by retailers such as Next and its retail platform, whereby online is a big part of the proposition but is backed up with a physical presence which allows for a click and collect type service.

“Using stores as fulfilment centres – that’s a much more sustainable model, rather than just being 100 per cent online,” he says.

Fiona Reddan

Fiona Reddan

Fiona Reddan is a writer specialising in personal finance and is the Home & Design Editor of The Irish Times