‘Businesses will close because of this. I hope ours doesn’t’

Brexit Proof Q&A: Rebecca Harrison, MD, Fishers of Newtownmountkennedy

Fishers of Newtownmountkennedy managing director Rebecca Harrison: “I think there are huge opportunities for people providing services and products in Ireland.”

Fishers of Newtownmountkennedy managing director Rebecca Harrison: “I think there are huge opportunities for people providing services and products in Ireland.”

 

Rebecca Harrison is managing director of Fishers of Newtownmountkennedy in Co Wicklow. This independent family enterprise celebrated its 40th year in business in 2019. Fishers is open seven days a week and sells menswear, womenswear, gifts and homewares. There are 22 people employed in the retail part of the business, and 15 in Food at Fishers, the on-site restaurant.

What impact is Brexit likely to have on your business?

The immediate impact is consumer sentiment. Our customers have been through at least one recession before and know when they need to cut their cloth. I think there is plenty of money in the country but people aren’t spending it because they don’t know how much money they will have. That’s very prudent but it affects retailers particularly. If people don’t know what they have to spend they will spend nothing.

When the UK leaves the EU, there will be many other issues but the bottom line is that it will cost us more money to trade with the UK and with others because the UK has their tendrils in so many different places – transport, materials. There will be increased costs due to tariffs, increased shipping costs, time taken for bureaucracy. . . any gain that we might have from a potentially weak sterling will be negated by increased costs.

Wicklow tends to attract a lot of UK tourists and there was a drop in numbers this summer.

How much do you rely on raw materials from Britain or north of the Border?

We work closely with Magee in Donegal who are very proactive in terms of what they are doing around Brexit, but our second -largest menswear supplier is based in the UK, and around 30 per cent of our menswear comes from the UK. We have a concession with them and the stock is moving back and forth weekly.

In the event of no trade deal, we will have to change how we do business with them.

We have, quite actively, been looking at our suppliers in the last year to see how we can work together in terms of any possible outcome. We have been looking at alternative suppliers, which is a good process anyway in terms of ensuring that we are sourcing the best product at the best price and quality for our customers.

When did you begin preparing for Brexit?

We began the analysis about 18 months ago and it has been ramping up ever since. It is difficult to have huge contingencies in place but we have done a lot of analysis to look at where we are exposed.

We made a strategic decision to reduce our forward ordering, not just from the UK. In fashion, a lot of the brands like you to order six or eight months in advance. Our orders are right down in terms of quantity because we just don’t want that risk. We have bought significantly less from the UK, but also from other suppliers.

We have also prepared by changing suppliers or by lining up other potential suppliers should we need them down the line.

Is there an opportunity for Irish companies because of Brexit?

I think so. We are being asked more and more for Irish products. I am delighted that we can provide some and more to come in due course. I think there are huge opportunities for people providing services and products in Ireland. I also see opportunity for the Irish online market. A lot of Irish customers are buying from the UK online and, if there are increased duties on products, Irish companies will become more attractive to buy from both in-store and online.

What’s your best- and worst-case scenario when it comes to Brexit?

Best case is that we have a strong trading agreement with the UK and that it doesn’t really change how we do business. Worst-case scenario is the bigger overall impact. Retail is a tough business in general and given that retail is so dependent on cash flow, a glitch in the system could very easily have a knock-on effect.

Businesses will close because of this. I hope ours doesn’t as we are celebrating 40 years as a family business this year and I would hate for it to be under my watch that it would happen.

We are in a good position: we have prepared and the fact that we are a small business means that I can make quick decisions and can respond quickly to situations without going through many layers of management. We have survived two recessions in the past and the foot-and-mouth crisis so I hope that remains the case even in the worst-case scenario.

How do you think the British or Irish governments or the EU might help ease the pain for your business or sector?

It’s about finance because cash flow is king. I think if Enterprise Ireland and the Local Enterprise Offices could widen the net for the supports they already have in place, that would help. I think the Government has done very well in terms of what it has done already: our business just doesn’t qualify for any of the supports.

Looking out five years from now, how do you think your business or industry might have changed as a result of Brexit?

I think the retail industry is changing drastically with or without Brexit and that this change will continue but that Brexit might accelerate it. In bricks-and-mortar retail it is all about the experience now. Certainly if people aren’t buying things they still want the experience. Whether that is coming to a fashion show, or having a coffee with a friend, or attending a big extravaganza event it’s about having a feel-good experience when you part with your money. It’s about nurturing that so that people get a real sense of value when they shop with us.