Eason turns a page with €20m plan for growth

 

IT’S A CASE of a lot done, more to do at book retailer Eason, which this week reported a 10.7 per cent decline in revenues last year and a widening in losses to €5.3 million.

That doesn’t tell the full story. Its core business is profitable – making €4.4 million last year.

Eason was dragged into the red by exceptional charges relating to property writedowns and redundancy costs.

It is a familiar refrain from Irish companies in the current economic climate.

Managing director Conor Whelan has set about a €20 million investment to put the group back on the path to growth. Exiting underperforming businesses in South Africa and Britain and closing loss-making shops in Ireland made sense.

Its focus is now on retailing and wholesaling on this island.

Whelan has set about tackling Eason’s outdated IT platform, which is getting a long-overdue multimillion-euro upgrade.

He has also initiated a revamp of its stores, with e-reading areas and improved facilities for children chief among the changes.

A loyalty card has been launched, with an impressive 144,000 signing up thus far.

Whelan has also expanded its franchise operations, which will grow from 22 to 33 stores by 2015.

After being neglected for years, its business in Northern Ireland is to get its own dedicated marketing strategy and has a new flagship shop in Belfast.

Whelan is also addressing his underperforming stores at Dublin and Cork airports.

Sales fell by 36 per cent last year to €10 million.

The opening of Terminal 2 in Dublin resulted in the loss of about half its customer base from its five shops in Terminal 1. WH Smith has the rights at T2.

Whelan told me this week he was in “ongoing discussions” with the Dublin Airport Authority to resolve this.

Tackling the digital space will also be crucial to Eason’s future success.

Whelan is forecasting a 219 per cent increase in online sales this year over 2011, albeit off a low base.

“Our ambition is that it will be the biggest shop [in the group], not the smallest,” he said. “We have to be part of this shift [to digital]; we can’t just ignore it.”