‘I can be Brexit-ready fairly quickly once I know what I am dealing with’

Brexit Proof: Kathleen McGovern, Abacus Beads

Kathleen McGovern:  I don’t think the British government comprehends our Border issue

Kathleen McGovern: I don’t think the British government comprehends our Border issue


Abacus Beads owner Kathleen McGovern has been running a jewellery business in Belfast city centre for the past 28 years.

What was your reaction when you heard the UK had voted to leave the EU?

I couldn’t believe it. People had voted on the immigration issue and I couldn’t believe it had gone through.

How is your business likely to be affected?

It is really hard to know because we don’t know what Brexit is going to be. Every day the boundaries are changing and what Brexit is going to be is changing, so I decided I would stop worrying about it until we know what Brexit is.

How much do you rely on exports or the supply of materials across the Border?

I am primarily retail but I post out to customers and I have a lot of customers in the South who make up a considerable part of the business.

I also do a big show in Dublin in the RDS once a year and that is my main point of contact with my southern customers. It’s run by an English company and I am concerned. They have said they will go ahead with this one in the beginning of November but I am concerned that, if it is too difficult and there is too much bureaucracy with them coming over, that that will stop. That would be a huge blow to me.

When did you begin preparing for Brexit and what contingency plans have you put in place so far?

I began preparing mentally when I knew the result, but you can’t really put many contingency plans in place in a small independent retail outlet until you know what you are dealing with.

Are you examining new markets/suppliers and, if so, how practical is that?

It is not really practical because there is no great bead manufacturing industry in the UK. It all comes from mainland Europe, or India, or some from China, so I am limited on where I can get my stock from at competitive prices.

Does Brexit present any opportunities for your business?

The only possibility is that if the whole tariffs and the tax and all that is very complicated, people mightn’t import so much themselves – the smaller people who make jewellery as hobbies. They might start to shop local more. That is the only glimmer I can see of positivity maybe.

When do you expect to be Brexit-ready?

Being a small business I can be Brexit-ready fairly quickly once I know what I am dealing with. I don’t have to consult anybody. I make all the decisions myself.

What’s your best/worst case scenario?

Best case scenario is that there is a soft Brexit and it’s almost seamless, where people will then have their confidence restored in our economy and we will not really notice much of a difference. That is the best case but it is one I am not optimistic about. Worst case scenario is that tariffs and taxes are so complicated and so expensive that it literally puts me out of business.

Are you stockpiling goods/raw materials?

You can’t tie up a lot of cash flow in products but I will be putting in a few decent orders before October just to have some stock to carry me through for a while but it’s not really practical for a small business to do that.

How might the Irish or British governments, or the EU, help ease the pain of Brexit for your company?

All three need to work together to get Brexit nailed down so that, as a small business, we know what we are dealing with. The uncertainty is the hardest thing to cope with. Even if it’s something we don’t like, if we know what it is then we can tackle it. We don’t know what it is at the minute.

How do you think the British government has handled the Brexit negotiations?

I don’t think the British government comprehends our Border issue totally. And now that Boris is in, he thinks our borders are equal to the borders of the boroughs of London, so I don’t know that it is going to get much better.

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

It really depends on what Brexit ends up being. It could end up wiping out all the small businesses if things just get so expensive to import and there is too much bureaucracy that it’s just not feasible for a small business. That is my fear, that I would have to get out of retail and maybe just go into a service-type industry where I do a lot of repairing of jewellery and restringing of beads. The business would shift in that direction and I would come out of retail.

Would you like to see a second referendum on Brexit?

I would love to. In the beginning I thought it might happen but it’s not going to happen now so there is no point in dreaming about that.