‘We have stockpiled and that will give us some short-term breathing space’
Brexit Proof: Peter Hyland, managing director, Carroll’s Irish Gifts
Peter Hyland, managing director at Carroll’s Irish Gifts: I’m trying to change the perception of Carroll’s
Carroll’s Irish Gifts has been trading for 38 years, employing 350 people at stores in Dublin, Kilkenny, Cork and Belfast and in their online business. It has recently launched a new venture with the Aran Store, in three Dublin city centre locations, showcasing the best of Irish design in store and online. Peter Hyland joined Carroll’s as managing director 18 months ago.
What was your reaction when you heard the UK had voted to leave the EU?
I was obviously really surprised. The timelines since the first vote to now has just created so much uncertainty, particularly from a tourism point of view. UK tourists, coming into Ireland, numbers are actually on the decline. Due to the uncertainty, they are not willing to spend.
How is your business likely to be affected?
There’s the obvious piece in terms of the visitors coming in from the UK and the second piece for our business is that we have two stores in Belfast. If Brexit was to happen, and whether it’s a hard border or soft border, there are obviously going to be increased duties and costs associated transferring goods from South to North.
How much do you rely on raw materials or markets north of the Border, and how much in Britain?
It’s probably a smaller percentage in my business. We do have up to 80 per cent sourced locally. The balance of 20 per cent can be sourced between the UK and Europe so I’m not as reliant. The impact would probably be more so on the sales side, actually getting stock to the UK.
When did you begin preparing for Brexit and what contingency plans have you put in place so far?
I came into [the company] in the middle of this; to be fair to the team, they started planning a lot of admin work in terms of putting in certain codes and tariff codes to get through the border if there’s a border put in place.
We have stockpiled in those locations and that will give us some short-term breathing space to understand what we can do in those territories.
Are you examining new markets/suppliers? How practical is that?
I’m trying to change the perception of Carroll’s and I think certainly from a domestic point of view, the perception of Carroll’s is that we are a tourist gift store. We probably trained consumers to behave that way. We are a gift store and I’m trying to soften the brand. I’m trying to build a relationship with domestic customers to say we sell more than just your traditional tourism Irish gifts.
Does Brexit present any opportunities for you in your business?
I think there’s potential opportunity for indigenous Irish design to have more of an impact because it will potentially stop other people like myself and other retailers from going across to the UK and buying. Tourism now wants unique Irish products and when I say Irish products, I don’t mean a shamrock; I actually mean something made by the kitchen table designers, or small businesses, that carries a story.
Are you stockpiling goods/raw materials?
We have obviously stockpiled in the UK but that’s only a short-term measure.
How might the Irish or British governments, or the EU, help ease the pain of Brexit for your company’s sector?
The Irish Government has ringfenced a €40 million budget to stimulate tourism in the event of Brexit. I think we should be looking at releasing some of that budget. I know Brexit hasn’t happened yet but we’re feeling the impact of it. Certainly in the last four months, we’ve had declines in key territories and this is the first time in probably eight years that we have a flat growth in visitor numbers.
Investment is required now to stimulate demand for Q1 or Q2.
Looking out five years, how do you think that your business or industry will have changed as a result of Brexit?
We will adapt, I mean there have been things like this happening in terms of VAT increases and decreases and the spiralling insurance costs, so it’s constantly changing anyway. The business will adapt and everybody will adapt with it. I’d like to see more designers looking at the opportunities in the likes of our stores. In the next five years, I’d like to see us showcase a lot more Irish brands and telling the story of what we do very well.