Best Shops: Secret shoppers are on the way

The hunt is almost over, with nominations closed and a shortlist being compiled

Design Works Studio in Cork city, where you can see the jewellers at work and connect with the merchandise, turning browsers into buyers

Design Works Studio in Cork city, where you can see the jewellers at work and connect with the merchandise, turning browsers into buyers

 

It’s been another great summer for Best Shops, with thousands of stores nominated – many of which are new to the contest. Nominations have closed, and our secret shoppers and judges are busy checking out premises that readers loved. The shortlist will be published next weekend, and the winners will be announced at the end of August.

In the judging process all sorts of criteria come into play: what draws you in to the shop in the first place, the welcome you receive when you go in, the stock and whether it entices you to part with your money, and the enthusiasm a shopkeeper shows.

The way a shop is arranged and merchandised says much about the premises. The exterior and shop window are what first draw your attention to a store and, if impressive enough, will divert you from what you are doing and make you cross the threshold to see more. It is, in a way, a type of visual seduction.

At the nexus of the art and commercial alliance is John Redmond, creative director at the Brown Thomas group and one of the judges of this year’s Best Shops.

“We shop with our eyes,” he says. “You get drawn in to a store by what you see, but once inside, it is the way it is laid out, the journey the items on display take you on, the thrill of discovery, and it is the need to explore further that keep you there.

“Other senses come into play once the eyes lock on something; touch, smell and sound will all affect you, sometimes subliminally.”

By changing last year’s best shop window category to best visual merchandising the number of votes jumped threefold, with readers nominating florists, butchers, fashion shops, hardware stores, hipster cafes and family-run establishments that had something beautiful about the way they presented themselves.

Florists really stand out, Redmond notes. “Mark Grehan of The Garden, in the front hall of Powerscourt Townhouse, previously won this category for his inventive use of the property’s granite front steps to display his wares, and it remains a place you want to stop and spend time. Yes Flowers in Galway city makes use of its external space in a similar fashion and has created an outdoor room that defies you to pass it – no matter what your hurry.”

Crinkle Stores in Dingle is a small but beautifully put together food shop on Green Street that Redmond also noticed. “You might nip in for a coffee but will most likely come out with everything you need for the perfect picnic because of the enticing way the food is displayed. Run by Sarah Dolan, it is a special spot whose styling may be inspired by the traditional old Irish general store but does not do pastiche.”

Big Bang Comics, which moved to Dundrum Town Centre 18 months ago, feels welcoming. It inhabits a large, light-filled space lit by neon tubes. “Its design makes it appeal to a broad audience, but it is also its service and the staff’s understanding of the various genres that makes it a place for kids of all ages,” Redmond says.

DesignWorks Studio, in Cork city, run by goldsmith and jewellery maker Tuula Harrington, has successfully deconstructed the stuffy approach often taken by those in the jewellery business, says Redmond.

You can see the designers working at their benches and can talk to them about what they’re doing and how the process works. This refreshingly open set-up turns browsers into buyers because they get the chance to connect with the jewellery and hear its back story, Redmond says.

Thank you to all the readers who nominated shops for this year’s Best Shops competition, backed by AIB. Nominations are now closed. The judges are now checking out shops to see which will make it to this year’s shortlist, which will be published in this magazine next Saturday, August 13th.

This article has been ammended to note the correct location and owner of Crinkle Stores, Dingle

 

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