Service is one of the key criteria of the judging process of the Irish Times Best Shops in Ireland competition 2016. As secret shoppers pay visits to establishments all over the country, they will be reporting back to the judges on whether or not they got a welcome, warm or otherwise, when they entered a premises, and also whether they were felt they were being served.
After decades in the business retail consultant Eddie Shanahan is still amazed at how many shops he walks into with nary a greeting of any kind to acknowledge his presence or to try to figure out whether he is the kind of customer that wants to talk or be left to browse. A warm welcome sets the whole tone of the shopping experience. When it’s lacking you feel ignored, unwelcome and less likely to buy.
James Mitchell nails it when he writes the following of O'Sullivan Antiques on Dublin's Francis Street. "Chantal O'Sullivan manages to pull off a difficult high wire act - a world class specialist antique shop, informed by real knowledge that manages not to condescend or intimidate. Somehow this remains a shop that offers antiques in an atmosphere that's always inviting - a place to spend half an hour without feeling you're being made to buy."
Shopping is now a leisure activity and customers should feel free to browse, Shanahan says. It pays dividends too. “When visiting shops for the competition where the welcome was warm and had a real social interaction, I almost felt guilty not buying something.”
The Fireplace Barbershop on Dublin's South William Street gets reader Keith Lumb's vote. "I have always hated getting haircuts; I would prefer go to the dentist than get a haircut. This is the first time in my 36 years on this planet that I have loved the experience. My barber Fabian is super talented, warm and friendly, and getting my hair cut is a relaxing experience in a great atmosphere. And to top it off, a cold beer is always supplied."
While working on prints in Dublin from the US, Roxanne Sexauer was dismayed to find she had forgotten some rather specialized art materials from home. "Not a problem! Evans Art Supplies, also known as K&M Evans, on Meetinghouse Lane in Dublin 7 has the most amazing collection of Charbonnel inks, mediums, printmaking papers, PVA glues and other miscellaneous items. The staff is helpful and knowledgeable about the materials they sell. While checking out, the proprietor John Evans found out that I was in town from California. Amazingly, he took the time out of his busy day to shepherd me over to what must be the only sushi restaurant in Dublin." In short, the warm Irish welcome and the excellence of the art products sold prompted her to write this nomination.
It was the same attentive approach that led Kate Sharp to describe Kinari, an underwear shop in Kinsale, Co Cork as "the most beautiful lingerie shop with the most exquisite feather-light fripperies on sale. A surprise find on a weekend trip from Dublin, the delightful owner with her attentive service had me enthralled. I found bras that are usually only in Rigby and Peller in London. No pressure to buy, but I bought and will return again and again."
This love of what they do is what makes these shopkeepers stand out, and it is comments like these that will help the judges make their shortlist selection once judging closes Wednesday, August 3rd at midnight.
In writing about their favourite shops, readers have waxed lyrical about the shopkeepers who go out of their way to make them feel special. Linda Makey couldn't believe the lengths the staff at Excel Print, in Navan, Co Meath went to find a solution for their customers. Nothing is a problem for those girls, she writes. "Once I needed a box of red pins. They only come in boxes selling multi coloured pins so the staff opened all the boxes to make up a box of red pins for me. Amazing."
“The distance shopkeepers and their staff go to ensure their customers feel welcome and fulfilled shows a real confidence returning to the sector,” Shanahan says. “Retailers are putting more thought into their day and how they approach their customers.” This, Shanahan has seen in shops across the country.
He is not alone. Reader Alessandro Boscolo feels it every time he walks into The Grooming Rooms, winner of the Best Shops salon category last year. As well as a cosy atmosphere, friendly staff and impressive hair styling skills, it is always a pleasure to go back, he writes, "not just for a simple haircut but for the whole experience of feeling yourself really well looked after."
This service-focus is part of the criteria the judges are looking for. If you have a shop whose service you love and haven't nominated it yet you have until midnight tomorrow, Wednesday, August 3rd to make your vote count before nominations close for Best Shops 2016, backed by AIB.