Brown Thomas, the fashion chain owned by Galen Weston, is planning a major revamp of its BT2 shops that will see new brands such as French label Maje stocked by the stores.
"BT2 was hugely successful at the beginning of the last decade," said Brown Thomas managing director Stephen Sealey. "As fashion changed, however, and big jeans brands lessened in popularity, so did BT2. Now we are revamping to offer a mix of exclusive and affordable brands such as Cos and Maje as well as emphasising our key category areas like denim. We aim to offer the largest denim bar in Ireland."
Sealey also said Dublin City Council has a lot to answer for regarding the state of Grafton Street, long regarded as the country's premier shopping street.
"We pay €1m a year in rates to the council, and in return the minimum we should expect is proper maintenance of the street," he said. "The council should be spending that money on the retail environment to protect the industry. For businesses to survive we need to be able to operate in a safe, comfortable and attractive environment. The council really needs to step up to that mark."
He supports the Metro North project but worries about its impact on shoppers. "Are we in a position as a country now to pay for it? No. Is it necessary? Yes," he said. "It would serve a great purpose, but needs to be engineered in a sensitive way to keep the city trading while the construction is under way. Realistically, it should have been built during the boom years when the government had the money to invest in it, when businesses were robust enough to take the upheaval and when shoppers with money to spend wouldn't be deterred. But that's typical, isn't it?"
Sealey said Brown Thomas is affected as much by rent issues as any other retailer. The group owns its department stores at Grafton Street, Cork, Limerick and Galway but leases other shops.
"While Brown Thomas owns most of its properties, the BT2 businesses are rented properties with the same problems as everyone else trying to rent in this market. Fortunately our balance of owned properties protects us," he said.
"At Dundrum in particular, there was a demand for a 67% increase on the rent for the BT2 store. This is a challenge for us as much as any other retailer. This carry-on simply drives choice and variety out of the market because only vertically integrated businesses can survive. Hence, there are so many mobile phone shops on Grafton Street."