The Irish Christmas Market came into being when Sarah Loughran, of Loughran Signs, became increasingly concerned about the challenges facing her local communities. She has seen first-hand with retailers and wholesalers the trials and tribulations business have had to face for many years now, locally in Mullingar, Co Westmeath and nationally throughout Ireland. With that, after running the Look Is Ireland – Celtic Virtual Showcase this year, it really opened her eyes to the talent and creativity of Irish makers and creators. She says: “The important message of supporting local and shopping Irish really needs to be driven home. Irish consumers need see for themselves how important this message is”.
Almost two years of lockdowns and other major socio-economic shifts have resulted in extremely difficult trading conditions for independent retailers and their supplier base of local designer-makers and carefully sourced products from overseas – whether the EU, Britain or further afield. Trading difficulties arising from Brexit seemed to morph seamlessly into strictly imposed Covid-related measures, which then gave way to global supply chain problems associated with Far Eastern manufacturing, the shortage of container ships and massively inflated haulage costs.
The net result is painfully clear to see: Irish retail businesses have been shutting up shop at an alarming rate, leaving our cities, towns and rural communities immeasurably poorer. Independent retailers ARE the lifeblood of our local communities and if there is anything that can be done to bolster and support them through this challenging period, Sarah is eager to do this.
It isn’t all doom and gloom, of course, though it can seem that way when we see boarded up shops on the high street and the news in general speaks of one challenge after another. The good news is that people are still shopping and they are keener than ever to support local Irish businesses, be they independent food and gift shops or talented designer-makers from our home shores.
The other good news is that online sales, both in Ireland and across the seas in other countries, are undoubtedly rising. Whilst some see this as a potential negative for bricks and mortar stores, it doesn’t have to be: There is nothing stopping high street stores from boosting sales via the Internet if they use the right platform and have a strong enough online presence.
The upward trend in this part of the retail market has been going on for quite some time as we all become more glued to our mobile phones and internet-based technology continues to improve. The pandemic forced many people unaccustomed to shopping online to take the plunge and many of them – possibly to their surprise – liked what they saw.
Sarah adds: “The convenience which puts a huge marketplace at your fingertips, from the comfort of your own home, is a huge draw and I believe this form of shopping is very much here to stay. Unlike Amazon and other huge corporate enterprises, independent online markets like the Irish Christmas Market are designed to support bricks and mortar retail and designers who need an outlet for their work but struggle to get a foothold in the massive online space.
“Technology is tricky if you don’t have the know-how but we have an excellent IT consultant who worked with us on our trade events when the physical shows got cancelled. Together we have delivered a commission-free solution we believe can greatly benefit all who join us here to sell their products on the Irish Christmas market. We will be focusing very much on marketing and PR activities for the market to ensure it gets a good lift off in time for the festive period”.
“I’m very excited about bringing you this new marketplace and sincerely hope it will help bring a boost to all those fantastic Irish businesses who deserve to not just survive but positively thrive as we head towards the New Year.”