Not buying Irish at Christmas costs us dearly

Heading up north to save a few euro off the Christmas bill is extremely damaging to our still fragile economy and one economist has even described it as an act of betrayal, says Arlene Harris.

I have a very vivid memory of a school project involving cardboard and paint, plenty of slogans about ‘Buying Irish’ and a catchy (read annoying) jingle which my classmates and I sang with relish as we marched around the locality encouraging people to support their local retailers.

How times have changed.

Although both today and back in my 1980s schooldays, the country was picking up the pieces after a crushing recession — the emphasis 30 years ago was very much on hitting home the message that in order to knock the country back into shape, we had to boost the economy by buying locally.

Whereas today, consumers seem to be actively encouraged to save a few euro off their Christmas shopping bill by heading up over the border to Northern Ireland to hand their hard earned cash over to large UK or foreign supermarkets.

Economist, Jim Power says this is extremely damaging to our recovering economy and even an act of betrayal.

Jim Power

“The reality is that it will cost jobs in the retail sector and rob the Irish Exchequer of much-needed revenue,” he warns. “People who go north to shop should not then turn around and complain about under-funded public services, the high personal tax burden, or working conditions and employment levels in the retail sector. In my view it is an act of national sabotage — short-term gain for long-term pain.

“In fact, the savings made should be put away in a bank account and later used to fund visiting our offspring when they are forced to emigrate.” The financial expert says the amount of money saved does not warrant the journey time or the effort needed for the expedition.

“We all need to support our local economy and our local businesses and if we don’t, the long-term consequences will not be good,” he advises. “And anybody going to Northern Ireland or beyond to do their shopping should think about the consequences of doing so for jobs in the retail sector in the Republic. They should take into account the cost of travelling north in terms of motoring costs, including fuel and tolls and should also consider the cost of the time involved in doing so.

“The biggest savings are to be made in alcohol and second-hand cars, due to taxation differentials but for the average basket of food items, the savings are considerably less and if an account is taken of the costs involved, the gains are minimal.”

After-sales support

Cillian Read sells new and used bicycles from The Bike Shed at Dennehy’s Cross, Cork. He also says that shopping locally is important as it allows customers to see exactly what they are buying and benefit from after-sales support.

“If people don’t support local business, it will be gone,” he says. “We’re delighted to be on Santa’s approved list of bike shops, so kids or their parents can try out the bikes they like and we can pass that information on to the elves. Too many customers of non-dedicated bike shops end up on wrong or poor quality bikes which can literally stunt a child’s cycling life. We can modify bikes for different abilities and limit the number of gears for less experienced kids.

“The size, style and quality of a bike is not something you can just guess without doing lots of research. So we like to see the customer on the bike to make sure they will get maximum growing time out of it and that the riding position, saddle height and number of gears suit them. None of this can be done on the internet.”

The bicycle expert spends a lot of time ‘fixing problems of bikes bought online’ and says any initial saving will be lost in repair costs. Plus a badly-fitting bike will not make a good first impression for Christmas.

“The last thing you want is disappointment on Christmas morning because the child’s bike isn’t working right,” he says. “We offer a free one month service on all new bikes because like guitar strings, gear cables can go out of tune within a few weeks — and boxing a bike up to send it back to an online retailer will cost and you will be left without your bike for weeks instead of minutes when you can just call to us with it.

“We know and use our products and recommend them with confidence — so if you’re not happy then we’re not and we will question whether to offer it to the next customer. So it’s important to support community businesses this Christmas, there’s huge talent locally, in every industry. We’re lucky we have a very loyal customer base and are hugely grateful to all our customers who spread the word — as without them we wouldn’t be here.”

Support for small businesses

Darragh Collins and Michael McDonnell, from The Wine Buff, which offer a more diverse range of wines than supermarkets. Pic: Jim Coughlan

Mike McDonnell of the Wine Buff, Oliver Plunkett Street, Cork, and nationwide, says the Government adds to the problem. “All independent wine shops in Ireland fall into the category of small businesses,” he says. “And while the Government continues their mantra of support for small to medium enterprises in this country, declaring us to be the backbone of the economy, they still impose one of the highest rates of duty in Europe on our sector.” But while there is little he or any other wine merchant can do about the hefty tax on their product, the personal attention, first-hand knowledge and after-sales service gained from shopping locally makes all the difference.

“We source all our wines directly from vineyards, from places many may never have heard of, made by people who are dedicated to the land and the traditional, artisanal way of making wine,” he says.

“Apart from the obvious benefit of interacting with a knowledgeable and enthusiastic shopkeeper, wine merchants offer a far more diverse range than the supermarkets.

“We offer a personalised service, have tasted every single bottle and we get to know your palette, so the guesswork is taken out of your buying decision.

“And with new wines added regularly and the opportunity to taste various wines, you won’t be disappointed with your choice.

“Most of our winemakers are small family operated independent producers who don’t necessarily have the volume to contract with major chains, but are making outstanding wines. So if you’re not drinking these, you’re missing out on some of the best quality the wine world has to offer.”

Personal touch

Ester Murray and daughter Shauna with their candles at Pharmacy First Plus, Tower, Cork. Pic: Larry Cummins

Ester Murray makes a range of natural products ranging from body butters and foot creams to candles and muscular balm. The Blarney-based business woman, whose creations are stocked in almost 170 pharmacies, says the personal touch can make all the difference to customers.

“People benefit from being able to call into a shop as the personal touch is really important and large out-of-town stores don’t have this,” she says. “It’s becoming more and more important to people to get value and quality and there is such an abundance of variety available on our doorstep that we often don’t realize.

“Many people think that if they shop further afield they will get better deals, but there is such a variety available to us locally, we just need to see it.”

Wine merchant, Mike McDonnell agrees.

“We all want to see diversity on our high streets, who wants every town to be a carbon copy of the next? So support your local independent shops to help keep vibrancy on our high street.”

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