Downturn boosts cost-cutting store outlets

NO surer sign of the economic downturn is the ongoing expansion of some of the country’s most cost-conscious stores, not just the Lidls and Aldis, but our own cost-conscious traders like Heatons.

They opened two brand new Munster stores in the run-up to Christmas, adding to the approximately 80 homeware stores nationwide, with an emphasis on county town locations. Their new Ballincollig and Blackpool outlets opened to queues at the doors, as did new value-driven TK Maxx openings earlier in 2008.

Savvy shoppers already knew the value to be had in bargain-shopping. But, the national media only belatedly embraced the notion as the recession began to bite, with summer 2008 features extolling the virtues of sensible, non-rip off pricing and how it was okay to have your 08 jeep seen in their car parks.

Even supremely cost-conscious Michael Guineys (founded in 1971, now with three stores in Dublin, one each in Cork, Waterford, Limerick and Tralee: where next?) got into the act. Suddenly, it is cool to be frugal: Guineys came up with a store rebranding and new orange ‘G’ logo that had nothing at all to do with a certain Galway design hotel of the same initial.

Aldi is now on a €350 million expansion drive here, Lidl is moving in much the same way, and with around 100 stores between them, they are chasing a bigger bite (currently about 8%) of the €8.5 billion national grocery trade.

Main players responding by cost adjustments include Musgraves, with about 175 stores, Dunnes with 125 supermarkets, and Tesco, with about 85 Irish stores. All have 2009 new-store openings beckoning, despite the slowdown. Bucking the gloom in a big way, for example, Douglas Shopping Centre in Cork is to get a whopping 90,000 sq ft re-housed Tesco, over two floors.

And, even as the demise of the traditional corner shop continues, the rise of replacement convenience stores is filling in the gaps on the nation’s high streets and side streets. Names such as Spar, Londis, Daybreak, Mace, Costcutter, Vivo, XL Stop and Shop, as well as M&S and Tesco small convenience stores now proliferate, while petrol stations also fill the convenience needs slot.

But, if things deteriorate further in 2009, watch who’s well poised to leap into the shopping frontline — remember, the country has more that 300 (and growing) charity shops, run by over 20 national and local charities. Cheap is chic.

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