From Botox to Swatches, some luxury items still sell
Top-end goods, from digital cameras to VIP race tickets, are bucking the trend and prospering despite the recession, says Barbara McCarthy
'WHAT recession?' may not be the first phrase that springs to mind when you're down the shops, especially considering that we were recently pegged at 'junk' status by Moody's rating agency. But despite the fact that our small island nation is broke, some luxury items are selling better now than they did in the good aul years.
"That's true to say of high-end digital cameras," says Mike Conn from Conn's Cameras in Dublin. "We are out the door. Photography is more popular now than it has ever been as people are deciding to spend money on interchangeable lens cameras whereas before they were happy enough just to buy compact cameras."
According to the market research organisation, GFK, these expensive photographer-style cameras, which range in price from €400 to €5,000 and more, have experienced a sales increase of 140 per cent between 2006 and 2010, while sales in the smaller compact cameras, which range in price from €100 to €200, have only seen a 10 per cent increase.
The industry is worth €65m in Ireland, where five years ago it was worth only €51m.
"This boom is down to the fact that digital cameras are more user friendly than their film predecessors so hobby photography has really taken off," says Mike Conn.
Prices have gone down globally due to the demand and the price difference between Ireland and the rest of the world has levelled out, he adds. Online photo-sharing sites like Facebook, Flickr, and popular Irish website pix.ie, have also contributed to this new fascination with photography.
Conn also says a huge part of the shop's success is based on its strength in the export markets. "We are getting orders from around the world," he says, "and interestingly enough, many of our cameras are sent back to Japan as our prices are so competitive."
Recessions don't hit everyone with equal ferocity. There is still money about in Ireland -- and people will be happily spending it at the Galway Races this week, says John Moloney, manager of Galway racecourse at Ballybrit.
"Pre-event sales and ticket sales are up and the VIP area is almost sold out. We are expecting more than 150,000 people, many of whom will be availing of our top-notch champagne and oyster bars and hospitality areas."
Up to 60 helicopters will be delivering people from expensive hotels to the event.
The races are worth around €60m to the local Galway economy, according to a report by the Smurfit School of Business, and around €27m of that goes to the bookmakers and totes. People pay €20 to €30 for entry tickets and very often hundreds for tables in the VIP areas, adds Moloney. "It's a huge money-spinner for the area and much bigger even than the Galway Oyster Festival or any other event here. People travel from all around Europe and the UK and it creates a great buzz around town."
Cora Casserley, marketing manager at Anthony Ryan's department store in Galway, says sales in the week leading up to the Galway Races have been very good.
"We get lots of women buying last-minute items for Ladies' Day, which has become a huge attraction. Last year, almost 45,000 people attended the event, many of whom were vying for the best-dressed lady prize.
"It's an expensive affair by all accounts and it has gained huge momentum in recent years -- not just at the Galway Races, but at race meetings across Ireland. These women buy accessories, shoes, handbags, umbrellas, hats and jewellry very often costing thousands."
It's not just a vanity project. The prize money for winning can total as much as €20,000 -- which makes the whole endeavour worthwhile.
Hat designer Loraine Domican has felt the effects of the popularity of such events, too. "There is a great demand for one-off pieces for horse-racing events. When you think that thousands of people attend race meetings at Punchestown, the Curragh, Leopardstown or Galway, there is definitely a huge market there."
Domican's pieces cost between €90 and €190 and they are doing very well amongst the ladies who like to treat themselves.
According to cosmetic surgeon Dr Patrick Treacy at the Ailesbury Clinic in Dublin, it's not just the ladies who are treating themselves, but men, too.
"Five to 10 per cent of our clientele is made up of men, who are getting botox, hair transplants and other treatments."
Hair transplants are pricey as each follicle costs €3.50 to transplant so the average cost is around €4,500. "Botox and fillers are also holding their own with both sexes," he adds, with around 50 people having each procedure done in his clinic per week.
Ranging in price from €350 to €800 or more, it is expensive, but having been tried and tested by Hollywood's finest, Irish people are sold on the idea, with around 100 clinics offering the procedure here.
Swiss watch maker Swatch experienced its most profitable year ever last year turning over €6bn globally. Now owning 19 brands, including Certina, Omega, Longines and CK jewellry, the company opened a Tiffany branch in Brown Thomas two years ago.
Based on success in the Irish market, it recently expanded its operation with a high-end multi-brand store in Dublin Airport's Terminal 2 and a separate Swatch store in Terminal 1.
Though luxury car sales in Ireland are down, people are still buying new cars. Figures from the Central Statistics Office show 69,254 cars were registered until June this year compared with 61,361 a year earlier.
Boosted by the scrappage scheme, which expired at the end of June, the month saw 9,240 car sales -- a rise of 11.1 per cent on last year.
Sunday Indo Business