Tuesday 18 June 2019

Family-run border business that dressed Daniel O'Donnell and Donegal GAA fights back against Brexit


Mark and JP McCluskey
Mark and JP McCluskey
Louise Kelly

Louise Kelly

A family-run clothing business which first opened during the recession is now attempting to overcome the odds again by counteracting the negative impact of Brexit.

Brothers Mark and JP McCluskey had just signed a lease for their Evolve shop in Letterkenny back in 2007 when the bottom fell out of the financial market; but there was no turning back.

"They had already signed the lease, already borrowed from everyone, there was no out so they went ahead and attempted to make the best of things," Evolve Clothing's Financial & Operations Officer Andrew Brolly told Independent.ie.

Despite the shaky start, it didn't take long for the menswear store to become a hit for customers in the Northwest and, within a year, the duo approached the landlord to lease a larger unit, five times the size of the original premises.

Growing from a 2,000 sq feet shop to having over 20,000 sq feet of shop and warehouse space was initially difficult as the McCluskeys found that a number of well known brands had exclusive supply contracts with other retailers.

However, almost a decade on from that move, Evolve is reaching the needs of the casual and suit wearing market with brands such as Gant, Hugo Boss, Tommy Hilfiger and Farah in stock.

Daniel paying the store a visit
Daniel paying the store a visit
Donegal GAA team

"The store has supplied and sponsored the Donegal GAA team with their formal and casual wear in the past also, including the All Ireland and Ulster Final days. We've even suited and booted Daniel O'Donnell," Brolly said.

But with Brexit causing "a real kick in the teeth for the majority of businesses in the Irish border region", Brolly said that Evolve have turned their concern about its impact into an opportunity.

"Sales in 2015 were probably the best the company had ever experienced but six months into 2016, we really felt the effect of Brexit, a lot of our Northern Ireland customer base have stopped shopping with us due to weak sterling rates," said Brolly.

But Evolve had already decided to take action, pivoting and expanding their business in an effort to minimise the blow to the bottom line.

The company opened up a second store in Derry's Foyle Street and also invested in their suiting department to improve the offering, including suit hire to cater better for their customers. And their evolution continues.

"This year, the business is investing almost €250,000 in 2019 to expand and develop into a global clothing retailer. It has employed another buyer, two online retail experts, new warehouse staff and an operations officer."

Evolve store in 2008
Evolve store in 2008
New works on store

This increased workforce, of more than 25pc, creates a boost for the local economy, but Evolve is also looking beyond, with a €75,000 investment into the upgrade of their online site and service, offering free two day shipping to USA, Canada and Australia.

Furthermore, it is relaunching as Evolve Clothing which will incorporate a new ladies department, available at their flagship store in Letterkenny initially, and online in the coming months.

"Since that initial drop in sales, we really upped our game on the marketing front, doing what everyone was doing I suppose in terms of: shop local, spend local," said Brolly.

"But overall we want to highlight the positives that can come out of Brexit adversity and show how a relatively small family owned business can overcome the negatives and continue to diversify and grow."

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