Brown Thomas and Arnotts are performing better than expected after reopening, according to managing director Donald McDonald, with stores in Cork, Galway and Limerick out-pacing the Dublin shops.
"Business has been stronger than we anticipated," he told the Sunday Independent. "Regional stores are actually outperforming Dublin stores. There is a lot of strength in the regions."
He said there was a strong ethos of supporting local shops around the country: "We would have a much better connection with our customer in our country stores and people still want that physical shopping experience."
Across the group, McDonald said customers were limiting their visits to stores but spending was strong.
"What we're finding is that while the footfall is less than it was and people are visiting the stores less frequently, they will probably buy more in one visit," he said. "So instead of having two visits, they'll have one and buy more in that one visit that they would have previously bought in two visits."
He said the beauty category has been extremely strong and several innovations are being introduced to take account of Covid concerns. The company plans to open its new shops in Dundrum Town Centre in August/September 2021, promising it will have the best beauty hall in the world.
There has been significant growth online with many shoppers going online for the first time during the lockdown. While some of those shoppers are coming into the shops now, online demand has remained high. "But our main business will always be our retail experience and environment," said McDonald. "There is nothing like a trip into Grafton Street or Arnotts on Henry Street, you just can't replace that online."
When asked if fewer shoppers would require fewer staff or redeployment to online he said: "We are constantly reviewing, in terms of innovation, where people are employed and how they are employed and how many are employed.
"It's about understanding what our customer requirement will be. We're going to do things differently, so we have it constantly under review. At this point in time we don't have any determinations around whether or not there will be fewer or more people employed in the business.
McDonald said the group was aiming for a strong autumn/winter shopping season: "Last week our warehouse had the biggest volume of new product come in in our history.
"Our conversation at the moment is how quickly we can process the new products coming in through the warehouse and into out stores."
With regard to the collapse of a number of British retailers and the empty units left behind, he said he had faith in the group's ability to attract shoppers.
"Take Henry Street for example - we have one of the biggest stores in Europe, the most fabulous shopping experience you can get," he said. "I would love to see other stores match that but it stands out on its own. In itself it is enough to drive the traffic into that area, it is a destination.
"But I am not overly concerned about what's outside that door because I know how good what's inside that door it."
The company has tweaked some of its Covid-19 measures since re-opening, such as an outdoor queueing system which is not needed.
Brown Thomas on Grafton Street has recently brought a new operator into its restaurant, with McDonald saying: "We have been looking at changing the operation for a long time. It's a response to the customer feedback that we received over a period of time."
Previously operated by Johnnie Cooke, it has been taken over by Domini and Peaches Kemp and renamed Hugh Brown's after the founder of the store: "It's an all brasserie-style restaurant, maybe more relaxed than the previous offer." McDonald said it had been full on several occasions in recent days.
A second restaurant, which had been known as Green and Bean, will also be overhauled and run by the Kemps. McDonald said this location would be pitched as "an Instagrammable" experience.
McDonald said he was proud of all the staff at the group and the company had managed to retain the Brown Thomas/Arnotts shopping experience despite the new restrictions.