Thursday 25 April 2019

Alan O'Neill: Cashmere company looks to future with proactive marketing

Tom Monaghan founded his cashmere specialist business with his wife Tess in 1960. Photo: Dave Conachy
Tom Monaghan founded his cashmere specialist business with his wife Tess in 1960. Photo: Dave Conachy

Alan O'Neill

As the temperature drops and the days get shorter, it's time to get out the winter warmers. With a pure cashmere jumper made from the fine hairs from underbelly of Mongolian goats, you'd be snuggled up nicely by now.

Monaghan's in Dublin is a prime destination for cashmere in Ireland. Having survived three recessions in 58 years, the family know a thing or two about sustained growth. "Always keep something for the rainy day," says Tom the founder, who still greets customers in store.

Even before the internet took off, Monaghan's embraced a multi-channel formula. They've been selling the finest cashmere products in store, over the telephone and by surface mail around the world all that time.

With a very personalised approach to customer service, I'm impressed with how Tom, his daughter Suzanne and the team look after their customers. So convinced are they that talking to customers is key, they encourage all online customers to call the store directly. It's not a model that would work for the international retail giants with faceless contact centres. But it has served Monaghan's well.

Recent challenges

Monaghan's wants to widen its customer base and be relevant to shoppers of the next generation. Traditionally it has been a cashmere store with classic ranges. Now the challenge is to extend reach and inspire more customer categories to shop. Also, as knitwear is always in fashion and not just for winter, they'd like their existing and new customers to shop all year round.

As an Interior designer, Suzanne brings a renewed focus to the business with a strong creative flair. Traditionally a store for menswear, she has developed exclusive new cashmere ranges for ladies and the younger man. She takes inspiration every single day from nature's changing colours, the seasons, shapes and pictures. With an emphasis on classic contemporary, her style icons include Audrey Hepburn and Olivia Palermo.

Change tips

Finding the right customers at the right time can be like searching for a needle in a haystack. There was a time when a retailer's success was all about location. I'm afraid that's not enough anymore. It's not just online shopping that has changed everything. There are also more bricks and mortar stores than ever before.

Great businesses don't just wait for customers to come to them. That's far too reactive and unpredictable. Even Selfridges with its prime location on Oxford Street in London, makes proactive contact with existing and prospective customers. There is a cost either in monetary terms or perhaps just time, effort and energy. So maximize your investment.

In consultation with Jeff Sheridan, MD of Matrix Digital Marketing, here are the key steps in ensuring that brands get noticed in a congested space.

1 What are your objectives? You want to drive sales ultimately. But are you building brand awareness or chasing footfall? Many organisations do what they can to drive traffic to their website, the portal to their world. It's an opportunity to tell your niche story. Clear objectives will also generate a set of key performance indicators for you to monitor and react to.

2 Be clear on your target audience and customer segmentation. Who is your customer? Think of gender, age, style preferences, influences, lifestyles and shopping behaviours. When you have profiled your target customer, it is crucial to think about what their needs and problems might be ... and what will compel them to take action.

3 Where are those customers? What is your geographic reach? Don't be tempted to say 'everywhere' as that scatter gun approach is too costly and diluted.

4 Articulate your messages and make them relevant and consistent. What is your hook? Suzanne invests budget and time in fashion shoots as her products are so visual. This gives her endless content made up of powerful video clips and photos.

5 Decide how to make contact. Monaghan's has developed a social medial strategy, prioritising Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat as their main distribution platforms.

6 Agree a budget (if any). Unpaid use of social platforms is effective but a little slow. You're relying on likes and shares to build organically. But you may be surprised at how cost-effective it can be if you spend money carefully. This is about being focused and ensuring best bang for your buck.

7 Plan your funnel. Many digital marketers encourage a very focused and targeted campaign that helps to select and indeed deselect customers on the digital journey.

Finally, don't forget other media! It's not all about digital. Monaghan's have a traditional shop window to tell their story, with contemporary mannequins to present their new ranges. They also have a permanent presence in the Aer Lingus Cara magazine which is very effective. You too will have classic and proven methodologies, such as traditional print advertising, PR, making telephone contact, face to face calls, etc.


The old adage that 'half of my marketing works - I just don't know which half' is not necessarily true anymore. Particularly when using social media, it is possible to test, refine, and test again. In such a crowded space, knowing what works to get your customer's attention is key.

A digital strategy is not the be all and end all. There are still many industries where traditional marketing is still more effective, especially in B2B organisations. You decide whichever one is right for you. Just remember, be proactive and focused in whatever you choose to do.

Alan O'Neill is a change consultant and non-executive director. For 25-plus years he has been supporting global and iconic brands through change. Business advice questions for Alan can be sent to

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