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New online markets help small firms to sell despite closures


Goodwill: Joe O’Connor, co-founder of the Doorstep Market

Goodwill: Joe O’Connor, co-founder of the Doorstep Market

Goodwill: Joe O’Connor, co-founder of the Doorstep Market

THE coronavirus crisis is spurring rapid growth of new online sales channels for small Irish-owned firms, ranging from virtual markets to craft beer in the cloud.

The Doorstep Market has been open to trade for only a matter of hours, and already has more than 150 small firms selling their wares - everything from mushrooms to engagement rings - on a non-profit site run by volunteer designers and operators.

The BeerCloud, barely one week old, is selling craft beers online from a dozen regional brewers. Several more - among them Western Herd in Co Clare, Scott's Cider in Co Cavan and Dot Brew in Dolphin's Barn - are joining soon.

Both of the new web-based sales hubs provide an easy-access home for micro-sized and family-run firms that, in many cases, never have sold a single unit of stock online before.

"Our goal was to get 100 businesses registered on our site before we launched. We started trading with 143. It looks like we'll get close to 150 while we're chatting," said Joe O'Connor, the campaign director for the Fórsa trade union and co-founder of the Doorstep Market.

Within an hour of that interview, the number of Doorstep Market traders had topped 155.

Over the past 10 days, Mr O'Connor and entrepreneur and events organiser Grace Tallon have mobilised pro bono design support from digital agency Titan Keystone to launch the Doorstep Market. It already offers more than 400 Irish-made products, with credit and debit payments enabled via PayPal and Stripe.

"We're still in that hectic 'building the plane while it's flying' phase, so we have no firm goals for sales yet. We just know there's tremendous goodwill out there among households wanting ways to buy Irish. We knew we had to build this quickly," said Mr O'Connor, who like others in the project draws no income from the platform. He and Ms Tallon have split the bills for registering the company and booking its internet domain and email network.

"Around half of the firms we're helping - and these are often extremely small firms - don't have any e-commerce facilities or skills. Obviously they need those right now. We're getting them online freely and quickly," he said.

In Athlone, when Liam Tutty of Dead Centre Brewing found his pub and restaurant clients shutting their doors, he built the BeerCloud site as a way to sell directly to the public. Otherwise, he said Dead Centre's only open local retail outlet would be Athlone's SuperValu.

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Registered as a standalone firm less than two weeks ago, BeerCloud today sells cases from more than 50 labels.

"I've opened it up to other small breweries to make sure their route to market is not completely frozen," Mr Tutty said.

"It took nine days from my initial email to brewers, to getting the name together and an application into the CRO (Companies Registration Office), the logo, the site, the couriers - everything," he said.

Dead Centre initially offered the BeerCloud platform for free to first entrants Black Donkey, St Mel's, Wide Street, 12 Acres and Ballykilcavan.

But as more brewers join, "we've started buying from them wholesale and selling at a mark-up in the region of 20pc," Mr Tutty said. "We're not looking to line our pockets by any means, just to cover the expenses we incur with hosting and shipping."

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