Sportswear brand got 20pc boost from Normal People star but jersey sales fell 70pc
A so-called ‘Paul Mescal effect’ has been credited with contributing to a 20pc increase in the sales of O’Neills shorts in 2020.
O’Neills director Paul Towell said the surge in sales of shorts last year "was one of the few bright spots in a very difficult year” for the sportswear brand.
The brand enjoyed a sales boost after the breakout star of the dramatisation of Sally Rooney’s Normal People made the €20 O'Neills shorts one of the most sought-after fashion items of 2020.
The former Kildare minor football captain was photographed sporting the kit during the year and went on to wear them for a GQ cover photo shoot last Autumn.
Mr Towell said that exposure “has had a very positive effect on sales”.
The 20pc increase in shorts last year contrasts with a 70pc drop in sales of O'Neills replica jerseys due to Covid-19 in 2020.
Mr Towell estimated that the Mescal effect “brought the O'Neills brand to a wider audience allowing us to expand our range in ladies shorts in particular with new colour combinations”.
During the year, the firm sent Mr Mescal a complimentary pack of sportswear along with an O'Neills All-Ireland football which he was seen using in kick-about in Hyde Park, London.
Mr Towell reported that in another bright spot for O'Neills in 2020 was the doubling of its workforce in Covid-free Australia.
The strong Australian performance, along with the firm producing PPE for front-line healthcare workers, limited the brand's revenue drop to 40pc in 2020.
“We had a large investment in Australia the last couple of years and Australia basically has helped to keep the production units going here because there is no lockdown over there,” said Mr Towell.
He said O'Neills are producing jerseys for Aussie Rules, Australian rugby union and rugby league teams.
Mr Towell revealed that the Tipperary footballers’ Bloody Sunday commemorative jersey was the company’s second best-selling jersey last year after a newly launched Dublin jersey.
The Tipperary commemorative jersey sold across the country and overseas in the US and Australia, he said.
“It is still selling well – not to the same extent. It is a unique jersey and has gone very, very well.”
Mr Towell was commenting on new accounts for O'Neills firm, Balbriggan Textiles Ltd which show that the company
recorded pre-tax profits of €1.1m in 2019 as its gross profit increased to €12.1m.
Over the past 12 months, the company’s retail outlets have been closed 60pc of that time, he said.
“We closed down on March 12th last year and we opened again on July 2nd. We closed down again for the month of November and we closed again for January, February and March.
“It is very, very difficult.”
ONeill’s has established a distribution centre in Adelaide and has doubled its workforce to 25 led by Athy woman, Antoinette Kelly.
“At the moment we are in a holding pattern" said Mr Towell. “We are hoping that there will be a loosening of restrictions to allow outdoor activity here next month.”
However, he expressed his frustration with the closure of non-essential retail under Government restrictions.
“There are huge anomalies in the system where garden centres, electrical shops and bedding suppliers are open and sports shops can’t be open.
“The whole thing doesn’t make a lot of sense. It is very frustrating. I don’t understand the logic.”
O'Neills opened a new flagship store in Belfast on March 5 last year only to see it close 15 days later.
Mr Towell said O'Neills spent €500,000 setting it up "and we had it open only two weeks and these are the setbacks you have to live with”.
Mr Towell revealed that O’Neills has lost 160 staff from its pre-Covid workforce of 980 due to redundancy and people opting not to come back to work.
Morale is “slowly eroding”, he said.
“Everyone is in limbo – you can’t plan anything. We could be worse off – at least we are selling some products."
Currently 65pc of the company’s workforce are working with the remaining 35pc furloughed.
“We had a strong balance sheet before Covid and we are still trying to keep it strong,” said Mr Towell.
"Also Bank of Ireland have been very good to us and they have come up trumps. I have to give credit where it is due.”