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BTs hiring Chinese-speaking staff

MANDARIN-SPEAKING staff are being employed by Dublin department store Brown Thomas to cope with the influx of affluent Chinese shoppers.

The Chinese customers now outspend Americans as they snap up expensive luxury brands.

Store managing director Stephen Sealey says Chinese tourists and those living in Ireland sending goods home are spending about €2m a year with the company.

This represents about 1pc of sales and he expects the figure to increase to 2-3pc in the next few years.

In addition to employing Mandarin speaking staff the company has also begun accepting the China Union Pay credit card to facilitate their Chinese customers.

"This year we've done more business with Chinese than Americans," said Mr Sealey. "They have an enormous appetite for luxury goods and the prices in Ireland and Europe would be substantially below - about 40pc - those in Asia. We're very much on their lists."

He added that Brown Thomas would be looking to "reach out" to Chinese customers more and more in its marketing.

"Business in Ireland is tough at the moment so if we can recruit additional customers from abroad it's a way to achieve growth."

Although sales were flat at €206m last year the company managed to double its operating profit to €5.3m by reduced operating costs.

Brown Thomas has stores in Dublin, Cork, Galway and Limerick and owns the BT2 outlets for younger shoppers.

Mr Sealey said business was so tough at the moment "we're having to work hard just to stay level. I would expect our profit to be in line with last year but there are a lot of cost pressures in the business and it will all depend on how Christmas unfolds".

Brown Thomas shops, he said, were selling less clothes and more luxury accessories like shoes, jewellery and watches.

He was also highly critical of Grafton Street, where the flagship store is located. "The paving is absolutely knackered. I need people to want to come to town. That means a clean and safe environment."