Sunday 21 July 2019

Challenging times for Ross trade

With landmark New Ross businesses closing their doors and new businesses opening chamber has big plans for the town and area

David Looby

With the imminent closure of The Cloth Hall and Ross Adventure Play Barn, the closure of Walshe's hair salon and Purple Lotus, the move from the town centre of Emerald Dry Cleaners and the planned closure of French's chemist, the retail life of New Ross has been dealt a blow, but the chamber see green shoots in the opening of several new businesses in the town.

New Ross & District Chamber of Commerce are launching a new website called Destination New Ross to promote the town and district nationally and internationally and have announced ambitious plans to make New Ross Ireland's first digital town.

Referring to the closure of several businesses, chamber PRO Lorcan Kinsella said: 'In any of the examples - business is ever-changing and it can be down to retirement, a change of a business model or an amalgamation. There is also the online dimension. I see online as a point of opportunity with the demographic of the age profile of business owners in New Ross. There is a great opportunity of moving businesses online. We, in the chamber, initiated New Ross Goes Digital last year. We invited some very well qualified people within in the industry - including the CEO of Retail Excellence Ireland - to highlight the importance of having an online portal, which can be as simple as a payment system on your website.'

Lorcan said there may be a mental block for business owners when it comes to online, one which can easily be lifted. 'There is a big issue around that and that is something we are going to do more of through the chamber, creating these workshops for business owners to give them the opportunity to open their shop's online. There are great supports from the Local Enterprise Office in Wexford to give you €2,500 to get your shop up online. That information is so important in the transition from having the existing bricks and mortar and having the added opportunity to sell online through your brand.'

He said people can expect to see some traditional type shops closing in the town, adding 'this is a great opportunity to see other shops opening within the tourism sector like restaurants, cafés'.

A new bakery, café, tourism hub, car salesroom and the move and expansion of McCauley's in the town centre show signs of positive retail activity.

New Ross Chamber is launching Destination New Ross in the coming weeks, Lorcan said, to boost footfall in businesses. Describing it as a hub which reaches out people to visit New Ross, he said it will be a website with a strong social media presence highlighting everything that is amazing around the New Ross district visually and with a directory of businesses so that whether you are in Cavan, Donegal, Derry, Sweden, France, the UK, the area will be highlighted. 'One of the biggest infrastructural projects in Europe (the new bypass) is going to be opening next year and we are right, bang centre in the middle of that. These are exciting times and there has been considerable amount of planning, time and energy in putting us on the map, of grabbing that space to ensure we don't become a past footnote of what New Ross was, but of what New Ross is going to be in the future so people can come and stay here.'

Developing New Ross as a destination location was first suggested by a Waterford Institute of Technology tourism student who won a competition to design a tourism strategy for the town.

'There was one winner and that project became the basis of Destination New Ross. It really got inside the very innards of what people here felt initially. It gave a lot of information about how we see the town going forward into the future considering the ring road which is a big factor as there are 27,000 vehicles going across the bridge every day which is going to be reduced by 46 per cent. With those figures in mind it really does present very compelling, actionable stuff. So a lot of consideration, thought and strategic planning has been put into this roll out of a very strong brand that represents the key elements of New Ross and how it rolls out through social and through web.'

The new website will provide visitors staying for several days with an array of activities they can do. 'There are 212,000 people in the UK, France, Germany and Italy searching for things to do in County Wexford per month. It gives them the idea of visiting a hotel, a nice restaurant while they're staying here. If the information isn't easily found you are not providing that service so we will be providing all of that information under one hub with the touch of a button and we are searchable online. We are launching this in the first quarter of 2019 and we are giving every business in New Ross and district - whether you're an adventure centre on the Hook, a hotel, B&B, retail shop - an opportunity to go onto and you can have your business listed in a directory.'

Lorcan said businesses can work together to make New Ross the country's first fully digital town, adding that a unified approach, like opening on Sundays in the run up to Christmas to create a vibrant shopping town for visitors and locals alike, can be explored.

'We are a voluntary led, non-profit organisation. It's about having a buy in. We will soon have the amalgamation of the chambers in County Wexford. It's an exciting time in how we see and identify the real goals of what New Ross businesses want and how that can be lobbied and pushed as a chamber. The county chamber doesn't change the dynamic of having a committee here in New Ross to spearhead things for the town. I think it's a very positive step in terms of how we go about our business and push for our goals and objectives through any calendar year and it's good to identify something simple like what do we want for the town when people arrive on a Sunday. Do we want our shops and cafés open. I think that's important. It is a win win, but it does create that personal social responsibility of businesses to get involved. You will always have negative sentiment but we are moving forward. There is a train moving and it's leaving the station and I do believe there is an opportunity for everyone to get involved.'

He said the New Ross Goes Digital day was a positive first step, which needs to be followed up 'even if it's only a case of having a number of business owners into a room and take them step by step as to how that happens'.

'I have a big aspiration that we could be the first town to go digital as in every shop has a digital presence so I can go into a bricks and mortar, whether it's a café or a gym, across the board, that also I can buy a product or service from them online. We need technology smart businesses. That is a real aspiration of the chamber.'

The chamber are also looking at developing a digital hub in an enterprise centre being created by Wexford County Council on John Street where it could provide a digital support centre to support business owners as they move into online sales.

'I would like to see us as a tourism hub which is the whole push of Destination New Ross so we see the town as a place to stay for three or four days. It also requires every business to be digital so we're not putting our eggs in one basket. We need, for our own community here, to give good information to the community which really arms them about how they can survive in business. Business is extremely difficult and there are an awful lot of businesses in New Ross finding it extremely hard. There has to be hope. There has to be a sense of what will we do next. There could be a business that is trying to go online but is finding it really hard. Things are extremely in flux.

'I think it's important to set out a stall as a chamber. It is a new year. We need to look at how do we do things more effectively and how we communicate, using communication ports, whether it's through, Wexford, Gorey or New Ross, to highlight events which are relevant to business owners.'

Information is communicated to chamber members via email about events every week or fortnight and through Facebook, Instagram and sometimes Twitter and through different initiatives like Destination New Ross.

'Having very distinct things which push different arms is important. The chamber will talk to the businesses, we will talk to people in Ireland and Europe and further afield about why they should see New Ross as a destination. We have to create a very strong, compelling "why" to convince people to come here. It's very early days. There is a five and a ten year plan for it. We welcome the opening of Visit New Ross as this benefits New Ross. This is a win win. The great winners in all of this are the businesses, the restaurants, the hotels.

'There is a need to be everything to everybody. I think there is a greater emphasis. We have identified how we can get people from outside the county so we wanted to brand New Ross as a destination town so it's very much on the tourism and heritage front. We went right back to the 12th century when the port was the biggest in Ireland, where if you were down there you would have heard German, Italian, Spanish being spoken. You got a sense of New Ross as being a destination place so we are reaching back out to the Italians, French, Germans to see New Ross as that destination port again.

'Our focus is we need to take care of our space in terms of how we let people on the outside, once they type into Google looking for somewhere to go in the region that they find New Ross through however means. These are people who are going to be staying, shopping and eating while they are here.

'There are to options in any conversation, when someone is presented, if people want to be negative that's unfortunate but to be positive, people can say this can benefit my business and the people and how we go forward so I'd ask people to give it a chance.'

New Ross Standard