Darren Smyth, Head of Commercial Operations at Shannon Airport, tells us why Showcase is a key source of inspiration and provides expert tips on how the event can impact your business:
Showcase provides an opportunity, under one roof, to see a vast array of goods. It’s very convenient for retailers and it’s easy to get to. You can do almost all your pre-planning for the season at Showcase.
The quality, quantity and selection of product makes it easy for retailers to plan their year. Whether you are a retailer or an exhibitor, you know that you can get a great deal done in a short space of time at Showcase, which is why it’s always so well-attended. You can, in the main, get your buying done for the year at Showcase.
As part of the Shannon Group remit, we always support Irish businesses where possible, and on a personal level, I find Showcase brilliant because there are so many bright, entrepreneurial people launching new products. It’s amazing to see the quality and effort that people put in. It’s fantastic to be able to support these people. For some of these brands, if we give them an order or list them in one or in all of our shops, it has a significant impact on their bottom line so there is a real feelgood factor there too.
The variety, authenticity and quality of the products at Showcase each year is particularly striking. If you were to imagine someone setting up a shop for the first time who needed a broad array of quality Irish products, they could see everything that they’d need at Showcase. It goes from small one-person businesses to larger companies that have been in business for a long time, so it really is a one-stop shop.
People can shop online now just by pressing a button, so there is a challenge for retailers to tell the story behind a product - to make it engaging and interesting.
The key to that is the person who created the business or conceived of the idea and telling their story. It is hugely beneficial in our stores to have a picture of the person who made the product and the story of the person behind the product.
Often meeting a person at Showcase will influence my decision whether or not to list their product because their personality and their story is as important as the product itself.
The sense of authenticity and origin is one of the most important components of retail now. People need to believe in the story behind the product as much as in the product itself. Product is ubiquitous - you can get product anywhere now - but what we have in Ireland are products that are unique to our culture and country. They are all about authenticity, they’re not mass produced - they’re made in a small factory or in the back of someone’s house. We’ve always had this in Ireland, but more and more people are now looking for it.
There is core product that we buy every year and Showcase allows us to transact that business each year. But in retail you need to evolve and change every year as well. One of my favourite parts of Showcase is the Local Enterprise Showcase on the balcony where you can meet new exhibitors that you mightn’t have seen before.
Showcase sets the trend because the show asks a high standard of the exhibitors. I trust the selection process. Irrespective of who you are as a retailer you need pointers and advice in terms of what’s new for the season and Showcase provides you with a number of options to progress and evolve (your product offering). They have done the filtering process for you so you don’t have to as a retailer.
Design Ireland is the first thing I go for at Showcase. It represents the crème-de-la-crème of what’s going on in any particular year in terms of product at Showcase. It underlines and reminds me of the quality of design, the authenticity and the stories behind the products. It absolutely showcases the very best of what’s out there.
My advice to visitors to Showcase is that pre-planning is essential, whether you’ve visited previously or not. There are a lot of exhibitors and a lot of product at the event so my advice is to visit for as long as you can (at least two days), plan who you are going to see and make appointments with people which is an efficient use of your time and theirs. Importantly, leave aside 20 percent of your time for seeking out new products and people that you haven’t come across before.
My advice to exhibitors is to be very upfront with buyers in terms of what you can provide. Tell buyers what you can handle in terms of orders. Sometimes people can be afraid to have that conversation with retailers like us but if we like the product we’ll find a way of making it happen.
Storytelling is very important. Particularly when it comes to a tourism product people are buying a little piece of Ireland and if there is more information around the product - a sense of place or of the maker - it makes it a more compelling offer for our customers.
Darren Smyth is Head of Commercial Operations at Shannon Airport and has over 25 years’ experience in retail and related sectors. Formerly Group Head of Retail at the Shannon Group, Darren is a board member of Retail Excellence, Ireland’s largest retail representative organisation, and serves on the cross-party Oireachtas committee on retail in Dáil Éireann.
The Shannon Group is a commercial semi-state company which includes Shannon Airport and Shannon Heritage. The group’s retail arm comprises of four stores in Shannon Airport, including Shannon Duty Free (the world’s first Duty Free shop) and nine stores across its Shannon Heritage business including those at the Cliffs of Moher, Bunratty Castle and Malahide Gardens in Dublin.