BROWN THOMAS DOUBLES UP IN DUBLIN

Byline: James Fallon

DUBLIN — Brown Thomas is hoping that one plus one is greater than two.
The department store has closed its building on Grafton Street here, only to reopen in much grander style just across the road, on the site of a former Switzers department store.
Galen Weston, who owns Brown Thomas and Switzers as well as Holt-Renfrew in Canada, expects the new 130,000-square foot flagship will do more business than the two old stores combined. He’s projecting annual sales of more than $94.8 million (60 million Irish punts), compared with previous combined sales of about $86.9 million (55 million punts).
To reach that sales objective, the new Brown Thomas will have to do about $726.80 (460 punts) a square foot, considerably higher than the average of other stores in Grafton Street.
Brown Thomas is considered Ireland’s leading fashion retailer, while Switzers was a middle-market department store. Paul Kelly, the group’s managing director, said the aim of the new store is to increase business at the top end while not alienating middle-level customers.
“We always said we would combine the best of both stores — the fashion from Brown Thomas and the home furnishings and housewares from Switzers,” said Kelly. “There is nothing like this store in this country.”
About 50 percent of the remodeling planned for the flagship is completed, including the entire basement men’s wear department and ground floor men’s wear and cosmetics areas as well as the first floor women’s wear areas. The interior uses sisal matting and Donegal quartz on the floors, while the display cases are American cherry. There are elements of the old Brown Thomas, including the Waterford crystal chandeliers. A sweeping stone staircase with the walls lined in Portuguese limestone was built to connect the store’s four floors.
The ground floor includes a new, carpeted cosmetics department with bird’s-eye maple display cases and a large amount of self selection in fragrances. Counters for each skin care house — including Estee Lauder, Clarins, Borghese, Clinique, Shiseido, LancOme, Revlon and Aveda — are low, to make them more welcoming.
The new 14,000-square-foot women’s wear floor has areas devoted to Max Mara, Paul Costelloe, Michelina Stacpoole and a leased department for Episode. Other lines include Dolce & Gabbana, John Rocha, Lainey Keogh, Rifat Ozbek, DKNY, Calvin Klein, Sonia Rykiel, ChloA, Whistles, Quinn & Donnelly and Louise Kennedy. There is also a young contemporary department on the floor carrying such lines as Turnover, Mexx, Fenn Wright & Manson, Tehen and French Connection.
The new Brown Thomas is only part of a major reshuffling of retailers on Grafton Street, Ireland’s premier shopping street with some of the heaviest foot traffic in Europe. Marks & Spencer has acquired the old 40,000-square-foot Brown Thomas site and plans to redevelop it into a 65,000-square-foot store over the next 18 months at a cost of up to $39.5 million (20-25 million punts).
The Brown Thomas Group in turn has taken over Marks & Spencer’s current 17,000-square-foot store on Grafton. It plans to move its existing 7,000-square-foot A-Wear fashion store — also on Grafton — into the site.
The moves are part of a $47.4 million (30 million punts) investment by Brown Thomas in its new store, a nearby car park and the new A-Wear shop, said Kelly. It is spending $23.7 million (15 million punts) on the new Brown Thomas alone.
The investment comes five years after Brown Thomas bought Switzers from House of Fraser for $13.43 million (8.5 million punts) and the assumption of $31.6 million (20 million punts) in debt. The Switzers acquisition included the department stores Moons of Galway, Toods of Limerick and Cash’s of Cork.
There is only one Brown Thomas unit, which Weston acquired in 1970 for about 600,000 punts. He has invested about $6.32 million (4 million punts) in the store since.
Weston admits Brown Thomas and Switzers haven’t been his most profitable investments, but believes the new combined store will correct that by eliminating duplication and increasing customer traffic.
He also believes design elements of the new store can be incorporated into the other stores in the group, and that there is potential to open more stores in Ireland — including, perhaps, Belfast in Northern Ireland, which does not have a comparable department store.
Weston and other Brown Thomas officials are optimistic about the business prospects in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland now that there is a potential peace agreement between the Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland.
“This store represents the future of Ireland and the future of Grafton Street,” Weston said at the Dublin opening. “It shows that this is a vibrant, exciting, go-ahead community.”
— Fairchild News Service