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Dublin: 4 °C Wednesday 11 December, 2019
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How to: Get customers to travel across the country to a small store in a regional town

For a business like Rock Frocks it’s all about finding your niche. And now even Imelda May is a fan.

CATHERINE DOOLEY ADMITS her home town of Athy, about an hour’s drive from Dublin in Co Kildare, is not the first place most people would look to set up a new store.

“It’s not really a very busy town for retail – a lot of retail stores have closed down because it’s quiet on the main street,” she said.

But about 16 months after Dooley and partner Colm Holligan launched their website, Rock Frocks, the couple opened the doors for the first time on their Athy shopfront.

In the short period, their business had quickly outgrown the spare apartment space they were using as a showroom for their 1950s- and rockabilly-inspired fashion.

“That was just down to the success we had online,” Dooley told TheJournal.ie.

“We had a showroom in our house – in our apartment. We just loved that, we loved having people over and seeing their reactions.”

The e-commerce business, which launched in June last year, was the combined product of Holligan’s IT and webdesign skills, and Dooley’s marketing know-how and love of the vintage styles – which have been going through a renaissance through performers like Lana Del Rey and homegrown star Imelda May.

Irish performer Imelda May Source: Photocall Ireland/Aras An Uachtarain

Dooley said she had been a ”huge fan” of May’s look and the style of screen icon Audrey Hepburn, but found she had been forced to look overseas for the looks she wanted.

“That’s what it came out of – my love for the fashion. It probably took 2 or 3 months to get it known, to get the name out there, but since then it has steadily grown. I even have international clients coming to me now as well.”

Dooley said she had been shipping clothes as far afield as Australia and the US, where she also sourced some of her products from.

Since the pair took the next step a month ago and expanded their showroom space into a bricks-and-mortar store, customers had been travelling from the other side of the country to try on their favourites, she added.

IMG_20141127_101437975 Inside Athy's Rock Frocks

“Because we have a different style and we are quite reasonable with our price, people are prepared to travel. I think if we were just another high street store, people wouldn’t come here just for us, but because we’re a unique kind of store, people will travel for it.”

Dooley said she recently had two customers plan an overnight stay in the town so they could visit the store, while many others made the drive from Dublin to visit.

“Dublin prices are quite expensive for setting up a shop, particularly when you take into consideration the rates. We did look at other towns but we stuck with Athy.”

She said a lot of the worry about setting up a new store had been relieved because they already had a year of feedback from their customers on what they wanted.

“It means you know your products better and you’re building on a reputation because customers already know your name.”

Even May had become a “huge fan” of their products and started wearing some of their lines, Dooley said.

Rock Frocks Dooley (left) and Holligan with Imelda May

But does being such a niche business mean the store is at risk of going under when peoples’ current appetite for the 50s look fades?

“I really don’t think we will have that problem at all because we are always getting new clothes and products. It’s something different – everyone loves something different and standing out of the crowd.”

Dooley’s advice to other entrepreneurs looking to turn a passion into a business is simple. “Definitely do it,” she said.

“You will always be nervous, ‘will it work, will people come’. I would say definitely go for it. Just give it your all.”

All this month, as part of TheJournal.ie’s ongoing SME focus, we will be looking at the business of retail – both online and for traditional stores. 

READ: The Big Idea: Saving shoppers time… and hopefully lots of money >

READ: What I Learned: Why there’s no ‘secret sauce’ to cooking up an e-commerce juggernaut >

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About the author:

Peter Bodkin  / Editor, Fora

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