Podcast Ep 184: Kilkenny Design CEO Evelyn Moynihan on how growing its physical and digital footprint is instrumental to the Irish retail chain’s future locally and globally.
To mark its 60th anniversary in business, Irish craft and design retailer Kilkenny Design Group recently revealed a “significant investment” understood to be in the region of €400,000 in a new e-commerce platform.
Around the same time the business doubled down on its physical footprint of stores by opening a new store in Liffey Valley as well as returning to an outlet at Kildare Village.
“There’s absolutely a core responsibility there to get behind the makers and designers and help drive their businesses and protect their jobs and drive the industry and Irish design forward”
Speaking with ThinkBusiness, Kilkenny Design Group CEO Evelyn Moynihan said that the digital and physical worlds of retail go hand-in-hand. The business has seen online sales increase 400% since 2019 while international sales have doubled in the past year.
“People are looking for the best of all worlds as opposed to even both, and we’re finding that a lot of customers will do their homework online and then want to go into bricks and mortar to try out a product or see the piece of art on the wall.
“Equally it’s working the other way where people are going into the store, looking at the product and may purchase it online. The future of retail is very much about the omnichannel experience and how the different channels are working together to deliver the best experiences for the customer.”
Championing Irish design
Kilkenny Designs owes its origins to the belief of founder and then Córas Tráchtála (now Enterprise Ireland) CEO Wiliam Walsh that design could be a key factor in economic success. Walsh spearheaded the establishment of Kilkenny Design Workshops in 1963, the first state agency to be set up outside Dublin, and it operated from the converted Ormonde Stables in Kilkenny city.
The workshop scheme was revolutionary for its era and put a spotlight on growing traditional Irish crafts using indigenous materials including bog, oak, clay, marble and more.
The local crafts and gifts on display were hugely popular with visitors which in turn inspired the Government to open the first Kilkenny Design store in Kilkenny City in 1965. A second store followed on Nassau St, Dublin in 1976 which remains the group’s flagship store today.
In 1999, Kilkenny Design was taken over by Marian O’Gorman and her family. In 2021, Evelyn Moynihan was appointed CEO of Kilkenny Design with Marian remaining in the business as chair and advisory.
Today Kilkenny Design operates more than 18 stores nationwide and a fast-growing e-commerce store with an international customer base.
Moynihan’s first encounter with retail began at Blarney Woollen Mills in Cork while she studied at UCC. After graduating she joined Diageo’s marketing graduate programme. She honed her digital marketing skills while working with Musgraves, focusing heavily on customer relationship management (CRM) and data science.
“When the opportunity came to join Kilkenny Design in 2019 as its marketing and business development director I thought it would be a lovely opportunity to bring the skills I had into a smaller business.”
In 2021 Moynihan became the first non-family member to lead Kilkenny Design. “It’s a great opportunity and for the business. We’re 60 years in business this year and it’s an interesting moment to celebrate but also to plan ahead for our future.”
She explained that Kilkenny Design works with more than 250 Irish designers and makers of all sizes and from all corners of Ireland.
“There’s a real responsibility to work with them and our buyers are very strong on mentoring the various Irish designers and makers in terms of choosing the right products, packaging as well as maximising their offer on our shelves and on our websites. There’s absolutely a core responsibility there to get behind the makers and designers and help drive their businesses and protect their jobs and drive the industry and Irish design forward.
“I feel there’s a real opportunity there for so many Irish designers and makers around the country to be more successful into the future. We work really closely with them and we’re reviewing their product ranges and innovations and where they are going. We put a lot of passion into nurturing and fostering their businesses. It’s a responsibility and an important role that we play for Irish design.”
If you had been following the Kilkenny Design story during the Covid lockdown years, it is clear that innovation took centre stage within the organisation, including the launch of a new telesales service as well as a virtual reality store.
Moynihan says the popularity of the telesales service was a surprise. “It became a really lucrative channel for us and continues to be a service that we build on today. It suits people who maybe less comfortable shopping online but want that care, attention and expertise they experience in the store.
“The virtual reality store consisted of a tour around our Nassau Street shop and allowed people to look at the various products from the comfort of their couch. The VR experience really brought it to life for customers so definitely it’s going to be an areas we’re going to continue to invest in.”
In terms of the investment in the e-commerce platform, Moynihan said that ensuring customers experience the same care and attention to detail that they would experience in a physical store is paramount.
“We’re proud of the fact that we’ve launched a much faster, more seamless experience with AI tools embedded to deliver a better experience for customers. The new site is allowing us to go after more international opportunities. International sales is something we began during Covid-19 but we’ve been growing ever since. The new platform allows us to have three dedicated sites, one for the EU, a dedicated UK store and a store for the US as well.
“And this is really setting us up well and strong for international growth into the future.”