Liam Dwan has been at the helm of Brown Thomas Limerick for over a decade. We talk to him about bringing the magic of Christmas to the store, what makes the ultimate customer experience and the future of Brown Thomas in Limerick City.
How long have you been in retail and how have you seen the industry change during that time?
I’ve been in retail for my entire adult life, and have worked in the Mid West region for 25 years and here in Limerick as General Manager for 12 years. So I’ve been around a long time! A lot has changed in retail during that time but of course most notably is the shift to online shopping, so we’ve adapted our service to respond to customer’s expectations there – Brown Thomas online is much slicker and easier to navigate, we have delivery options and click and collect to suit. Our focus however still very much remains on the experience we provide from start to finish. The main aspect of the experience is in store – exceptional customer service is at the heart of all we do.
How do you create and maintain that service?
We ensure we have a knowledgeable team and train them to know Brown Thomas’ culture and ethos. If we can provide that sense of being part of something and learning they can take forward into their career it’s more valuable to them and to us. Many customers do their research online and prefer to come into store to see the product in the ‘flesh’ and make sure it is as they envisioned plus get the expert opinion from team members.
To add to that we try to enhance their visit by giving them an experience to remember, making them want to return in the same manner again and again. It is about providing convenience and delivery where customer seeks it but also memorable face to face interaction with knowledgeable attentive staff and a warm welcome.
What is Christmas like when working for Brown Thomas – how early do you start thinking about it?
We start preparing for Christmas around February each year! Even so, the sense of magic around Christmas is immensely strong, it is what the whole year leads up to and it’s the most exciting time of the year for us.
That’s where the experience really comes into play – the start of Christmas shopping is where people really begin to get into the spirit, so if they have a good experience with us it keeps that spirit going into Christmas.
The Christmas spirit also starts pretty early in the Brown Thomas stores as well with the opening of the Christmas shop in August – some might say that’s fairly controversial but there is a demand for it, we wouldn’t do it if there wasn’t. It gets people thinking ahead, and actually we’ve noticed in recent years that Christmas shopping is starting earlier – people seem to be more carefully planning, doing a little at a time and making their budget go further by doing research and ensuring they get that special item they are looking for rather than having to settle for something last minute. That’s where the magic is – the greatest joy for us at Christmas is helping people find that special thing, be it for themselves or a loved one.
How would you describe your role as General Manager?
The main part of my role is to be a facilitator; allowing the talented and experienced team we have working here to do their jobs to the best of their ability. It’s up to me to provide the information for them to do that. Motivation is also part of that too, and providing feedback, assessing what’s been achieved and what we can do better. It’s about trusting that the team can then go ahead and do it – we have fantastic people here who I know will get stuck in and get the results so there’s no need for micromanagement. There’s a shared vision and focus on the experience throughout from the creative to the customer service side, everyone is on the same page. It’s also important for me to be present on the shop floor – it’s our front line. I like to check in with the team to make sure everyone has everything they need and that they are happy, and also to greet our customers. It’s something many of our customers like to see, the manager there seeing that they are shopping with you and a little acknowledgment back of their importance to us.
How closely do you work with the Limerick business community?
Being on the board of Limerick Chamber of Commerce, I have learned a great deal about the business of Limerick, and how things get done. I have learned and formed good relationships with other businesses, and hopefully have been able to impart some wisdom and insights of my own on occasion. Brown Thomas, though we are a large nationwide brand we aren’t distant from the locality – each store works to best serve its surroundings. For example I have in recent months been working across stores here, in Galway and in Cork. All have very different approaches, different customer profiles and are different kinds of cities. It has allowed us to put Limerick into that broader context, providing that consistent experience, which also is tailored for the local community.
What do you hope to see on the horizon for Limerick city centre in 2017?
There have been some very encouraging announcements in the last few months, which I think will translate into real excitement once we start to see some action. There’s been so much talk for so long, the community wants to see some cranes in the sky to really believe in the vision and cement their commitment and investment in the city. We believe in the city, Brown Thomas is invested here long term, our total revamp of the beauty hall was part of that long term vision, we’re committed to Limerick. Stakeholders in the city centre want to see more developments announced here in the city centre – that’s not to say we’re not glad to see things progress in the peripheries, the centres and complexes surrounding all form part of the tapestry of Limerick. As long as there continues to be investment in city centre, to ensure we are prepared for quality jobs when they come our way. Everything else will follow and Limerick can realise its full potential.
What can we expect from Brown Thomas in Limerick in 2017 and beyond?
First and foremost we’ll be building on the previous year and seeing what we can do better. Every year is about looking to the last and seeing how we can improve and correct missed opportunities We aim to introduce more fashion brands in 2017 – we’ve already added exclusive brands like Charlotte Tilbury, Nars and Giorgio Armani, to our beauty hall and really diversified the range of brands, those you won’t generally find elsewhere on the high street. I like to think we can provide something for everyone – there may be a perception that we serve only a particular kind of customer but that’s not the case, we have a range of price brackets and brands that cater for all tastes, ages, profiles. We believe we can provide something for everyone who comes in through that door. Also we look to be able to reach out in a wider sense to the Limerick community. We already work with businesses and groups together with our beauty personal shopper who use the store to host events and do some team building and simply have some fun as a group, so we aim to provide something a little different from the norm, and build on the success of that.
Article by: Kayleigh Ziolo
Photography by: Tarmo Tulit
Read more from The Limerick Magazine here.