Rea's Department Store

Generations of success

Rea’s Department Store: A Carlow Local Enterprise Office ‘Making It Happen’ story

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Some businesses make a town, and Rea’s Department Store is one of them. A fixture of Bagenalstown since 1958, Rea’s has welcomed generations of shoppers for over half a century.

Colin Rea, grandson of the business’s original founders, has been managing the shop, since 2012.

“I started my own wholesale business and sportswear brand, which then developed into an extension of the store.”

The store has over ten departments and an enormous range of products. “You could come in and get a bucket and spade on your way to the beach and then, on the way back, buy an engagement ring,” says Colin.

Over the years, Rea’s has also carved out a valuable niche as a provider of customised uniforms and sportswear to local schools and clubs.

More recently, the department store undertook a two- phase expansion plan, venturing into men’s and sportswear departments and, later, ladies’ gifts and homeware.

GOING NATIONAL

With its offering growing, Colin saw it time to grow its customer base too. The development of the Rea’s e-commerce website has allowed the store to cater to a new national market along with its local customers.

Working with the Local Enterprise Office in Carlow, he says, has been a crucial part of the process.

“We applied for the Trading Online Voucher,” says Colin. “That’s opened us up to new markets and actually increased our sales.”

The Trading Online Voucher Scheme is one of the many supports offered by the Local Enterprise Office. It provides micro-enterprises (businesses with fewer than ten employees and a turnover of less than €2 million a year) with funding for the development of an e-commerce-enabled online presence to the value of €2,500.

Helen Ryan, Economic Development Officer at the Local Enterprise Office in Carlow, says that their financial and non-financial supports are available to any company, regardless of size or development, that wants to make it happen and take its business to the next level.

“The Local Enterprise Office in Carlow has its door open to anybody who is currently in business and looking to expand or for someone who wants to start a new business,” she says. “Our job is to signpost our client partners to opportunities that are relevant to them to drive their business forward.”

Colin has also availed of the of the Local Enterprise Office Paint Scheme, the R-Innovate rural innovation and business development programme, held in conjunction with IT Carlow and Bank of Ireland, and ongoing mentoring.

“I think the courses and the mentoring that I’ve done with the Local Enterprise Office have kept us up to date,” he says. “It motivates you as well. When you’re running a business, it can be a lonely experience—it’s always great to link in with others.”

While the Covid-19 pandemic has created ongoing uncertainty, Rea’s new e-commerce-enabled website, ideal for home delivery so long as restrictions persist, puts the store in a strong business growth position. Colin agrees.

“Between keeping the business fresh and keeping myself motivated, the Local Enterprise Office has been a great help.”