14-1 February 2023
Showcase 2022
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Industry View: Robert Scanlan, Tipperary Crystal

Allied is one of Ireland’s most successful companies and a seasoned exhibitor at Showcase. This family business is now run by the founder’s son Robert (Robbie) Scanlan and renowned for its success in the Irish souvenir market. It is familiar to consumers both in Ireland and abroad for the Tipperary Crystal brand which has seen rapid expansion since its acquisition in 2011. 

The Tipperary Crystal range now includes a wide range of products across several different categories including jewellery, handbags, homewares, Christmas decorations and gift items.  Brands under the Tipperary Crystal business include Birdy, Bailey & Brooke and Eoin O’Connor. A most exciting development for Tipperary Crystal has been the acquisition of the licensing for the Orla Kiely brand which will be launched for the first time at Showcase next month. 

The Allied business was founded in 1973 by Robbie Scanlan’s father James Scanlan. Originally a toy company which also carried some souvenirs, the company developed to focus on the souvenir business and is now the largest supplier of souvenirs in the Irish retail market. 

“The global pandemic has had a massive impact on the business in that the souvenir side of the business has obviously taken a huge hit due to the lack of tourists visiting the country from abroad,” says Scanlan. “Tipperary Crystal now makes up the most profitable side of the Allied business in Ireland.”

 

Jewellery by Tipperary Crystal

 

At Showcase you will find Allied’s tourism product displayed on the Allied stand where the brands include The Quiet Man, Trinity & Co. jewellery, Man of Aran, Maureen O’Hara, Finian and The Finians on show alongside the company’s generic tourism product. 

Separately then, you’ll find the Tipperary Crystal stand at Showcase which will be displaying new brand for Tipperary Crystal, Orla Kiely, alongside Graham Knuttel, Eoin O’Connor, the Birdy and Butterfly ceramic collections and, of course, the Tipperary Crystal jewellery and Christmas collections. 

 

The new Orla Kiely range at Tipperary Crystal

 

Big news for Tipperary Crystal this season is the Orla Kiely brand. Having launched in the UK last October the company will now show this hugely popular Irish brand at Showcase for the first time at next month’s event. The brand is hugely popular among both buyers and consumers and Scanlan has already had significant interest from buyers overseas most notably in the European, Japanese and Korean markets. 

“It is a new concept with the Orla Kiely collection - it is the designer's look, aesthetic and patterns but we have brought in a new pricing structure so that it is more competitive,” explains Scanlan. “This is best exemplified by the mugs which previously retailed at around UK14 (approx €16.75) each but which will now retail UK10 (approx €12) each. On top of that our product will come beautifully packaged so that it will make for a terrific gift product.”

“What we feel we do very well is packaging,” says Scanlan. “We don’t just design nice products, we also put a lot of thought into the packaging. When we started speaking to Orla herself we discussed recyclable materials but also reusable packaging. The Orla Kiely product comes with a belly band - a removable sleeve that goes around the box which conveys product description, the price, the bar code and so on. This can be removed so that the consumer is left with a really lovely patterned box which they can use for storing trinkets or tea bags or whatever it is.” 

So will the new licensing agreement affect the look of the Orla Kiely products? “The brand still has an aspirational feel, look and touch, but it is now slightly more attainable. People simply love the Orla Kiely brand and aesthetic and retailers love it too - everyone from Brown Thomas to John Lewis to Kilkenny. When these top retailers take a product it gives reassurance to independent retailers too.” 

It is noteworthy that Tipperary Crystal have also created Orla Kiely wall units and gondola units for stores making it even easier for consumers to find the products, and for retailers to market them.  “Now when you walk in-store you will see backlit branded wall units for the Orla Kiely brand so the brand has a dedicated area in the shop which houses the product,’ enthuses Scanlan. 

 

The Christmas collection by Tipperary Crystal is successful both in Ireland and in the UK

 

Jewellery is a rapidly growing category for the Tipperary Crystal business. Wife of Robert, Karen Scanlan, is Creative Director of the company and works with five in-house designers to design the products across the range. In jewellery this includes the Noir, Skandi, Butterfly, Tree of Life and Maureen O’Hara collections.

When it comes to crystal, despite the name, crystal products now make up just 3% of business - down from 97% after initial acquisition of Tipperary Crystal. “Christmas products, jewellery, ceramics, homewares and accessories now make up 97% of the business. This is a combination of crystal sales reducing and other categories increasing,” says Scanlan.

Ireland remains the largest market for Tipperary Crystal products, however Scanlan predicts that the UK market will compete with Ireland or surpass it over the next two to three years. Products are sold in the UK under the Tipperary Crystal name and the Orla Kiely name looks set to make up a large proportion of sales under the Tipperary Crystal business over the coming years. 

When it comes to the strength of sales it is largely down to product rather than brand awareness in terms of Tipperary Crystal: “Generally in the UK it is purely on the strength of the product design and the price point in the vast majority of sales,” says Scanlan. “With the Christmas collection for example, though it is sold under the Tipperary Crystal brand name, in the UK it is bought almost solely on the strength of the product.”

 

The Eoin O'Connor range by Tipperary Crystal is a bright and colourful range of homewares and gift items

 

The company sells its products through various channels. The company website has “gone from being not particularly relevant to being very relevant” while Tipperary Crystal also has two own owned retail shops in Dublin and eight franchise stores around Ireland. Tipperary Crystal products are also sold into a whopping 800 independent retailers countrywide, while Allied’s tourism products are stocked in some 400 retail outlets.

The company has not remained unscathed by the pandemic however, and Robert Scanlan admits that it has had a “devastating impact’ in terms of the tourism and souvenir aspect of the Allied business. “Conversely then, it has had the absolute opposite effect on our Tipperary business. We have seen phenomenal growth.”

While many businesses floundered at the start of the pandemic due to issues with supply chains, Tipperary Crystal benefited from having strong stock levels and supply chains already in place when the cost of freight skyrocketed. “At the start of the pandemic we had to make a decision as to whether to go for it or not. A lot of people stopped buying and were waiting for container prices to go down - we kept buying and the sales came through... we would have been able to sell more in fact,” he says.

“We are still making profit margins that are acceptable to us, they are not at the level they are normally at and when the cost of freight comes down we expect the margins to come back in. That probably won’t happen for another 12 to 18 months and in the meantime we are quite happy to grow market share and grow our sales.”

 

The Butterfly jewellery range by Tipperary Crystal 

Brexit has also had a positive impact on the Tipperary Crystal business because retailers stopped buying from UK suppliers and customers in Ireland shopping online feel more confident when shopping with an Irish retailer that they won’t be hit with additional charges.

“It has become very important for consumers [in Ireland] that the website they're shopping from is an Irish company because they know that they are not going to receive an extra charge from a postal or shipping company,” says Scanlan. “We also saw a surge from retailers because of the difficulty they had in purchasing relatively small amounts of product from the UK. They couldn’t be bothered going through the hassle - it is easier to pick up the phone to us in Ireland or to other businesses in the game here.” 

A key point of difference when it comes to Tipperary Crystal products is the quality of the packaging which makes them terrific for gifting. “It is crazy how important packaging is. In some cases I would go so far as to say it is more important than the product,” says Scanlan. “If you have your product packaged nicely, in a rigid box, with a lovely ribbon, it can sometimes be more important than what’s in the box. We work as hard on the packaging design as we do on the product design.”

 

Robert (Robbie) Scanlan, Managing Director of Tipperary Crystal

 

For Tipperary Crystal, Showcase 2022 is about showing existing customers new products and new product ranges - such as Graham Knuttel and Orla Kiely. “We have our own showrooms but Showcase allows us to meet lots of people at the same time, in the same place, with our new offerings and collections,” says Scanlan.

“If you’re in the industry you need to be at the show. How can I be in the Irish giftware industry and not be at the Irish giftware show? If you’re at the show you are telling people that you’re here, you’re here to do business and you’re serious about being there in the good and bad times,” he continues. "Everything is cyclical, the economy will start to lift and coronavirus will be a thing of the past, so it is important to us to show integrity for the long-term. It is about supporting Showcase but also showing our customers that we are here to do business.” 

He believes that the networking and social aspect of Showcase is important too. “There is also the social aspect of the show - it is about meeting people in the industry. Various companies that we have bought, or people we’ve ended up doing business with, we have met at trade fairs. Trade shows like Showcase are where you meet people.”

Find Tipperary Crystal at Stand D62/ D84

Find Allied Imports at Stand D18/ D20

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