Well-known children's fashion retailer closes down permanently after collapse in cash flow

Caroline O'Neill of DIGG Childrenswear in Dungannon.
Ryan McAleer

A WELL known Co Tyrone fashion retailer has announced that she will permanently close her business due to the impact of coronavirus.

Caroline O’Neill of DIGG Childrenswear in Dungannon had built her online and high street business into one of the top north’s most popular designer kids boutiques, specialising in clothing for Confirmation and First Holy Communion.

Her shop on Irish Street, which employs five people, closed six weeks ago in response to the Covid-19 restrictions.

Despite the success of her online store, she said the collapse in demand for occasion wear has left her with little or no income.

“I’ve built my shop up every year since 2008, but in the last eight to ten months, my business has been the best it has been in 12 years.”

In order to support the growth of her online business, she invested significant sums into stock, to ensure she could meet the demand of her customers.

“Basically I’m sitting with double the amount of stock I would normally have, with no prospect of selling until occasions happen again, which could potentially be next year.

“I don’t have the cash flow to hang on, nor do I have the mental willpower to deal with it.”

The Dungannon businesswoman gave birth to her third child just over five months ago. She said while the past six weeks had helped her put things into perspective, she stressed that her business would have continued to thrive if not for the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I would never have walked away from my business, especially something that was so successful.

“The reality is; my family would have adapted to me continuing.”

Ms O’Neill said while she may seek to move her stock, it won’t be in the short-term.

“A lot people bought stock for occasions that aren’t going to happen. I wouldn’t feel right discounting their clothes when they didn’t even get to wear them.

“I will need to sell what I have, but at the moment, it’s not a priority.”

While she was able to secure the £10,000 small business grant from Stormont, she described it as “a drop in the ocean” for small retailers.

The entrepreneur believes the current three month rates holiday will need to be extended to more than a year.

Along with financial assistance, she said government and councils will also need to offer small businesses additional training to help them recover from the economic crisis.

Ms O’Neill said she believes other retailers will be now be evaluating what lies ahead.

“Northern Ireland has a strong business community, especially strong independent retailers and we’re very passionate.

“We will do everything we can to make it survive, but I think people will weigh up if they are mentally fit for the fight that’s ahead.

“I had to get it into my head that I’m not a failure because I’ve had to close my doors. It’s me realise that I’m stronger than I thought I was, that I was able to make the decision.”

The Dungannon woman has used her experience to mentor other businesses through her side project – DIGG For Success.

“I do mentor businesses and that will be my drive from now on. I want to help people to try and recover from this.”

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