Online sales boom helps O'Neills record double-digit growth during pandemic

O'Neills switched their production lines in March 2020 to manufacture scrubs for the north's health trusts.

BOSSES at Co Tyrone sportswear manufacturer O’Neills have hailed the company’s “incredible resilience” after it managed to increase its turnover last year.

The Strabane-based operation said a boom in online sales and the move to manufacturing scrubs for the north’s health trusts resulted in a 12.5 per cent uplift in revenues for the year ending December 31 2021.

O’Neills also managed to hold its operating profit at £1.2 million, just marginally down on 2019.

The company’s end to 2020 was a far cry from the devastation of March 2020, when O’Neills’ managing director Kieran Kennedy announced 950 layoffs across the island in response to a collapse in orders due to the outbreak of Covid-19.

The company subsequently availed of the UK Government’s furlough scheme for most of its 745 staff in Northern Ireland, many based at its manufacturing facility in Strabane.

O’Neills was back in production just days later when the company responded to a call from the Western Trust to help manufacture scrubs.

The company said the anti-bacterial polygiene coating it uses for its sportswear had proved ideal for surgical scrubs.

The switch of production lines and the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme helped the company retain 725 staff by the end of 2020, just 20 fewer than 2019.

In a review of its 2020 performance, published this week by Companies House, controlling shareholders Tony and Paul Towell said: “In a challenging and unprecedented year brought about by the impact of Covid-19, the business has shown incredible resilience.”

O’Neills had bucked the prevailing high street trend in the lead up to last year’s pandemic by investing upwards of £1m in a new 8,500 sq ft flagship store on Belfast’s Royal Avenue, its eighth retail outlet in the north.

But the directors said it was a surge in online sales during the pandemic that helped turnover grow by double digits in 2020, as O’Neills’ customers went online for their sports and athleisure gear.

Despite the online success, O’Neills said it’s not expecting to make any significant changes in the nature of the company’s activities in the near future.

The directors ultimately said they were satisfied with the performance in what had been “a challenging year”.

The year also marked Kieran Kennedy’s final year at the helm of the sportswear firm.

The Co Tyrone businessman, who joined O'Neills as a 16-year-old schoolboy, retired in June 2021.

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