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The Changing Face of Retail in 2021.

Sandra Devenney is the Sales and Business Development Manager at McElhinney’s Ballybofey Co Donegal. She has worked there for the past 7years and in that time she has been named as Irish Manger of the year at the Retail Excellence Ireland Awards beating off stiff competition from managers from some of the most exclusive independent stores in the country.

 Sandra was a long haul stewardess for many years and she became very sales driven. Began working with a cosmetics company for several years and became area manager looking after part of the Republic of Ireland.

 She started as a business manager for womenswear in McElhinneys, then took over the bridal department and then the senior team where she is at today.

 Her goal at McElhinney’s is to futureproof the business through their Accelerate Leadership Programme.

McElhinney’s was founded in 1971 by John McElhinney and they are celebrating their 50th year this year. As a young entrepreneur John wanted to bring a new shopping experience to the people of the North West of Ireland . It all started when he delivered home essentials door to door to the local community in his little dodge van and fast forward to 2021 and McElhinney’s now employs over 200 staff.


The role of a Sales and Business Manager.

  • Report directly to the CEO (Martin & John McElhinney)
  • The team report to Sandra.
  • Forecast Risk
  • Seek out opportunity
  • Plans with the teams to ensure everyone is working with the same goal.
  • Work closely with the marketing team.
  • Support the team on a daily basis.


Typical Day pre-Covid.

  • Meet with the department managers every morning (stand up meeting/huddle going through the opportunities of the day and any challenges from the previous day.)
  • Set them up for the day and motivate them.
  • Not a problem solving meeting more setting everyone up for success for the day.
  • Every Monday have a business strategy meeting with each department manager.


Typical Day During Lockdown.

  • A lot of staff are off.
  • Huge push towards the online sales.
  • Develop the virtual shopping side of the business.
  • Embracing any opportunities which present each day.


McElhinney’s believes in team work.

Blue sky thinking.

No idea is a bad idea.

The team message ideas daily and the managers embrace that.

John has listened to and talked to his staff as they know the customer best as they are on the shop floor.


Virtual Shopping.

Same concept as personal shopping experience pre-Covid. Personal shoppers will ring the customer and complete a questionnaire with them gathering information like sizes etc. Get them to send a picture.

The staff then go and choose a selection of outfits based on that information.

Act honestly and with respect is the true values of the store and the customers trust the staff.

A lot of the appointments are completed on zoom and whats app and there is almost 100% success rate.



Staff Management.

There is a DNA with employees and it is apparent very quickly when recruiting. The employee with realise they are suitable or not very quickly.

 John is a true humble leader, honest, kind and good and that runs through his staff.

He and Sandra treat them as their work family.

Low sickness rate, team stays for years.

High retention rate. 20-30years service.


Accelerated leadership programme

This has attracted people who really want to work at McElhinney’s as there is a development process for them to go through.

 This 3 year process makes sure the business survives to next generation – the team make the business what it is. It’s about harnessing that and making sure that those values live on for years.

 Recruit and teach the staff everything that Sandra and the John and Martin knows.

 The staff have to want it so it is offered to the whole team and then it is a 5 stage process to bring it to 5 recruits.

 5 active recruits currently who are taken from the bottom up, exposing them to every part of the business: marketing, website, department manager etc

 Spend three hours a week with Sandra.

 The growth in the five individuals has been amazing.


The ever changing Bridal Business.

TV Shows such as "yes to the dress" and all that glamour on social media has changed the bridal industry forever.

Pressure on the bridal industry and on brides now is immense because of social media.

This also applies to guests and mother of the bride and groom as well.

The Wedding department at McElhinney’s has had to adapt and change to suit the new needs and desires of their customers and that has been a learning curve for everyone.


 Influencer Marketing.

This is a huge part of the marketing strategy and there is a manager in place to deal with all of this.

Influencer marketing works so well for the business but a lot of research has been done to find the perfect fit.

A lot of the influencers are business owners themselves and this means they have a great understanding of business.

You have to be careful who you work with – you have to distance ourselves from other peoples opinions on the influencer. It’s about the relationship between McElhinney’s and the influencer.

The team have to truly believe in the influencer in order for it to be a success.

McElhinney’s embraced Influencer Marketing early.

Micro bloggers are very important  – support them as they are growing too.

Make sure they sit with your businesses values.

Don’t be afraid to take risks - go for it


Concluding points.

Lead from the front.

Get out there and try it.

Make sure your voice is positive.

This too shall pass.

Mr McElhinney said – "at the end of the Spanish flu we went into the 1920’s and they were the roaring 20’s."

Work hard to make your business the best it can be.

Customers are going to want to dress beautifully and be with people after this and retailers need to be ready.

 Listen to the full podcast

Spotify- The Changing Face of Retail in 2021.

Apple - The Changing Face of Retail in 2021

Check out McElhinneys website

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  • Such a learning .. the most positive and intuitive podcast in these trying times for businesses..moving forward and working hard and keeping up the determination and good spirits and using their “resting
    “ time wisely the staff will be welcomed back in such an uplifting environment..well done McElhinneys this should be shared worldwide and well done Caroline for this fabulous podcast 🙌🏻

    Posted by Helen McKenna | February 14, 2021
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