22 January 2015 No Comments by The Northern Standard

The plans discussed at Monday’s meeting of the Monaghan Municipal District for a new retail strategy for Monaghan Town deserve close attention by all practitioners of commerce who stand to benefit from their implementation.

They also offer a possible template for other towns in our county seeking to revive trade and maximise opportunities for increased business – our smaller towns in particular, confronted with the challenges posed by the threatened loss of important local services and associated stature, could derive much compensatory advantage from such an initiative, and it is hoped that our other Municipal Districts will follow Monaghan’s lead in drawing up similar frameworks of infrastructure and funding supports.

Ultimately it is up to retail and service interests in our county capital and other towns to avail of the tools the local authority places at their disposal and come together in a spirit of concerted co-operation to get the most out of the opportunities such initiatives offer.

The way in which our county as a whole as well as its component towns market and brand themselves is starting to take a position of centrality in local authority business – and the greater attention this area receives, the more glaring the deficiency in this vital dimension of modern economic activity in Co Monaghan becomes.

We have for too long now been selling ourselves short when it comes to attracting trade to our towns and visitors to our county – commercial and tourism opportunities have failed to be mined to the maximum advantage because of the absence of co-ordinated planning in some respects, and in others a deficit in stakeholder buy-in when co-operative initiatives are instigated.

As was highlighted during Monday’s Municipal District discussion, the current highly beneficial differential in the exchange rate between sterling and the euro for traders on this side of the Border is a case in point. When this situation advantaged Northern traders, an exodus from the South of eager shoppers, encouraged by high-profile marketing campaigns and national media news coverage, was the result, and how this was bemoaned of by the commercial sector in our Border towns.

Some of our towns are seeing a reciprocal dividend now the shoe is on the other foot, but the maximum commercial yield from this temporary change in the currency climate is certainly not being reaped. While some individual businesses are communicating their willingness to honour the exchange rate to whatever Northern shoppers chance their way, there is little evidence of any uniformity of approach by Co Monaghan traders in this regard – and there is certainly no concerted countywide campaign advertising itself over the Northern airwaves or in the advertising columns of the Northern newspapers trumpeting the outstanding value to be enjoyed by shoppers with sterling in their pockets.

But it is more the habit than the exception for commercial opportunities in the northern half of our county in particular to come and go with only haphazard realisation of their potential. Monaghan Town is now home to several major festival occasions that attract international interest and attendance but while some sectors, mainly those in the hospitality sphere, reap a bounty when blues and country music aficionados descend upon us to enjoy themselves, other sectors are wont to complain that the dividend doesn’t come their way, with some even attributing a loss of trade to the disruption in normal business flow these events cause.

The Monaghan Town St Patrick’s Day Parade is another occasion when huge crowds circulate in the county capital – but the commercial potential they represent habitually vanishes with them when they vacate the urban centre area as soon as the parade ends for lack of supplementary attractions to hold them. Independent Co Councillor Seamus Treanor has highlighted this deficit on a number of recent occasions, and hopefully it will be addressed at the public meeting taking place in the town early next month to try to broaden the organisational base of this important community event.

It is perhaps in the motivation for that meeting that Co Monaghan’s, and in particular Monaghan Town’s, bad habit of selling itself short is explained. The organisation of major events such as the parade tends to be left to a few hardy reliables to handle, and while the base of input to the St Patrick’s Day celebrations in the county capital has widened somewhat in recent years, there is room for more active participation from other sectors, that of business in particular, which enjoys considerable promotional and trade advantage from the occasion.

A major community event in Monaghan never takes place without criticism from some quarter – and while no undertaking of this kind is every so perfectly realised that it does not benefit from constructive critique, fault-finding only wears the shabby dress of begrudgery if those who practice it don’t get involved.

The components of the proposed new retail strategy for Monaghan Town that were outlined to the Municipal District on Monday will no doubt also attract their share of criticism as well as commendation – but as a basis for discussion and further elaboration, they are an excellent starting point from which to address the promotional deficits holding back local commercial progress, and to enhance the many positive aspects of the town’s trading environment.

As councillors rightly commented, this important new framework will have its success or failure ultimately determined by the level of buy-in it attracts from the business practitioners of all kinds in the area. We would therefore encourage all those engaged in trade and employment in the Monaghan Town area to give these plans careful consideration, and to communicate their views upon them to the elected members of the Municipal District and at the various forums for discussion on the strategy that will manifest themselves over the coming months.

Plainspeaking Sinn Féin councillor Brian McKenna may have been overstating the case when he referred to Monaghan Town during Monday’s discussion as “dying on its feet”, but his provocative remark does point to a malaise in the input by the commercial sector into co-operative ventures and promotional strategies that could become chronically imbedded if this bad habit is not soon broken.

The new retail strategy offers an opportunity for the malaise to be cured – businesses, service providers, employers and traders should examine it, and if they find something they don’t like in it, they should act to constructively change it. But they should embrace it – the time has come for Monaghan business to stop selling itself short.

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