Design Ireland and the Optimise Programme on RTÉ’s Nationwide

Nationwide is a prime time magazine show on Ireland’s national television channel RTÉ. This week Nationwide takes a look at the Optimise Programme - a collaborative programme between the Design and Crafts Council of Ireland, the IE Domain Registry and Local Enterprise Boards countrywide, and speaks to several Design Ireland craftspeople who have participated in the programme and who are enjoying greater online exposure and economic success as a result.

Photo of Design Ireland and the Optimise Programme on RTÉ’s Nationwide

With the rise in popularity of online shopping, reaching a global audience has never been more possible - or more important - for business and for those working in the design and craft sectors. The Optimise Programme is helping craftspeople and designers tap into that multibillion euro marketplace by providing a full audit of participants’ websites and by offering suggestions as to how they can create better looking - and functioning - websites in order to increase online sales.

Photo of Design Ireland and the Optimise Programme on RTÉ’s Nationwide

One such person is accessories designer Susannagh Grogan who is known for her vibrant, colourful printed Irish silk scarves and tunics. Susannagh has been in business for ten years and recently underwent an audit of her website through the Optimise Programme.

“It was basically a thorough audit of my website - from SEO experts to branding consultants to graphic designers - about ten professionals - went through my website and provided me with a report on where I could improve it visually or make it more user-friendly and so on,” says Susannagh. “I could then take their recommendations and go through them with my web developer. The direct result of the programme was that my sales have doubled this year on the same period last year, which is brilliant!”

Irish craftspeople are much admired in their own country and international buyers want to buy their products

Oonagh McCutcheon of the IE Domain Registry explains that the Optimise Programme was developed to be a “shoulder-to-shoulder” opportunity to help small and micro-sized businesses, in this instance, in the craft sector.

“Each craftsperson’s website is analysed under 10 different headings including design, branding, e-commerce, email marketing, content and so on,” says Oonagh. “It’s a simple report at one level… and underneath that is a detailed report of specific recommendations on tactical things that the designers can implement on their website to improve it and to hopefully enhance sales as they go forward.”

“In general Irish consumers are increasingly shopping online and there are billions being spent on websites overseas,” continues Oonagh. “Irish craftspeople are much admired in their own country and international buyers want to buy their products so if they can’t be found online and they don’t have a website there’s a missed opportunity - shoppers will just go somewhere else.”

Photo of Design Ireland and the Optimise Programme on RTÉ’s Nationwide

Ruth Power, founder of Danu Ceramics, features on the Nationwide television programme. A graduate of NCAD in Dublin, Ruth established her business in 2015 and makes handmade ceramic tableware and craft jewellery using various processes including the slip-casting and slab-building methods.

“When you’re a designer and a maker who is making full-time, you’re doing the photography and the packing as well as the making,” says Ruth. “It can be hard to do everything. I had a website but it needed a lot of work. It had fallen by the wayside a little bit. The Design and Crafts Council of Ireland contacted me about the Optimise Programme and the timing was terrific.”

Photo of Design Ireland and the Optimise Programme on RTÉ’s Nationwide

Before undertaking the Optimise Programme, the percentage of Ruth’s online sales were just ten percent of her overall sales; now the figure has doubled. “This is only just the beginning,” she says. “The website is an ongoing process which will be constantly updated. I’ve increased my international sales as well as garnering more interest from chefs and food stylists and have been invited to collaborate with other creatives too. It’s important that the strength of your website reflects the strength of your brand - as it really is your shop front now.”

Photo of Design Ireland and the Optimise Programme on RTÉ’s Nationwide

Another Design Ireland brand owner currently undertaking an audit thanks to the Optimise Programme is Benny Magennis, owner of Whackpack Furniture. Benny and his wife Shelly create simple small stools, made from ash, called “creepie stools” which are inspired by a piece of furniture from the famine era in Ireland.

“The stools are very popular with families, especially the colourful ones, the kids love them and love getting the mallet with them,” says Shelly. We want to grow the business... and we want to sell into America... when you think of the number of people that have Irish heritage there... and to increase our product list but to market the stools as much as we can before we create some new products.”

The couple have developed markets in corporate gifting in the past 12 months - working successfully with Airbnb. Their product is one of the gifts that Airbnb hosts receive when they reach certain milestones.

“Your website creates an international window, especially when you’re coming from a little village in Monaghan,” says founder Benny.

Photo of Design Ireland and the Optimise Programme on RTÉ’s Nationwide

Dublin-based textile designer Jennifer Slattery has found that selling online has become a great deal easier since embarking on the Optimise Programme.

“There was a whole range of suggestions made during the audit of my website, some of which I could work on myself and others which I could bring to my web developer,” says Jennifer, who designs and makes embroidered table linen and who has recently collaborated with McNutt of Donegal to produce a range of embroidered scarves as well as with Emblem Weavers in Co. Wexford to create a new range of embroidered linen shirts.

Photo of Design Ireland and the Optimise Programme on RTÉ’s Nationwide

“The recommendations are fantastic, they give you the confidence to know what you want or need to do with your website to take it to the next level when approaching a web company. Straight away sales improved and I now have weekly international sales - so it’s been really beneficial.”

Photo of Design Ireland and the Optimise Programme on RTÉ’s Nationwide

Brendan Joseph is known for his beautiful hand-woven Irish scarves and accessories which are inspired by the colours he sees in and around his native city of Dublin. The Optimise Programme has provided a terrific boon to his brand and business.

“We had a website but we had over-complicated everything - making it too difficult to shop,” says Brendan. “In some cases the customer was just giving up and going away.”

Photo of Design Ireland and the Optimise Programme on RTÉ’s Nationwide

Working with the Optimise Programme, the Design and Crafts Council of Ireland, the IE Domain Registry and Matrix Internet, Brendan realised that one of the main problems with his website was that many of his customers, particularly those from overseas, wanted to visit his studio but could not find the necessary information on his website.

“By simplifying the website we were able to deliver a very clear message that we are making a unique product in Dublin city centre and that customers can come in and buy [my products],” says Brendan. “That enabled us to go from having pop-ups to opening a full-time store in the middle of town on South Anne Street (just off Grafton Street). We have people now coming specifically to visit our store.”

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