Almost four times the amount of businesses that avail of a trade online voucher in the space of a year applied for the scheme in a two week period in Co Clare.
In a two week window, 143 different businesses applied for the trading online scheme administered by the Clare Local Enterprise Office (LEO). “In a typical year, we would get 31 applications,” Head of Clare LEO, Padraic McElwee admitted.
Small businesses with up to 10 employees aiming to trade more online, boost sales and reach new markets are among those to have submitted applications in the county. The scheme offers financial assistance of up to €2,500 with co-funding of 10% from the business along with training and advice. The total allocation for the county is expected to be in the region of €337,000 to €355,000. “The number of applications will exceed the funding available,” he cautioned.
According to McElwee, “most businesses have realised their lack of a web presence was a significant barrier to them being able to trade during the pandemic. It is one thing to get a website and people to be able to be online, you have to make sure you can deliver”.
Not all businesses are fully equipped to provide a service online has been one of the early observations from Clare LEO staff. A number of smaller enterprises “don’t think through what is involved with an online delivery,” he outlined and gave the scenario that when it comes to shoe sizes there must be an adequate supply to meet a consumer’s needs.
“We have been exceptionally busy for all the wrong reasons,” McElwee told Tuesday’s special meeting of the West Clare Municipal District.
Funding of €870,000 is expected for the business continuity voucher scheme. 396 submissions to were made to Clare LEO for the scheme with the final assessment taking place on Monday evening.
Ten applications have been made for the Microfinance Ireland loan scheme with funding of €278,000 available.
Clare LEO have seen the biggest amount of activity when it comes to their mentoring sessions. More than 170 sessions have been completed with over 1,000 participants. “We keep designing them to the needs of businesses, in the last ten days it has been about how to reopen your business and meet hygiene requirements,” Padraic stated. Their spend on sessions has exceeded €125,000.
More people from Co Clare are also attempting to start their own business during COVID-19. “We have seen a significant increase in people looking to start their own business, it is not unusual that people who lose employment begin their own business”.
A focus on online could be damaging for rural parts of the county, Cllr Ian Lynch (IND) warned. “Online had been the enemy of rural shops for a long time, we need to be careful because it could work the opposite way and small shops may decide they don’t need the premises in town and may work from the shed at home”. The Kilrush representative believed too big an emphasis on Clare businesses being online could drain life from its towns and villages.
McElwee admitted, “There is a risk” but stressed, “We can see it complementing bricks and mortar. We need to educate our people that it’s not just about a fancy website”.