After 33 years in the retail fashion business, the popular Northern Ireland-based clothes company Exhibit has closed its doors for the last time, leaving more than 100 members of staff to face an uncertain future.

Exhibit, NI's womenswear chain, goes into administration

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The loss of this once-thriving chain, considered the modern face of shop design in Dublin, leaves lots of empty spaces in high streets and shopping malls. Their 14 dedicated stores or concession spaces across Northern Ireland – including Belfast, Ballymena, Newry, Lisburn, Derry and Coleraine – plus two in the Republic of Ireland – Monaghan and Sligo – are shuttered forever.

The glory days

Exhibit was known for offering affordable high fashion clothing to the general public, with consistent quality and an eye on the trends helping to propel them to success. Claims of having dressed stars like Davina McCall added a sprinkling of celebrity glamour dust.

It was always first and foremost a family business, owned by Colin Rankin, elder sibling of celebrity chef Paul Rankin, with Rankin’s wife and son also playing key parts in the company. This must have greatly influenced the way Exhibit’s management team worked as every effort was made to avoid redundancies as the recession started to bite.

What’s to blame?

Sadly, the negative influences of higher costs and changing consumer spending habits were impossible to overcome, and like many other independent businesses, the final chapter of Exhibit’s story lies in the hands of administrators.

In the 21st century, shop design in Dublin or anywhere else in Europe involves creating both a physical and online image. Without these elements, it is always going to be trickier to attract and maintain a solid customer base.

Making it as quick, convenient and lucrative to shop in person as it is from a website is essential for company growth. Unfortunately, this is a losing proposition for many bricks-and-mortar companies, who are often priced out of the market at entry level.

Charged with the detailed task of assessing the financial bottom line and negotiating reasonable outcomes with key groups such as staff, property landlords and other creditors, the administrators have now assumed all responsibility for the winding up of Exhibit. Unfortunately, they are also left to deal with loyal workers looking for an explanation about their few days of notice and missing month’s salary.