Crazy, creative or courageous — the man who set up a business during a pandemic

Stephen Cooke chuckles when it is put to him that setting up a new business during a pandemic could be deemed crazy, creative or courageous. “A bit of everything, a mix of those things anyways,” he laughs.

That is precisely what has occurred, with aplomb menswear and lifestyle store a welcome addition to the Galway market. Opening for business on December 4 different and significant challenges continue to present themselves, but they are being embraced.

“The original plan was for back in March at the start of all of this,” he continues. “The first date was October 2019, a planning permission issue set me back so I was pushing it back to a March opening.

“I was about two weeks from opening when the first lockdown hit in the middle of March last year. I had to basically sit tight, to try to have everything lined up for if and when I could open.

“The problem then was getting the stock, getting my suppliers back onboard with what I was doing and when I wanted the stuff in, and the stock to arrive. When we were going in and out of lockdowns I couldn’t really bank on being able to open or if I’d be open forever.

Four weeks of business

“So I just sort of left it until as long as possible. I sat on it, had everything ready behind the scenes, and decided on trying to get open for any sort of Christmas rush we might get. That tied in with opening on December 4, I got just under four weeks of business in before another lockdown.”

Shops are being increasingly forced to operate mainly online currently, but that was always part of the agenda for aplombmenswear.com “The world we are in now, the online side of things is such a big part of it,” he acknowledges.

“The way it was going to be, the shop was going to be the same. I wanted the same stock available in the shop and online, that there wouldn’t be any difference with the click and collect, everything like that.

“I’m tipping away with the sales, but it is still nothing compared to what it would be like when it is opened.”

The west has enjoyed a splendid stint with cafes, bars, and restaurants extremely popular pre Covid. A clothes shop is now part of the area.

“First of all the spot came up and I had only viewed one other property up town and I didn’t get a good feeling off that at all so when I saw this it was perfect,” he responds.

“In a normal year and normal season I would do all my socialising and eating down in the west anyway. So it was just perfect.

“That would be the same with all of my friends and a lot of my era would spend their time down there in the different cafes around here or the other bars and restaurants. It sort of made sense to me. Also that like you said it is off the beaten track, it is the only one down here. It is the only clothes shop from here to probably Anthony Ryans.

Lack of competition down west

“So there is a lack of competition down here, even with this stuff going on it gets good visibility. Plenty of people are passing it every day so that will lead to business, a lot of generic people just going ‘oh, this is new,’ and they will hopefully pop in to pick up a few bits.”

The aplomb name was a nod to “the noun about showing poise, self-confidence or assurance especially when in a demanding situation,” he explains.

Before Christmas the shop which stocks brands from throughout Europe including Holland, Sweden, Denmark, and the Irish Socksociety, enjoyed a productive stint.

“It went better than I ever could have hoped for,” the aplomb owner admits. “I got great support from the locals here, even just people coming into Christmas it is a more spending time of the year.

“With it being a new shop in Galway, I got a great bounce off that from locals picking up bits they had never seen before.

“That was the aim to have stock in that mainly isn’t available anywhere else in Galway. It is well supplied with the likes of Hanleys, Anthony Ryans, these type of places. There was no point in doing another version of that so I went down the sustainable fashion route.

“The products are organic cotton, things made from recycled coffee bottles, a variety of stuff like that sourced ethically. They are new products for Galway basically, pretty much a lot of Ireland, but definitely Galway. People liked it, they got on board with what I was trying to do.”

Personal shopping

Fashion occupied a central role in Stephen Cooke’s life so setting up this business has brought plenty of satisfaction.

“It is niche, but I have worked in fashion for quite a few years now,” he says. “I was doing personal shopping and personal styling before, I have worked in a few different shops in Galway.

“It has always been an interest, having an eye for a few bits. I’d have mates asking advice about how to wear things and where to buy them, stuff like that. When I got into the personal shopping and styling it was a way of monetising what I was maybe good at, I suppose.

“That was sort of a means to an end. The end goal was always to have my own shop because I like dealing with people, I’m fairly sociable, and I like to have the craic with people coming in. It is a nice and friendly environment, people coming in looking for a bit of chat and even better if they want to pick up a few bits.”

A brother of former Galway United footballer David Cooke, who is the current Drogheda United physio, Stephen Cooke pinpoints the start of the aplomb journey. “I was getting ready to finish up the personal shopping as my own service, I was working in Dublin, I just wanted to get back to Galway as much as anything,” he states.

“That was the next stage, I got some experience working in town. I used my experience in other places, but I’m still learning on the job. I’m a complete novice, I’m not an expert, I’m making mistakes and learning on the job here. I knew that was the end goal, I would say three years altogether from me getting ready to leave Dublin to opening. Two and a half to three years is a long spell when you think about it.”

The time was well spent.

 

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