From little acorns…The Penneys story
Every retail giant has to start somewhere. And the Primark we all know and love today, the retailer with 320 stores around the world, began as Penneys: a single store on Mary Street in Dublin city centre back in 1969.
Penneys is still a household name in Ireland, building its success by offering customers up-to-the-minute fashions at value-for-money prices. Barely a day passes when people don’t boast about where they got their shirt or trousers: “Penneys, just €11,” they’ll say. Today, Penneys employs thousands of people at its Irish stores – and in the eyes of many Dubliners, Primark will always be Penneys.
He got a signal that things were picking up for Penneys when a busker stood outside the store. “Buskers don’t stand outside empty stores,” he said, knowing that meant footfall.
The Mary Street store was opened by Dublin-born retailer Arthur Ryan on behalf of the Weston family, which had been in the retail business for years. Ryan had previously worked for Dunnes Stores and he was hired by Garfield Weston to set up a discount clothing chain.
He remembers his first day, a Saturday, very well. “There were no customers. We built the business and got it going.”
Today, Penneys employs thousands of people at its Irish stores – and in the eyes of many Dubliners, Primark will always be Penneys.
Ryan also fought to get Mary Street pedestrianised. At an event, he got talking to the Dublin city manager of the time about plans to pedestrianise Henry Street. He asked what was happening about Mary Street, only to be told that it wouldn’t be touched. Instead, he got in touch with nearby Marks & Spencer, and between them, they paid to pedestrianise Mary Street.
Ryan relinquished his chief executive duties in 2009 after for 40 years, but stayed on as chairman.
So why the change of name to Primark? In 1973, Ryan decided to expand into mainland Britain and opened a store in Derby. However, the Penney name could not travel to Britain as the American retailer, J. C. Penney, had the right to use the name in the region.
Primark was the name born from that and, since then, all stores opened around the world have adopted it.
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