She’s intelligent, insightful, articulate, outspoken and opinionated – Sarah Nagle of Nagle Forge & Foundary opens up about the state of the Celtic marketplace.
How long have you been in business?
Most of my life; Nagle Forge & Foundry is a family business. I grew up in the business.
How has the Celtic business climate changed over that time?
In general I think the Celtic marketplace has gotten a lot more diverse. “Celtic” has become a crossover genre. There are a lot of people who are more willing to look at less “traditional” styles and I think there is a broader acceptance of the idea that “Celtic” can be modern, or traditional, or both – or Irish, or Welsh, or Scottish, or American for that matter. As an artist I find it inspiring that there is a wider view of what qualifies as “Celtic.” We are making a greater variety of designs than we were just ten years ago. Twenty years ago we made maybe 6 styles of Plaid Brooch, today we make over 140 styles of Plaid Brooches.
What are your thoughts on the current state of the Celtic marketplace?
Retail is very reactive. Retailers always feel the impact of every economic hiccup. In that respect the Celtic marketplace isn’t any different. But I also think the Celtic marketplace has an edge because a lot of people are looking for something different and unique. And if you focus on unique quality products you may not have something for everyone, but you may have everything for some people.
How can it be improved?
I think there is always room for improvement. I also think the general public has gotten ahead of people on the business side of things so I think there is a bit of a disconnect now. I think the general public is more interested in a more diverse, maybe even a more fashion forward look at Celtic art. And I think a lot of people on the business side of things have focused on a more conservative interpretation of Celtic art. If you want a culture to live, and if you want a business to thrive, you have to be willing to embrace at least some change. We will always make Thistles and Celtic Knots and Luckenbooths and Welsh Dragons, but we’ll make other things too.
Are Celtic trade shows still an effective way to reach retailers?
I think trade shows are the best way to meet retailers. And a good trade show is probably the most effective way possible for retailers to find new products –and a retailer always needs something new to keep the store interesting. But a good trade show is really about putting the right mix of people together in the right place at the right time. Timing and location are everything for a trade show. Even if independent retailers really need to buy new products a lot of small store owners –particularly Celtic mom and pop stores– just don’t have a lot of spare time to take off and go to a tradeshow. I really think a successful trade show has to be as much about convenience for the buyers as it is about a good product mix. Its one of the reasons so many trade shows are in January or February, its a slow time for a lot of store owners and people have time to take off and go to a trade show and plan for the upcoming year.
How has the internet changed the way you do business?
We’ve had a website for over eight years now. The web has really expanded our overseas business and our mail order business. But I don’t think it has changed our business much, its really just an add-on. Plus, the web is all about pictures, our work is very sculptural. You really have to experience it in person to understand the difference, and the quality. I’m always tremendously flattered when we get a follow-up e-mail from someone who has ordered something online and they’re so pleased that it is as good as or better than the picture. But it is also disappointing because it reveals the limitations of the web. People don’t really know what they are getting and what is real and what isn’t. We always guarantee our work, but people make all kinds of promises online. In a lot of ways I think the internet has made independent retailers even more important because a lot of people do want to see and touch and buy the product in person –and some people are willing to pay a premium for that too. I am always happy to give people a referral to a local Celtic shop & we give links on our website to any Celtic store that carries our products. Sadly, I think a lot of small Celtic stores are missing out on some potential business. Sometimes there seems to be a real disconnect between what people want to buy, and what is available to them locally.
What do you have on tap for the company for the rest of 2016?
A lot of things; we are expanding our line of buckles for kilt belts – we are still playing around with different designs for the buckles though so until 2017 if you want a Nagle Forge & Foundry kilt belt buckle you’ll have to buy it retail from us or from one retailer in New York who we have given a trial exclusive to for the first year. We also have 10 new Plaid Brooch designs featuring a grille design inspired by Medieval church windows that we plan to introduce to the public at the Ireland Tradeshow in Secaucus in late April. We have been experimenting with some new gemstone combinations for our earring designs – I think we actually have 20 plus earring styles featuring 30+ varieties of natural gemstones. There are so many intense natural stones out there that you have to really see to believe and I think when people have choice they want something different and unique and natural and the natural world gives us a lot of choices. And by the end of the year we also hope to have updated our website.