Arthur Ryan, Who Founded the Low-Cost Fashion Chain Primark, Dies at 83

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At the time, Penneys was a two-floor store on a street with little foot traffic. Accepting a business award in 2011, Mr. Ryan recalled looking down the street on his first Saturday at Penneys and thinking: “Quarter to 11, clean, this is good for shopping. A bit of flu around. I like it.” The weather was sure to encourage people to come to his store, he joked. “Mufflers, gloves, chilblains, this is for us.”

Mr. Ryan placed an emphasis on customer foot traffic throughout his career. While other retailers were lured to shiny malls, he calculated how to position his stores near existing bus stops and car parks without having to pay a high rent. “We are very, very good at picking locations,” he said.

Primark stores are particularly popular in main shopping areas across Britain; in London, there are two on Oxford Street alone. Wherever there is a store, people on the streets can be seen toting Primark’s brown paper bags filled with clothing that can cost the equivalent of just a few dollars per item. For some items, the dry-cleaning costs more than the clothing itself, Breege O’Donoghue, a former company executive, told The Irish Times this year.

While the low prices have attracted customers, some of the company’s cost-saving measures have been criticized, notably in 2013, when the Rana Plaza building collapsed in Dhaka, Bangladesh, killing more than 1,100 people working in unsafe conditions in clothing factories housed there; some of the workers were making clothes for Primark. The company has since taken pains to assert that its products are made in safe conditions, and that its workers are paid fairly.

Mr. Ryan is survived by his wife, Alma Carroll Ryan; two daughters, Jessica and Alison; two sons, Colin and Arthur; nine grandchildren; and two sisters. A son, Barry, and a grandson, Barry Jr., drowned in 2015 when they and the grandson’s girlfriend, who also died, were swept out to sea by a freak wave in Cork.


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