There's something distinctly special about family businesses. Sure, they go through all the same troubles and triumphs that other businesses go through, but they do so with the added layer of family involvement. A layer which can present as many benefits as it can obstructions.
With family, the lines of appropriate "professional" behaviour can sometimes be blurred. Blood is thicker than water, but it's also the stuff that leads to raging rows, family feuds and inheritance hostility. At the same time, working with family means there's an additional level of support and understanding, the willingness to help one another is stronger, and stronger still is the joy felt when the business experiences prosperity and success.
Here we take a look into some of Ireland's most notable family businesses; from the multi-generational powerhouses to the humble household start-ups. These businesses are showing us the values and steps necessary to make a family business not only survive, but prosper.
The Sandymount Hotel
John and Gerard Loughrin
The Sandymount Hotel (originally named The Mount Herbert Hotel) was first opened by George and Rosaleen Loughran in 1955. What started off as a modest B&B has since become Europe’s leading “green hotel” (not to mention Dublin’s largest family-run hotel), boasting 170 stunning bedrooms and four-star service. The hotel is now run by George and Rosaleen’s second eldest son John and their grandson Gerard, along with over 100 loyal staff members (their longest serving employee has spent 37 years at reception, a nod to the core values that still remain, despite the hotel’s incredible growth over the years).
As father and son, John and Gerard schedule in a weekly lunch away from the hotel to discuss the business and most importantly, offer advice and guidance to one other.
Hazel Mountain opened in 2014 when John Connolly opened an organic cafe with his mother Berenice in what was originally his grandparents home (build in 1940) located on a six-generation family farm. Following this John and his fiancé (and trained chocolatier) Kasha expanded the company by adding a premium quality bean-to-bar chocolate brand alongside the cafe.
John and Kasha run the business now with team of 17 people. Kasha took over the bakery from Berenice, and now creates an incredible range of irresistible gluten-free cakes (which has led to her gluten-free cookbook, Burren Wild Baker). Kasha says how John’s parents have been a crucial part of setting the company’s core values of respect for both customers and employees, “we adopt their principles on daily basis to make Hazel Mountain Chocolate a fun and interesting place to work”.
Brothers Will and Ian Mullin
Brothers Ian and Will Mullin are passionate about top-quality cocktails, which is why in 2013 they started BelliniBrothers.com. Having worked through college in bars and restaurants, the duo saw a gap in the market and wanted to produce a product that would make it easy for people to recreate great-tasting, bar-made cocktails at home. The result? A range of cold-pressed, nutrient-rich, top-quality cocktail juices that are set to launch in all 195 Lidl stores nationwide from September.
Ian looks after product development, Will covers sales, marketing and events, and their ever-obliging mum helps out with accounts and logistics from time to time. As WIll says, "we work really well together. I think it’s because we respect the capabilities and stengths that each of us bring to the table, and we play to that. And then when it comes to putting manners on both of us, our parents are close by and they act as our sounding board when we need it "
Gerry, Joe, Johnny and Mark Appleby alongside third-generation Kate Appleby
John and Margaret Appleby started the business in their family home in the 1950’s when they first began to make bespoke, hand-crafted jewellery for a select circle of customers. By 1960 they had opened the Johnson’s Court store in Dublin, where the iconic company still stands today. All four of John and Margaret’s sons (Gerry, Joe, Johnny and Mark) are currently involved in running the business, supported now by a third-generation including cousins Kate, Nicholas and Sophie Appleby.
Appleby Jewellers have retained their strong family values over the years and understand that buying a piece of jewellery, while exciting, can be slightly daunting for some people. “Our ambition is always to give that customer the very best experience and value, no matter what their budget is” says Kate Appleby. Continuous face-to-face communication and open discussion is one of the Appleby family secrets (they don’t rely on emails much!) and although there can be disagreements, the team will always show respect and run things past one another, especially for the more significant decisions.
McCambridge's of Galway
Natalie and Eoin McCambridge
McCambridge's of Galway was originally started by George McCambridge in 1925. His son Pat got involved in 1950 when he was just 15 (he still comes in most days to meet & greet customers) and now Pat’s children Eoin and Natalie McCambridge now run the business. Eoin looks after the “behind the scenes” jobs while Natalie covers front-of-house duties.
“We pride ourselves on personal customer service. I love the interaction with customers, some of whom have been shopping here for over 50 years! There is a great team spirit here and we encourage staff to make time to speak to customers and make every customer feel like a friend. But really I can't stress enough how much we appreciate our staff and all that they so for us.” - Natalie McCambridge
White & Green
Pictured with the White & Green team (Rebecca, Sari and Danielle) is third daughter Andrea who helps with events
White & Green was created in 2015 run by the team of Winckworth girls, made up of sisters Rebecca and Danielle and “mastermind mum” Sari Winckworth. The company came out of the realisation that there was a major gap in the market for a go-to brand of quality bed linen that valued organic and Fairtrade production. And so White & Green became precisely that.
Sari heads the overall strategy, Danielle works on product design, and Rebecca runs everything e-commerce and marketing. This is a family that doesn’t buy into fast fashion and disposable shopping, so all White & Green products are made with the finest quality, hand picked cotton, weaved and designed with a huge amount of thought and care. When it comes to family relations, Rebecca admits that it can be “totally intense!” She explains that “like any family, we have our disagreements, but these differing opinions are important as we navigate our way through the entrepreneurial journey.”
Sarah, Jonathan and Janice Cuddy
Ispini charcuterie started four years ago, when Jonathan Cuddy’s wife Sarah brought home a book about curing and pork butchery. Immediately fascinated, Jonathon learned all he could about the meat curing and two years later in December 2016 Ispini started trading. Jonathon works alongside his sister Janice, his wife Sarah, and his father and brother who tend to the animals.
Coming from a typical Irish farming family, the Cuddys pride themselves on a good work ethic and they strive to put an Irish twist where possible in everything they make (e.g. Armagh cider chorizos, or their air-dried Irish spiced beef with a whiskey wash). “Winning the Charcuterie product of the year in the great taste awards last September and recently being a finalist in the BBC Food and Farming Awards has been fantastic recognition for what we want to achieve for the business”.
Brian and Rachel with their two boys Sam and Flynn
Before creating the hugely popular NÓBÓ (plant-based ice-cream and chocolates), husband and wife co-owners Rachel and Brian Nolan were working in finance and advertising jobs in New York. “From the time we first met we had always wanted to work together and set up our own business”, says Rachel, which is exactly what they did. After becoming exposed to the exploding health food scene in New York, the duo left their jobs to learn all about the food industry in Italy and figure out their business idea.
Six years on, Brian and Rachel continue to maintain full ownership and management of their booming business, “we’re very lucky in that we have complementary skill sets (advertising and finance respectively) which give us clear, separate roles, and thankfully this has prevented any major rows to date! It helps that we’ve both had such a clear purpose and shared vision for Nobó from the start”.
Timothy and James McElroy
HouseMyDog started in 2014 when brothers James and Timothy McElroy found themselves struggling to find a dog sitter for their family dog, Holly. This was a problem they realised many other people had also experienced so they took it upon themselves to build a website; one that would allow users to easily find vetted dog sitters and dog walkers online.
One of Ireland’s most promising start-ups, House My Dog now has a team of thirteen between their Dublin, London and Berlin offices. The two brothers agree that surrounding themselves with an excellent team and filling the roles with great people is something they’ve been very lucky with. As far as how the brothers prevent familial-style arguments, James says “defining your roles and taking responsibility for them has always worked well for us. Thankfully we did most of our rowing as kids so it isn’t such an issue anymore!”.
Lisa and Luke
Finders Keepers opened in November 2016 after Lisa Connelly and her partner Luke returned home, having emigrated to Australia back in 2012. The team is made up of Lisa and Luke and Lisa’s very helpful sister Beth. The team goes above and beyond for each person who comes through their doors and gets great joy in helping customers choose the perfect gift or find that magical piece of homeware that will help make a house a home.
“In my eyes we are the perfect trio - Beth is organised, efficient and can unpack and merchandise a delivery faster than anyone I know. Luke is the brawn, a carpenter by trade he brings all our big ideas to life. As for me, I'm the ideas gal and one lucky gal I am to be able to work all this magic alongside my family” - Lisa Connelly
Ollwyn Moran and her two sons Matthew and Alex
COGNIKIDS emerged from Ollwyn Moran noticing that modern home environments (such as slippery modern floors) were impacting child development (such as hindering their ability to crawl) and that products were needed that would help infants to continue with healthy development in the world of today. Since its original inception in 2005, Olwen, with the help of her parents and her nieces and nephews, has used her passion and drive to keep moving the business forward.
Being a single parent herself, Ollwyn makes sure that family is the most important focus within the company. “It can be a challenge working with family, everyone has opinions and ideas. However to make sure that everyone has a voice and is felt valued we operate FRESH values system - Fair, Respectful, Engaging, Safe and Honest.”
St Tola Goats Cheese
Siobhan Ni Ghairbhith and partner John Harrington
St Tola is owned by Siobhan Ni Ghairbhith and her partner John Harrington. The land on which St Tola goats are reared (in Gorbofearna, Co. Clare) was first purchased in 1939 by Siobhan’s grandfather, Tadhg Ó 'Gáirbhith. This land passed down through the generations and it was only when Siobhan decided to take over St Tola Cheese from her retiring neighbours in 1998 that it started to be used for commercial purposes. Siobhan manages the company while John looks after the financials, and together they are helped by their team of loyal staff; Brian, Carmen, Petru, Shane, Clive and Grainne (as well as nephews who work in their holidays on the farm and in the cheese house).
“We manage to avoid rows by having quite defined roles within the company. However, like all families and all small business, when the going gets tough (or orders get very busy) we pitch in to help each other out.”
Shane’s Howth Hikes
Shane, Zack, Aileen and Bruno O’Doherty
It was in December 2015, after Shane O’Doherty retired from his career in the airline business, that he decided it was high time to live out his childhood dream. Having spent the last 30 years seeking out adventures and fun in far-away beautiful places, Shane wanted to show visitors how Howth could be as inspiring as so many of the precious places he had been. And so Shane created Shane’s Howth Hikes, carrying out the daily, enthusiastically-guided hikes with the help of his wife Aileen Turvey, son Zack O’Doherty, and fellow guidesMairead Byrne, Paul Scott and Rob Keogh. Bruno the dog is the additional cameo star of the show.
“Community, warmth, celebration of adventure and the beauty of nature is what characterises our family values. The reviews and responses we receive from our guests make it clear that this makes our customers feel part of the family and often makes it the best experience of their entire holidays.” - Shane O’Doherty
Fanagans Funeral Directors
Fanagans Funeral Directors started in 1819, which means that the company is set to celebrate its 200th year in business next year. The company has since become one of the country’s most respected funeral directors; led by Jody Fanagan, working alongside him are fellow directors including Joseph Fanagan, Alan Fanagan, David Fanagan, and Robert Fanagan.
When it comes to internal family relations, Jody says “we share responsibilities and the bottom line is that it is the company comes first. We are currently working on our Shareholders Agreement and Family Constitution, which we hope will guide us going forward as we prepare for the next generation of family members in the business.”
Wexford Home Preserves
Tom and Laura Sinnott with their children Robbie and Lila
In 2008 Tom Sinnott and his wife Laura bought Wexford Home Preserves from Tom’s aunt Ellen and her husband Sean, who had set up the company back in 1988. As part of the deal Ellen came to work with the couple for one year in order to teach all of the family recipes to Laura.
“All of our preserves are cooked in open saucepans and stirred by hand giving them a special taste, exactly the way Ellen made them.” And the couple remains true to the values set out by Ellen; sourcing the best fruit possible at all times, working closely with local growers and making sure to take time out of the business at weekends and holidays to ensure that the motivation and energy levels stay high.
Sandy and John
Forest Avenue is one of Dublin’s most raved about restaurants. Now in its fifth year, the foodie haven was opened by Sandy Wyer and her husband John in 2013, who take a very hands-on approach to running the business. From the beginning the duo wanted the food and service to be of a very high standard; for the food to be gastronomic but familiar, with a particular focus on sourcing high-quality ingredients.
People often ask the couple how they manage to work together, to which Sarah replies “the truth is we love it. We respect, inspire and admire each other very much. And although at the beginning there were lots of rows, over the past five years of business we’ve developed a wonderful working relationship.”
Leona and Richard with their two children
Broighter GOLD is owned by Richard and Leona Kane, who discovered their amazing rapeseed oil by accident in 2006 when Leona ran out of olive oil when cooking dinner and Richard fetched some of their unfiltered cold pressed rapeseed oil from the farm (which the Kane family has been farming rapeseed on for well over 100 years). Leona realised how well it worked with cooking, and after learning of the many health benefits of rapeseed oil, Broighter GOLD was created.
The duo live just outside Limavady, Northern Ireland, and it’s here where they create their best-selling single estate non-blended, golden rapeseed oil.
The Village Butcher Ranelagh
Owners Sarah (front) Michael (back) with staff members Paul and Helena
Sarah Kelly and her husband Michael Madden are the proud owners of The Village Butchers Ranelagh. The couple set their business up in 2012, after coming to the realisation that the area had been lacking a butcher for some time. Their daughter Jessica worked with them for the last six years but has now gone travelling for the year (and the team looks forward to the new ideas that she will bring back from her adventures).
As far as teamwork goes, “We recognise each other’s strengths and weaknesses, always supporting each other and always believing that honesty is key.”
Fiona Kelly, Rebecca Kelly, Michael Kelly, Clare Kelly
Michael Kelly started Glandore in 2001 and never dreamed that he’d be fortunate enough to run the same business – albeit on a larger scale – with his three daughters (Fiona, Clare and Rebecca) 17 years later. It all came from spotting a need for flexible office space in Dublin, of which there was a growing interest in this type of model. Starting with one building at 33 Fitzwilliam Square, the business has grown to eight coworking and flexible workspace locations across Dublin and Belfast, as well as an events venue, No. 25 and acclaimed restaurant, Suesey Street.
Today all three sisters and Michael are directors of the company, “We each have different areas of the business we focus on. We want to ensure that we are playing to each of our strengths in terms of skills, but also in terms of passion and enjoyment” says Rebecca, while Clare explains “we genuinely care and support each other, and we believe that if you care for your team they will care for each other and in turn demonstrate the same compassion and empathy with customers”.
Laura and Mark Brown
The Arcadia Delicatessen is a veritable institution, having operated from the same unit on Belfast’s Lisburn road since 1933. The shop has morphed from a bakery/ general store to the fine food emporium it is today under the guardianship of the Brown family. Grandmother, Ellen Brown took the shop beyond the war years and it was her son, William, who began to add such 'exotics' as French Brie and Greek olives to the selection, in reaction to the requests of his clientele returning from holidays on the continent in the 70’s and 80’s.
Arcadia is currently in the ownership of the third generation, Mark and Laura Brown (although Mark’s father William remains a valued member of the team today), and the shop celebrates 85 years in business this year, making it the oldest retail business still operating on the popular South Belfast shopping street.