Back To Business: Female Irish Business Owners On How Covid-19 Changed The Way They Work
This feature appeared in the September issue of STELLAR.
Denise Curtin had the pleasure of chatting to independent female-led Irish business owners to discuss how Covid-19 has affected their businesses and how opening their doors each day is something they’ll never take for granted again.
Tricia Cronin and Martina Cronin, Co-founders of The Square Table, Blarney, Co Cork.
Twins Tricia Cronin and chef Martina Cronin opened The Square Table in April 2014. Their ethos is to support local using the best produce. They describe the style of their food as honest and unpretentious.
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@thesquaretableblarney (Instagram) / www.thesquaretable.ie
“Like many more independent business owners, these times have been very demanding and frustrating. It has been an extremely distressing time for both of us as we lost our amazing mom Margaret to cancer in the middle of lockdown.
Re-opening was daunting, nerve wrecking and exhausting. After our first week back our bodies were shattered, but we were thrilled to be back. It felt like an achievement in itself to resume business.
Due to social distancing, our restaurant has been reduced to 66% capacity which is a huge strain financially on our business. We are however, fortunate that the government did not enforce a strict two metre rule as we would not have been able to reopen.
The main change for our restaurant was the reduced capacity. We followed the government’s guidelines, installed sanitiser stations, signage, and everything else that was required. As health and safety is always a priority when operating a food business regardless of what’s going on, the majority of the recommended guidelines issued were ones we always practised, but we most certainly are taking extra precautions. In our restaurant now, our staff wear visors or face masks, and continuous sanitising and contact tracing has been implemented. We are delighted all our staff prior to Covid-19 have resumed work too, they are a great team and have been outstanding.”
Jill Deering and Gillian Henderson , Co-Founders and Directors of Jill & Gill.
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Jill & Gill is an award-winning Irish brand with a fresh approach to illustration and print across fine art, fashion, and design.
@jillandgill (Instagram) / www.jillandgill.com
“When things started to change rapidly in March, like most independent businesses, we found ourselves losing new potential clients, pausing existing projects, and moving everything that was possible online and so, we then knew we needed to adapt quickly.
We launched a free colouring book early on during lockdown which got a huge response with over 1,400 downloads in two weeks. For us, this started our conversation via social media about supporting local.
We were extremely fortunate with our online sales across the last four months, our community of customers have been so supportive and patient during it all, this means the world to us, especially as a small business.
The biggest challenge for us personally was not being able to be in the studio together, having that creative space physically is so important to us and what we do. So we’re delighted to be back in the studio again.
Since reopening, we have currently moved into a new studio space on Francis Street and are considering how we can bring that online community we’ve created into our space over the next few months.
Not only have we missed the studio space so much during the lockdown, but we’ve also missed the possibility of creating pop-ups and exhibitions, most of all, it’s important to us that we get it right moving forward, especially under the new regulations so there’s still loads to consider before we open our doors.
Being on Francis Street, in the heart of Dublin is exciting. We are looking forward to thriving in the city centre and Championing Green alongside so many other amazing Irish businesses.”
Nicola Connolly, Founder of Nunaïa Beauty
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Nunaïa Beauty crafts a range of raw, living and superfood skincare rituals, located in Co Tipperary, the business first started in 2018.
@nunaiabeauty (Instagram) / www.nunaia.com
“Initially the hardest element for us was the uncertainty as no one knew how the pandemic would evolve. We were due to launch our second product, our Superfood Cleansing Balm in the Kilkenny Shop the week we went into lockdown. Overnight, we lost about 70% of our retail business so our focus immediately switched to e-commerce.
During this time, it also felt important to be supporting our local communities however we could. We launched our ‘Give a Hand’ sanitiser donation campaign which has been hugely successful and has allowed us to donate much needed hand sanitiser to elderly care homes in our local area as well as St Vincent’s and Connolly Hospitals in Dublin.
Thanks to the e-commerce part of our business we have been able to continue operating throughout Covid-19. In a way, the pandemic has forced us to up our online game, innovate and evolve more quickly than we would have. Last week it was lovely to get back out and see our retailers again now that they have re-opened. The Kilkenny Shop feels a bit like family now, so when I walked into the Nassau Street store after three months in lockdown and met Mary the manager and Liz in the wellness sector, it was like catching up with old friends!”
Gracie Collier, Founder and Owner of SPICE Vintage
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SPICE Vintage is Ireland’s fastest selling vintage clothing website, only live for stock drops once a week, every Friday at 6pm.
spice_ vintage (Instagram) / wwww.spicevintageonline.com
“On the 15th of March 2020, I closed the doors of my vintage shop in Limerick city centre for what I thought would be a month max. I was very lucky that I already had a very strong and loyal online Instagram following and I had been selling my vintage clothing via my Instagram stories for nearly two years at that point. In that respect, when I closed up the physical shop I continued to sell via my stories and hand pick my stock from countries all over the world via video chat.
The demand on my Instagram stories was overwhelming once we were all in lockdown, I couldn’t keep up with it and so, to make life easier for both myself and my customers, I created a website and launched it nearly three months ago. Thankfully, the website was a complete success and my weekly stock drops are now selling out in 30 minutes or less every single week. I am still completely blown away.
But due to the success of my website, the demand and workload (I’m working seven days a week to keep the show on the road), I simply could not run a physical shop and my website at the same time. Therefore, I decided to close my physical shop. A decision not taken lightly, but once I announced it to my followers they were so happy for me and excited for the future of the business.
Because I am online only now, nearly my whole business model has changed, but I love challenges and will always rise to them with enthusiasm, optimism and gratitude; continuing to always work hard for the customers who love and care about my brand.”
Jumoke Akintola, Co-Founder of Fish Shop located in Dublin 7, and the Beach House located in Tramore, Co Waterford.
Both restaurants are founded by husband and wife team Peter Horgan and Jumoke Akintola. Fish Shop started at Blackrock market in October 2013, before moving to its permanent home in Smithfield during April 2015. Beach House only opened in March 2020, but was closed after one week due to Covid-19, thankfully, it reopened July 1st.
@fishshopbenburb (Instagram) / www.fish-shop.ie
@beach_house_tramore (Instagram) / www.beachhousetramore.ie
“It’s certainly been an anxious and hugely unsettling time but ultimately, it has forced us – and afforded us time. Time to look at both of our restaurants very critically. It has been a period of really zoning in on what people have loved about what we do and figuring out how to do it as best as we can.
Since reopening, it’s been such a joy to be able to welcome people back into the spaces we created with them in mind. We’ve been bowled over by the support we’ve received in both restaurants. People have been so kind, happy and appreciative. But unfortunately, it’s still a worrying time, we still have to be
prepared for a second wave and a long winter.
Fish Shop is a small space that was loosely modelled on a Spanish tapas bar, so social distancing is not ideal. But in order to make it work, we’ve reduced our eat in capacity from 15/20 people to 8, and now, we’re thankfully doing much more takeaway than we used to. With Beach House, we decided to reopen with no staff and have been doing everything on our own for a month now. It’s been rewarding but intense! Beach House is located in a large detached Victorian house, so where we might have used some of the extra space as additional seating for the dining room, we’re now looking at other uses so we don’t have all our eggs in one basket, so to speak.”
Lynn Hunter, Founder of Hunter and The Collaborations Agency.
Hunter started out as a PR agency but over time evolved into a full-service agency offering everything from content creation to social media management. Four years ago, The Collaborations Agency was born, joining the dots between top tier talent, sports people and brands.
@huntercomms (Instagram) / www.Huntercommunications.ie
@thecollaborationsagency (Instagram) / www.thecollaborationsagency.com
“I won’t say I haven’t had a few sleepless nights, especially at the beginning when no one could predict how this would play out but fortunately for us, we’ve been kept going. While we lost some momentum on the traditional PR side of things with events cancelled and campaigns pulled or budgets reduced, we’ve seen huge growth in other aspects of the business, like content creation and influencer marketing. As events were cancelled, brands were looking for novel ways to reach consumers and it enabled us to change our thinking. We approach every ‘problem’ so to speak as a creative brief and have produced some of our best work to date over the last few months. We work with some amazing clients who trust us to take a gamble every now and again and thankfully, I can say it’s paid off.
I think this time has actually been really beneficial as it has allowed us all to have a little breather and see what parts of the business we want to focus on and how we can improve going forward. We’ve been tentatively taking turns going back into the office a few days a week and it’s been great to catch up with the team, but I think the old 9-6 chained to a desk way of working is gone.
Good PR and marketing is founded in creativity and I think that flourishes when the people you work with are happy and you love what they do. It’s now the norm to see an insight into people’s lives when they’re working, be it their kids in the background of Zoom calls or they’re talking to you from somewhere miles away. I hope that aspect of things keeps up as people seem to be happier living a more balanced life.”
Danielle Garner, Owner of Wildflower hair salon
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Having started off as a freelancer a short three years ago, Danielle Garner has transformed WILDFLOWER hair salon in Ranelagh, Dublin into a full hair studio operating with 14 staff members and a loyal following.
wildflower.dublin (Instagram) / www.wearewildflower.com
I was devastated because of how uncertain everything was, and never in a million years thought we would be off for over three months. But to be perfectly honest, the health of my staff and family trumps trading and business growth any day. This was made paramount to me as the weeks went on and things started to get tight. I just had to adapt to the uncertainty and try to live in the moment because, what else could we really do?
We began to create packages and sell vouchers online and this showed me how beautiful and loyal our clients are. We have had so much support over the last few months and I am forever grateful of the Wildflower family.
Reopening was like starting a business all over again. The procedures and organising that went in to starting again was very overwhelming and I didn’t think it would be this hard to be honest.
I started to build fear of returning, to the fast pace life that I found very stressful, afraid of losing the grips of the slow pace we began to experience. In the midst of the madness, I actually hired a studio manager and this has been a god send because I felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders.
I now feel grateful for how we reopened and how much attention to detail there was, because it meant we could just go back with ease.
I genuinely can’t fault the business structure now, it is working brilliantly. The only issue I have is that we have had to split our team in to two groups to ensure if someone catches Covid-19, our work can continue with one team instead of two, being without them makes it hard.”
Aveline O’Sullivan, Founder of Bloom in a Box
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Created in Galway with love, Bloom in a Box is an innovative, Irish designed product and a brand-new way to deliver flowers. It sees one single flower transported in a specially designed patent pending box and vial, so that it reaches its destination in perfect condition.
bloom.in.a.box (Instagram) / www.bloominabox.com
“We have had our challenges during this time especially with our supply chain and stock. However, we were lucky that An Post was still operating and without doubt, kept our business going. We had a positive upside also as people were using our product to connect nationwide and started sending a Bloom in a Box to let someone know they were thinking of them. I think we’ve all used this time to really focus on what’s important in life and I’m delighted that my product seems to really help people celebrate the little moments.
I’ve really discovered that the personal touch means so much when it comes to gifting. We incorporated a section where people can add a quote which really resonates with them. Personally, I want my business to make a difference and we’ve just launched a campaign named #justbekind which is designed to capture all the love and care that Irish communities have rediscovered in recent months and to encourage people to be kind on social media. As part of the initiative and during its run, Bloom in a Box will donate €1 to Mental Health Ireland (MHI) for every order.”