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Featured Business: Kelly’s of Newport
Name: Seán Kelly, butcher, Kelly’s of Newport
When Knorr soup started up, it was every butcher’s biggest fear, artisan butcher Seán Kelly recalls his father telling him. The worry was that putting soup into envelopes would mean people would stop buying meat.
Yet now, with even more processed foods on the market, butchers like Kelly’s of Newport are selling well.
Born and reared in Newport, Co Mayo, Seán and his brother Seamus have turned the family business, set up in 1930, into an artisan butchers specialising in traditional black and white puddings and sausages under the Kelly’s brand.
Kelly’s of Newport still occupies the same premises on Main Street 85 years after Seán’s father Dominic opened the shop with his brother Michael.
For Seán, joining the family business was a natural progression. It wasn’t a case of “You’re going to join the business,” he says. He and his brother Seamus just got stuck in and helped out.
Then, 25 years ago, they bought an old shop and yard in order to grow and modernise. In 2000 they built a small unit as they had grown their sausage output bit by bit over the years.
As Seán says, “If you were making different varieties of sausages 50 years ago, people wouldn’t buy them; now because of travel people are willing to taste different foods.”
This year the premises has undergone a further expansion, which Seán hopes will help him supply sausages and puddings to more multiples.
The company, which only moved from sole trader status to limited company in 2012, oversees a 36-seat restaurant (which Seán’s daughter Shauna runs), the shop run by Seán, his brother and Seán’s sons Kenneth and Cormac, a farm, and a factory unit. Seán tries to make sure he is behind the counter himself at weekends.
Located on the tourist trail as part of the Atlantic Greenway, the next parish over is Manhattan. The local market is small so, in order to get to a wider audience, Kelly’s has made use of advertising and PR to get news of award wins out. “It took me 40 years to become an overnight success,” quips Seán.
Listening to people and being inventive is key to this success. He gives an example of working with a chef to develop a recipe for a lamb sausage. A lamb and mint mix wouldn’t have longevity, as mint gets stronger day by day. Instead they came up with a lamb and redcurrant mix, which subsequently won a Blas na hÉireann award.
There have been many accolades. Most notable was when Seán became the first man in Ireland to be made a Knight of the Boudin Noir by the Confrerie des Chevaliers du Goute-Boudin from Mortagne-au-Perche, France, which saw 25 French people descend on Newport to present him with his gold medal.
And the secret ingredient? “It may only be black pudding, but it’s Kelly’s black pudding,” says Seán.
Interview with Sean Kelly
What was the inspiration for setting up your business?
The business was started by my father and his brother in 1930. I suppose the inspiration in 1930 was to make a living, to survive.
How did you initially fund your business?
In 1930 if you had five pounds it was an awful lot of money, and it was easy enough to set up a business.
Have you diversified your offering from your original focus or set up other businesses?
We have. My father used to make a little bit of black pudding but we never made sausages. The main difference now is the pudding and sausages. It has grown year on year by 20%. We still have our own abattoir, we still go out to the fields and buy from local farmers, and we rear cattle ourselves. I’m still a traditionalist butcher.
What have been the highlights to date?
The highlight was a small little card I received in the post signed by the President of Ireland. I couldn’t talk about this for a long time, I used to get so emotional about it. I remember I got it on 16th June 2005, and the hair stood up on the back of my hand. I said to myself “If the president of my country could take the time to write on a card to me that she had used Kelly’s puddings and sausages for Áras an Uachtaráin” ... I was very proud. I thought it was the nicest thing ever.
What’s the bravest step you’ve made in relation to your business?
The bravest step is happening at the moment. We had a premises that was 2,000 sq ft. Now we’ll have over 6,000 sq ft. It’s a big modern premises; I just hope it works. It will work. It’s tied in to the existing premises and will give us bigger capacity. The manufacturing room will be five times bigger.
What’s your favourite part of being a business owner/entrepreneur?
Meeting and talking to people. I love going to shows. I might learn nothing but there’s a chance I might see something new.
How do you achieve a work-life balance?
Myself and my brother have a boat and we go out in the bay fishing. I like to go away for weekends with Kathleen; we’re 40 years married.
Are you inspired by any business figures or success stories?
Not really. I admire people who work hard. I always say I never came to work. It’s like a hobby for me.
What tools or technologies do you use that benefit your customers or business?
I’m 66 years old and technology isn’t my strongest point but I have people who do it. My son is doing the new website and e-commerce. My daughter is on Twitter and Facebook. It's not my area, but I cannot stand still, this is the way of the future.
Do you feel you know what your customers really want? How do you stay updated with this information?
When you’re talking to people you also have to be able to listen to what they say. The hardest thing in business is to get people inside your door. We make 10 different sausages, but the pork and banana sausages get people asking questions. “Why do you put banana into a sausage?” It’s a talking point. If people are talking to you, you can sell them something, if not, you can’t sell them anything.
What has been the biggest challenge your business has faced?
A number of years ago we won a sausage competition and we wondered if we would keep going and make enough for the shop or if we would grow bigger. We are very traditional at what we’re doing, and because we’re so far west, the population isn’t huge. The only way we could do it was by manufacturing and selling outside the shop. That was the biggest thing we had to talk about.
What part of running a business comes to you naturally?
Communicating with people, talking to people. I’m a great listener. I like meeting different people. Since I left school I always worked in the business. It’s a mistake because I don’t know how to deal with employees. I put my two sons into other shops to work for a year and they’re the better for it, you see the other side of the story. I don’t know how to treat employees, I expect them to work as hard as I do.
How did you scale/grow your business?
When we started manufacturing, the demand for the pudding and sausages was growing. The Greenway passes our door here. They said that in the first year 250,000 would use it. I said to myself, “If I could take 25c off everyone who passes my door...” We made a black and white pudding and put a map of the Greenway on it, and seaweed into it. It’s a talking point again.
How do you get ideas to further your business?
I’m never short of ideas, it’s always to do with the pudding and listening carefully. For the Boudin Noir, you have to create something with black pudding. On a tray we had three pints of Guinness and a shamrock, and the competition was held from 16th-20th March. I created a pint of Guinness. We put icing on top. They looked fantastic. Before we went, I hired a professional photographer to take a picture in case we won something. When we got word we had won a gold medal, the pints of Guinness appeared on all the national newspapers and the papers in the north of France.
What motivates you to stay running a business?
I love what I do. I always like coming to work. I work six days a week.
What’s your vision for the future?
I’d like to sell a lot more Kelly’s pudding and sausages. I have an idea about trying to get into Dublin.
What’s the best business advice you’ve received?
My father said to me years ago, “Stick to what you know.” I stuck to what I knew. I didn’t go buying houses or apartments. I stuck to expanding my business. It has worked for me.
What would be your advice to businesses starting out?
If you’re starting a business just because you want to start a business, that’s not enough. Know what you’re doing. Make sure everything is right. If you’re working for somebody else and you go to start a business, you take off your watch and leave it in the house. When you’re working for yourself, time doesn’t matter. My father-in-law said that the things you learn when you think you know it all are the most important things.
What’s your favourite motivational business quote?
“Believe in yourself.” Believe you can do it. I believe Kelly’s pudding is the best in the world.
What, if anything, would you do differently?
Hindsight is a great thing. I’m sorry I didn’t build a bigger unit years ago.
Phone: +353 98 41149
Interviewed by: Web Content Partners
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