Business Irish

Saturday 24 March 2018

'I packed in my bank job to sell Alpaca wool to the world'

A former banker and his wife found inspiration for a new business on a trip to the Burren, writes Tom Lyons

WHAT began as a relaxing surfing and camping trip to the west of Ireland would turn into a business for Shane McGlynn and his wife Breezy. While in the Burren in Co Clare in 2009, they spotted a herd of alpacas which prompted them to find out more about the animals which produce a high-quality hypoallergenic wool.

The couple figured there could be a business opportunity in turning the wool into smartly coloured scarves, shawls, throws and rugs. They took a fact-finding trip to Peru (which also included a spot of surfing) to find out more.

"The more we found out about alpaca wool, the more we discovered that it has all sorts of benefits," McGlynn said. The former banker with Bank of Scotland Ireland lights up when he talks about the wonders of alpaca wool.

"It's not only hypoallergenic but it's fine like cashmere. It's lightweight but has air pockets so it's warm and it doesn't ball." McGlynn and his wife turned their enthusiasm for the wool into a business called Simple Things. They tapped into Breezy's experience working with advertising agency McConnell's Advertising to come up with their own brand and designs with wool sourced from their contacts in Peru. The company got its first break selling in Bottom Drawer in Brown Thomas, Dublin, but has since moved into Harrod's and Liberty in London.

Simple Things is turning over about €300,000 at the moment from sales in about 50 different outlets. McGlynn believes there is room for growth in Ireland either under the Simple Things brand or through doing deals to make product for others.

"Brown Thomas has done very well for us," he said, "but we're also starting to sell more in some independent boutiques as well as online on," he said.

"It is a recession but people are still trying to dress up rooms with nice throws or prepared to spend money on scarves. They are looking for something that is quality and a bit different," he added.

According to McGlynn, the next step for his company was to set its sights on America and China. To crack America, Simple Things has hired Marcus Williams, a former sales manager with Avoca and Tipperary Crystal, as its American sales manager.

"By July of this year we'll have 20 agents on the road in north America selling," McGlynn said. Simple Things' products are now stocked in Simon Pearce, a high-end glass, pottery and luxury goods chain which traces its roots back to a glassblowing workshop in Kilkenny.

In China too, Simple Things hopes to make it big. Since the start of the year Simple Things has been stocked in Lane Crawford, the Hong Kong designer store led by Jennifer Woo, a multibillionaire heiress.

"They're extremely high-end stores and right on the doorstep of China," McGlynn said. Simple Things is in six Lane Crawford stores in Hong Kong so far, McGlynn said and he hopes the products will be stocked in its stores in Beijing and Shanghai, taking it firmly on to the mainland.

"The Chinese really like our products," McGlynn said, "The only thing we have had to change is the size of our slippers, which we have had made up in smaller sizes."

With only three permanent staff members, McGlynn said the firm is growing by striking deals with distribution agents worldwide. It will hire as it expands but only in a small way in order to keep its costs down. Simple Things has set itself a target of €1m in sales by 2014, with $500,000 of this coming from America.

"There are so many opportunities," McGlynn said, "Even with a niche product, places like America are potentially huge."

Sunday Indo Business

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