WITH 21 years selling bespoke hampers under her belt, Sarah Galvin knows a thing or two about the industry.
She started Heritage Hampers, which is based in Carrigaline, Co Cork, back in 1994, when there were very few hamper companies about. It was also, as she explains, a radically different business landscape.
"It was a very different marketplace, and it was difficult to sell worldwide. Most of it was domestic, and everything was done by brochures. It was very much a Christmas hamper business, not all year round."
Galvin's new business wasn't entirely unfamiliar to her; her dad imported and wholesaled alcohol. "I grew up with a strong family work ethic, and used that to drive Heritage Hampers," she says. "It was an ideal way to combine my family drinks business with my passion for food."
In fact, when the recession hit, Galvin was able to negotiate it by shifting focus back onto alcohol a little, given that it tends to be a little more recession-proof than some other products.
The big difference in the business these days, she says, is that people want bespoke hampers. "People's needs are very individual, so while some will be happy to look at our range online, others are looking for certain things such as gluten-free etc."
It was in response to this that the company invested heavily in its website last year, creating a Build your Own Hamper feature that's quick and easy for customers to use.
"Investing in technology is extremely expensive, but you have to give customers what they're looking for or they'll get it elsewhere."
The move is paying off; the new site saw a huge jump in online sales last year.
With a staff of 12, and extra seasonal staff at Christmas, Heritage had a turnover of over €5 million for the year ending October 2014. It ships worldwide, though its main focus is on Ireland and the UK.
This year, Galvin plans to move into the wedding market, with its wholesale drinks division, Heritage Wines & Spirits. "We can offer a full range of wines, beers, spirits for the wedding day, and the events leading up to the big day, at very competitive prices." On top of that, Heritage is developing its corporate gift offering. "This will entail a gifting solution for corporate clients, as well as wholesale alcohol pricing for corporate events."
Galvin says the toughest aspects of her business have been to do with balancing stock levels, choosing suppliers, and keeping morale high during particularly busy periods. But she says she relishes the opportunities she gets to meet local suppliers who are passionate about their products.
Her best advice for anyone starting out in the sector is to "do something you enjoy, believe in your product, have a clear plan, and get a good team that's as passionate as you are about the business".
Check out www.heritagehampers.ie