Monday 16 December 2019

Business of beauty: Meet the mother-daughter duo taking on Irish cosmetic surgery

Ailish Kelly and her daughter Niamh Murdock at the Avoca Clinic in Wicklow. Picture: Damien Eagers
Ailish Kelly and her daughter Niamh Murdock at the Avoca Clinic in Wicklow. Picture: Damien Eagers
Caitlin McBride

Caitlin McBride

The term 'family business' conjures up a lot of images.

Irish businesswomen Ailish Kelly and her daughter Niamh Murdock are proof you can start a viable family business, with any objective, at any age.

Ailish (57) and Niamh (32) are the co-founders of cosmetic surgery clinic The Avoca Clinic, a practice with big ambitions. They are one of the lucky few, who are revelling in a post-recession success story: despite neither of them having a background in medicine, they identified a growth in the market and by the time consumers had deeper pockets in 2018, they already had a stellar reputation in place.

“I worked in finance, I have a degree in Business and was living in Australia for a few years and everyone seems to do their stint in Oz,” Niamh told

“I came back to Ireland in 2011, my boyfriend at the time (who is now my husband) was here and thankfully that worked out. At the start, because my background was finance but there wasn't much hope of a career here. It was a case of finding our way. Mum is the person who loves to meet people and hear their stories and falls in love everyone, whereas I do the business side of things.”

They were determined to capitalise on Ireland’s growing demand for surgical procedures, in particular with breast work, but preferred to base theirs “largely on a US model”.

“We are a one stop shop, we only specialise in a small amount of surgeries - breast augmentation, breast lifts, tummy tucks and we’re using a new liposuction machine,” Niamh says.

Ailish said they begin every proposal with asking themselves, “Would we use this as women?” If the answer is yes, it’s considered, if not, the idea is binned.

Ailish Kelly and her daughter Niamh Murdock at the Avoca Clinic in Wicklow. Picture: Damien Eagers
Ailish Kelly and her daughter Niamh Murdock at the Avoca Clinic in Wicklow. Picture: Damien Eagers

“It’s the US model in that you come to clinic for a consultation, you get your surgery for same building and there’s a full operating theatre with private rooms. Our biggest challenge is a lack of regulation in the industry. It’s based British cosmetic surgery guidelines," she explains.

It’s clear that morality is at the heart of their business model: like most modern surgical representatives, they are keen to push the fact that their approach is ethical, especially as ‘easy’ procedures like Botox becomes increasingly available and sometimes by underqualified technicians.

"Mum and I doing this by women, for women. I think, ‘Would I want my daughter to have this done?’ We both had work done with our team in the last 12 -18 months an we know how good our surgeons are,” Niamh. says.

Ailish adds: “This is not a money-driven business, this is a passion. I feel as if I saw a kid coming in at the age of 25 or 26, I couldn’t in my heart try to sell a procedure. It’s worked because I tell people that. We don’t tell people we own the clinic, maybe I should, I choose just to say I’m answering the phone because otherwise they’ll think I’m selling my clinic. I’m not, I’m selling my doctors and they’re hard to get.

So, what’s changed in running a business as Ireland revels in an economic recovery? The prices, of course.

“In 2012, it was absolutely cheaper to have surgery then,” Niamh explains. “We were doing breast augmentations then, it’s the least expensive of the surgeries, costing around €4,000 to €5,300. Because we’re using HSE consultants, we have to pay top dollar for those guys. People are coming in now, with credit union loan, for treatments.”

Gone are the days of the Playboy-bunny style breasts sitting suspiciously close to a woman’s chin, but rather they have seen a dramatic increase in breast reductions, women want more discreet increases and Ailish and Niamh have noted a 100% increase in over the last 12 months.  The cost? €7,500 to €8,000.

“There’s this perception of plastic surgery that it’s a desire to have bigger lips like Kylie Jenner and the Kardashians, but the real side is that these women –they  could have four kids and  breastfed them all, did everything they could for 10 to 15 years and now they hate their breasts – that’s something that can be addressed,” Niamh says.

The numbers are big across the board for the Avoca Clinic: they perform 60 to 80 breast augmentation surgeries per month; they have 35 staff, eight full-time and two doctors and nurses and two clinics in Wicklow and Limerick. Their turnover is in excess of €2.5m and they have plans for an “aggressive expansion”.

"The whole idea is with the consultants that we work with, to be in major cities like Dublin, Galway, Limerick and Athlone," Ailish adds.

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