Irish American retailers – many of whom are taking part in this week’s Celtic Marketplace Trade Show in Lombard, Il – are enjoying a resurgence as the US economy wades its way through tough economic waters. Here, Ward Gahan of Michigan’s Biddy Murphy shares his perspective.
What is your own heritage/ethnic background?
Born and raised in Tipperary, I came to the US in Mid 80s working for an American Company that had its European HQ in Ireland. They initially brought me over for 3 months and I stayed with them for 10 years. I had worked in Ireland for two US multinationals before coming over here. I never made a conscious decision to move to Southwest Michigan…just how things worked out.
What inspired you to start the business?
Before coming to the States I was always involved in Irish culture, music, dance and sports. When in the US I kept in touch over the years with friends and contacts in Ireland and would travel to Ireland with my family for 3 weeks every year. In 2003 the opportunity came for me to go a completely different direction with my career. I had sold a couple businesses I was involved in and decided to pursue my passion by bringing together my two great interests, technology and Irish culture. I decide to start and online business selling authentic Irish Goods that I couldn’t find here in the US but people were asking me to bring back as gifts. There was a market.
Are these all the same reasons that you keep doing what you do?
As it turned out the advice I received from peers in the industry was that I should have an Irish Store while I was getting the online business underway. It has taken me several years but now our main focus is meeting the market online. I still work with as many of the suppliers form Ireland as I can and I’m always trying to find new ones to promote. I feel like in some small way I am doing my small bit to promote the Irish culture while also helping the Irish and local economy in the US by employing talented young people.
What are the challenges of your profession?
Keeping up with the new product offerings and the fast changing marketplace online
What are the rewards?
The relationships with many fantastic people in Ireland. Learning something new about crafts and trade indigenous to Ireland. I enjoy the ecommerce world and how it is changing quickly. The best aspect though is the interactions with the Irish Diaspora. It is really great to hear from customers. They tell you about their weddings, their family history, their great trips, they ask for travel advice, meanings of Irish sayings and phrases., how many thorns they want on their Blackthorn walking stick…you name it, being Irish they have some great stories and never short for words. There is never a dull moment.
Who is your typical client?
There is no such thing as typical. The one thing they have in common is a love of their Celtic heritage.
What are your core products?
Jewelry; clothing and house wares.
What distinguishes you from you competition?
We want to provide you with a friendly Irish customer service….and deliver on time!! We provide value and are there to back it up long term. We want you back so we will treat you fairly.
What are you future plans for the business?
Keep my customers happy and they will spread the news and come back. The Irish are very loyal if you treat them right.
How has the Celtic marketplace evolved in recent years?
There are many more suppliers from outside Ireland. The makers of the Irish made authentic products have had a tough time economically but the ones focus on their core business and customer service has survived.
How long have you been involved with NACTA?
I have served on the board of NACTA over the years.
Why is Lombard an important event for you?
It’s a good time of year for Christmas buying. It is close to us here in Michigan.
Are we doing enough to preserve and promote Celtic culture generally?
There is always room for improvement but if you ask people in general I would say the level of interest is growing. Sad to say but every 30 years there appears to be a wave of emigration; the 50’s, 80s and now….
What can we be doing better?
Pursue opportunities for growth we see in the marketplace. Focus on customer service. Improve on communications between all the stake holders.