The Celtic marketplace is rich and robust with family businesses. Recently we spoke with Dermot O’Brien of O’Brien Celtic Gifts about his kin’s company.
What is your own background?
I started working for my father in his small printing/publishing company when I was 18, and a year later I went to work in the U.K. for 2 years. I came back and have spent 50+ years working and running OBrien companies, developing and producing a range of print related products for market in Ireland, the U.K and the USA.
What is the company’s history and mandate?
We started in the 1950s. My father’s company, E & T O’Brien, located in Dublin, published and printed a weekly called Second Thoughts, which was sold in Newsagents specifically to assist people in completing crossword puzzles – a popular weekend activity in those days.
How has it evolved over time?
The company started doing commercial printing in the 1960’s, in the 1970’s it moved to bigger premises and started printing books for a sister company called The O’Brien Press Ltd. 1n the 1980’s the company now trading as OBrien Printing, moved again to bigger premises and started producing a range of Office Diaries and Calendars, a new company was formed called OBrien Diaries Ltd. Around this time we started designing Celtic/Irish products such as Old Irish Maps, Celtic/Irish Prints, Notebooks, Journals etc. OBrien Celtic Gifts was then formed to market these products in Ireland, UK, & USA etc.
What are your roles and responsibilities there?
My main roles are managing the company and designing and updating products. My two sons do most of the day-to-day running of the business these days.
What are the rewards involved?
When a customer writes to us stating ‘I have been buying your diaries for over 15 years – they are such good quality’ or ‘I bought one of your beautiful Celtic journals 4 years ago – I just love it and I now want to order another one’. We regularly get these types of messages from all over the world – that is the biggest reward of all.
What are your core products?
We carry an extensive and unique range of Celtic/Irish journals, notebooks, framed prints, calendars, as well as desk and pocket diaries, planners and calendars for the retail, corporate, educational, and domestic markets in Ireland, the U.K., the USA and elsewhere.
How do you differ from your competitors?
We are genuine manufacturers; we design, print, and bind our extensive and unique range of paper related products to very high standards. Our motto is ‘Quality, Made in Ireland’. Whereas most of our competitors import theses items from China and elsewhere.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your business?
We have been operational right through the COVID-19 epidemic, sometimes with limited staff, but with key production machines producing some of our more important products, such as diaries which are required for the running of every-day businesses and organizations. However, with regarding to the Irish Heritage and Tourist market products, demand dropped to almost nil.
What are your thoughts on the current state of the Celtic marketplace?
It is challenging. The modern era is eroding many of the wonderful images and activities of the Celtic/Irish lifestyle and, as time moves on, the relevance of many of these historical activities are in danger of disappearing. As such, the diminishing Irish/American market may also become redundant.
What are your future plans for the business?
Like all businesses, nothing stays the same, so we try to find the time – which is a challenge in and of itself – to use our market knowledge and highly skilled staff, aligned with modern technology, to produce new products that will have a place in today’s marketplace. Sometimes it works, sometimes not so much, but we still very much believe in a solid future for our products.