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Family businesses take pride in a legacy of success

Often pillars of the community, family businesses form the backbone of the nation’s home-grown economy with retail and homebuilding being especially strong sectors. Here are three success stories

Don’t let hit TV show Succession fool you. Family businesses are not about high drama and private planes. They are about hard work and customer satisfaction.

With an estimated 173,000 such enterprises in Ireland, they are a primary contributor to the economy too.

About seven out of 10 Irish businesses are family owned. According to Family Business Network Ireland, they employ more people than the State and foreign businesses combined and contribute just under €19 billion to the exchequer.

Among the added value they bring is a geographic spread, making them important drivers of regional development. They also tend to take a long-term, rather than a quick gain, view of success.


Appreciation of them has grown. “A legacy of the pandemic is that people began to move away from big corporations and look more to local, and family businesses were a very important part of that,” says retail consultant Eddie Shanahan.

For him the term family business brings with it a strong element of trust. “If we think back to our childhoods, the local corner shop was family run, the local doctor came from a family of doctors. It’s that feeling that they would do right by us, that they were an integral part of the community and most likely a pillar of it too,” he adds.

Succession planning is important for every firm but can be more fraught when it’s a family one, “because they all know each other, and have to move discussions from the kitchen table to the board table”, says Shanahan.

“People may feel entitled to take up particular positions – but entitlement isn’t a qualification, so all that has to be managed too,” he adds. “If someone is going into the family business, the best place to start is on the ground floor, to learn about the business from the ground up.”

Suited to succession

The name Louis Copeland is synonymous with quality men’s clothing, having suited and booted Irishmen for 90 years.

“The reason for our longevity is that we are always looking to change, we don’t sit on our laurels,” says Louis Copeland jnr.

Louis Copeland snr is aged 74 and still works six days a week in the group’s Capel Street store. On Sundays he goes to their Dundrum store to have tea with the team there.

The company recently undertook consumer research which found that one of the key attributes that customers value is the quality of their products. The family makes a point of buying from small family businesses too, where possible.

Customer service is a huge part of its appeal. “We will do anything we can to help the customer. In one case one of our suppliers had an issue so we flew to Portugal to collect a suit,” says Louis jnr.

He also works six days a week but spends Sundays at his children’s matches. His eldest, also Louis, is aged 17 and is already helping out part-time which, in a family business, is how it goes.

If and when the time comes for the next generational handover, Louis jnr will know exactly how to do it, because he learned it from his father, who learned it from his. “He has been very good at letting me get on with things,” he says.

Making a super soft transition

Tom Monaghan opened Monaghan’s Cashmere in Dublin in 1960 and over the past decade handed over the reins to his youngest daughter, fashion designer Suzie.

She grew up working part-time in the business so her transition to creative director and designer of Suzie Monaghan Cashmere, the store’s highly successful own brand, was a natural progression.

“The reason we have sustained for 63 years this October is because of the quality of the product. We will never compromise on quality,” says Suzie.

“We also go above and beyond,” she says, explaining how customer service is a key pillar of the company. “We have customers worldwide and we build relationships with them. What bigger stores can’t compete on is the tailored service we offer,” says Suzie.

Her team will open the store early or late to suit a client and during the pandemic they hand-delivered products to clients’ homes.

For Suzie, her father Tom is an invaluable resource. “I keep notes on what he has taught me, from managing relationships with manufacturers to developing staff to looking after customers, and just business in general. I call him the Cashmere King,” says Suzie.

Family insulates a business through ups and downs

In 2009 brother and sister Peter and Michelle Fitzsimons took over Fitzsimons Insulations from their parents, Christy and Jenny.

“Our parents started the business at the beginning of a recession in 1980. They took a chance and ordered a 40ft container of fibreglass that was delivered to their front garden in north Dublin. From a 40ft container to our 44th year in business, we have experienced much success and overcome many struggles over those years,” says Michelle.

The siblings took over at a difficult time, during the financial crash, and having to navigate through the collapse of the construction sector that followed.

“But our parents imparted invaluable lessons from their own experiences in previous recessions and gradually, we managed to overcome the hardships and expand our team,” says Peter.

Today the business specialises in attic insulation for residential properties.

“We take immense pride in our work and firmly believe in avoiding shortcuts. For example, instead of simply rolling out a top layer of insulation over a poorly fitted base layer, which can lead to condensation and mould issues in the long run, we meticulously ensure that each insulation material layer is installed with precision,” he explains.

Both believe success is about building a sustainable business.

“We don’t pursue extensive expansion,” says Peter. “Our primary focus is our customers, maintaining their utmost satisfaction. We also prioritise employee wellbeing, treating our staff like kin. Monday mornings are pretty nice around here, even though we start at 6.30am,” he says.

They also agree that upholding the values passed down to them by their parents is important not just to them personally, but to their business’s success. “We have such passion and pride as a family in what we do,” says Michelle. “Our customers are always in safe hands. We insulate each home as if it were our own. It was drilled into us by our parents to always do the best job we can. We don’t know any other way.”

Sandra O'Connell

Sandra O'Connell

Sandra O'Connell is a contributor to The Irish Times