Business woman and G.A.A. fanatic Mairead O’Sullivan first thought of the idea for Gagababy back in 2005 when her first child was born. Of course, being a true blue Dublin fan she wanted to dress her son in his county colors but found it impossible to find any such clothing items for newborn children. So Mairead decided to take matters into her own hands and create her own baby G.A.A kit. After her little one debuted his blue and navy 'true Dub' babygro she found herself with an abundance of requests from friends and family to make their newborns similar custom G.A.A. kits….and so Gagababy.ie was born.
Mairead’s business is now well established in Ireland and has had over 10,000 online orders since it’s opening in 2007. Gagababy.ie offers a wider range of products than solely babygros including custom aprons, hurleys, keyrings, chopping boards just to name a few. Now Mairead is hoping to expand the business to larger markets in the U.S.A and Asia. With over 80 million people worldwide claiming Irish heritage Gagababy certainly has it’s eyes set on the big prize!
I caught up Mairead to chat about her success, the challenge of juggling family life and work life and the future of Gagababy.ie.
What kind of changes did the company/product go through in early stages?
We spent 2 years before launching conducting research through Online Polls, questionnaires & meetings with existing companies in the industry. We launched quietly with 5 products. Within 18 months the feedback was so positive and demand grew a lot quicker than we had forecasted that we expanded to all 32 Counties. The growth of social media has transformed how we communicate with our fans that majority of our marketing is done through Facebook. At the beginning email marketing, advertising, attendance at trade events was a big part of our marketing strategy.
Do you have investors? Are you looking for further investment?
We have continued to re-invest in Gagababy due to continued growth and demand for our products. We are actively looking for investment or possibly a partnership to continue our growth in the international market, specifically in the USA and Asia.
What kind of growth has your company experienced?
Our brand is now well routed and respected in Ireland. Due to demand, enquiries and suggestions our product range had risen from 5 products at our launch to 32 within 18 months. We have also expanded from selling babygros to miniature engraved hurls, custom made t-shirts and our personalised cardigans are very popular with our fans. Sales from outside Ireland have also grown steadily and now account for 20% of all sales. We forecast that international sales will continue to rise.
How many customers do you have now?
We have had well over 10,000 online orders since Gagababy was started. We sell our products through many platforms such as our Gagababy.ie website & 3rd party websites. We also take significant number of orders by telephone and we have a number of clients as well such as Tipperary GAA and retail stores around Ireland who would buy in bulk. We are very pleased more than 60% of all purchases are from return visitors. Our fans are very loyal.
Tell us about your industry: What was it like to break into?
The industry was very kind to us at the beginning as our products were unique to the market and we had a lot of support from other companies and organisations. The industry has continued to grow internationally with the increase of Irish people living abroad. The recession has had an effect but we managed to weather that storm and have seen a rise in sales again.
How many employees do you have now?
One full time and 5/6 subcontractors. All products that can be made in Ireland are made here. Our solid ash hurleys in particular have been a massive hit with the Irish sports lovers around the world.
What's the biggest challenge you've faced so far?
The biggest challenge so far has to be juggling a business with two young kids on the hip. Sometimes a small business gets caught up in the day to day running of the company and fail to free up time to either develop new products or grow sales. I am very lucky that I have a very supportive husband and good time management is essential.
The greatest victory?
Too many to list however, spotting a baby on matchday in Croke Park with two very proud parents is one. I get a real kick out of mailing a gifts to exotic locations around the world too. Developing an unrivalled product line that we get great feedback on daily is heart warming too. We get sent pictures from all over the world from proud parents, aunts, uncles, friends showing off their Gagababy gear. Their continued support is a great motivator each day.
What's been the most important lesson?
Delegate and subcontract where possible. You might feel like Wonder Woman most of the time but you simply can’t be master of all areas of business. Do what you do well and hire the best you can afford for the areas you can't. Trusting your gut instinct and not be afraid to listen to the truth.
What are your plans for 2015?
As the Gagababy family grow up a little it’s time to expand our horizons and focus more on the export market. We also have plans for a more comprehensive Gaga Kids range of products.
What are your immediate next steps and long-term goals?
To continue to meet interested investors and discuss the future of Gagababy. We’ve learnt a lot over the years of trading and can offer a lot of experience and creative energy to many other areas of business. We plan to continue to grow our consultancy business, where we develop and manufacture for other sports such as rugby & soccer .
What international markets do you foresee the company expanding into?
We wish to develop the brand awareness across Europe further and naturally the USA which is the largest Irish community outside of the Emerald Isle purchasing our gifts. Asia is also a growing market we wish to do more in.
What advice do you have for other people/companies starting out in your industry?
Do your homework! If you consider beginning in a niche market, be prepared to expand out of it as soon as your feet touch the ground. The area of G.A.A. merchandise or clothing is a very small one. Treat your local geographic area as a test market and iron out all snags in either your product line or operations.The small business relationships with the banks at present is a fragile one and so keeping a close eye on cash-flow is very important.
How can you scale?
80,000 babies being born in Ireland at the moment and no sign of it slowing down, that sounds like a lot of potential customers. However brand awareness and marketing plans for the U.S.A., Australia & Canada are a must. Whilst it’s horrible to wave goodbye to family and friends to emigration we need to stretch ourselves across the water to ex-pats abroad. We will be looking into retail partners outside of Ireland this year and perhaps engage the services of a distribution company.
Who do you think are your customers?
Our customer base has changed a lot since launching. We began with mainly women aged between 21-40. Our customer base have a strong interest in Irish sport, Irish Culture and Irish life. They have a very strong sense of place and pride in club & county in that order of preference.
However we are now selling mainly to men from the ages of 21-50, which is very often the first time dad trying to get his son coloured up in his county kit before the wife does! Our customer base are uncles, fathers and grandfathers. Sharing and passing down their traditions to their wee ones. Our customers in Ireland are especially excited to be sending our gifts abroad to young family members now having offsprings. If the messages we write on the greeting cards is anything to go by it’s in this order of preference.
- We love you, get home soon.
- Don’t forget where you came from!
- Hope you play better than your Dad does.
It can be really heart breaking for customers and we’ve often had tears down the phone from Irish mammies who haven’t seen grand kids yet or are missing their kids or siblings. They tell me that the Dublin Kit will be stuck in with a box of Tayto and a bar of Cadbury’s chocolate. I certainly didn’t think I’d be setting up a business in the early stages of a recession and I certainly didn’t think I’d see a growth in sales from new Irish emigrants. However, we’ve weathered the storm better than many other small businesses and I just hope it’s the good products, personal service & Irish Mammy therapy sessions we offer down the phone or through email.