Putting the best foot forward for survival
FUTURE PROOF: Dubarry:Transforming Dubarry from a traditional footwear manufacturer into a supplier of premium boating footwear, clothing and accessories saved the firm from going under
DUBARRY CAN trace its history back 75 years to when the elders of Ballinasloe, Co Galway, set up a shoemaking business to create jobs for the local community. The company was subsequently acquired and run by the Scott family until 1983 when its then finance director, Eamonn Fagan, led an MBO.
Fagan has been at the helm since and under his leadership Dubarry has been transformed from a traditional footwear manufacturer into a supplier of premium boating footwear, clothing and accessories. Had this not happened, Fagan says Dubarry would have gone the way of Ireland’s other indigenous footwear manufacturers.
Fagan says it was the “dog eat dog” competition of the High Street that convinced him that Dubarry’s future lay in becoming a niche player.
“Basically the idea is that if someone needs a product that performs in a demanding sporting environment, such as boating, our products tick the box. But they also work for people who like that kind of casual look,” he says.
When Fagan bought Dubarry it was producing shoes for the general retail trade. Its business was seasonal, built around autumn and winter collections. Fagan’s view was that a strong new product for spring/summer was urgently required. For him, boating epitomised these brighter seasons and this led to the development of Dubarry’s signature Admiral deck shoe.
Thirty years later, the deck shoe is still the company’s best seller and has a loyal following among serious sailors and casual wearers alike. More recently, it carved out an unexpected new niche as a trendy school shoe for teenage girls. “That sort of just happened,” Fagan says.
In its heyday, Dubarry employed 250 people. Today the number is 40, but Fagan points out that these are high calibre positions and that no jobs have been lost during the current downturn.
The company is profitable and key senior managers are shareholders – an incentive Fagan introduced to ensure their long-term commitment to the business. “Dubarry does not have a hierarchical management system. It’s more like a family-run business and we’re a happy house.”
The decision to stop manufacturing eight years ago was a watershed. “Shutting down manufacturing was both difficult and costly but if we hadn’t done so, we wouldn’t be here today. Despite investing in new technology we were struggling and the business case for outsourcing was overwhelming,” Fagan says.