A changing landscape

Big Irish businesses of the past...and the major brands of today


QUINNSWORTH: The supermarket chain’s founder Pat Quinn became a recognisable face across Ireland when he appeared in countless television ads wearing his trademark white polo neck in the late 1960s.

Inspired by Woolworth’s in the UK, he set up his first supermarket in Stillorgan in Dublin in 1965, which had expanded to seven by the time he sold the chain to Powers Supermarkets in the early 1970s, which later became part of Associated British Foods.

The sale made the 36-year-old a millionaire.

The supermarket’s Yellow Pack brand became synonymous with low price and low quality in the 1980s, fronted by the company’s marketing executive Maurice Pratt, who ended every TV ad he appeared in with the slogan “Now that’s real value”.

Quinnsworth and its sister supermarket chain Crazy Prices were bought by Tesco in 1997. Every branch was rebranded to carry the Tesco logo by 2001. The company now employs more than 15,000 people in 142 stores, with an annual turnover of more than €3 billion.

PIM’S: Pim’s department store was one of the largest in Dublin since its establishment by a Quaker family in the mid-19th century. The red brick building, designed by Irish architect Sandham Symes, was five storeys high with large display windows stretching along South Great George’s Street, where the George pub now stands.

The building was demolished in the late 1960s to make way for an office block.

DELOREN: In the hope that lower unemployment would help to ease sectarian tensions in Belfast in the late 1970s, the British government granted former General Motors executive John DeLorean more than $100 million in funding to set up a manufacturing facility to produce the DMC-12, the car best known as the basis for Doc’s time machine in 1980s cult film trilogy Back to the Future.

Construction of the factory was completed in Dunmurry in 1980 and the first cars rolled off the assembly line the following year.

With its distinctive gull-wing doors and stainless steel body, the DMC-12 was considered overpriced and under-powered, resulting in low demand from consumers.

In 1982, DeLorean was charged with conspiring to smuggle $24 million worth of cocaine into the US. Although subsequently acquitted, his reputation was left in tatters. The company went bust at the end of 1982, after just 9,000 cars had been produced.

DIGITAL: Digital Equipment Corporation, once one of the world’s largest computer companies, opened its first European manufacturing facility to much fanfare in Galway in 1971, employing more than 1,000 people by the early 1980s and helping to establish Ireland’s reputation as a choice location for multinational technology companies.

In 1993 the company closed its manufacturing plant with the loss of 780 jobs, but its software division remained, to be taken over by Compaq in 1998 followed by Hewlett Packard in 2002.

Digital paved the way for multinational computer companies who set up their European bases here in the following decades, including Dell, Intel, and more recently, Oracle. IBM has had an office in Ireland since 1956.

IRISH SUGAR: At its height in the 1980s and early 1990s, the State-owned Irish Sugar Company, established in 1926, was producing more than 200,000 tonnes of sugar every year at its factories in Carlow, Mallow, Thurles and Tuam.

In the first privatisation of a State company in Irish history, Greencore was established to take over 55 per cent of the Government’s share of Irish Sugar in 1991, with the remaining balance sold over the following two years.

EU reforms reducing Ireland’s subsidies and quotas led to the closure of the last remaining Irish Sugar factories in Carlow in 2005 and Mallow in 2006.

Greencore has since diversified to become a convenience food business with 22 manufacturing facilities across Ireland, the UK and the US, producing more than 100 million ready meals and 350 million sandwiches every year.

It has an annual turnover of €1.5 billion and employs more than 9,000 people.

ROCHES STORES: The Roches Stores empire began as a small furniture shop in Cork in 1901, which the Roche family expanded to 11 stores around Ireland over the following century, selling a wide range of goods from stationery to toys, fashion and homewares.

The larger stores had supermarkets, which became SuperValu branches in 1998. The British chain Debenhams bought over the leaseholds of nine of the 11 Roches Stores in 2006 for €29 million, and the shops were rebranded under the Debenhams name. The company now operates 11 stores in the Republic, employing more than 1,700 people.

FRED HANNA’S: The iconic book store on Nassau Street in Dublin was a haven for book lovers since its establishment in the 1840s. Although it operated under a number of owners in the 19th century, it was the Hanna family who made it famous when Fred took over in 1910, with five departments spread over three floors, selling new academic textbooks and hardbacks alongside dog-eared second-hand novels and antiquarian volumes.

The store closed its doors in 1999, the first major Irish book shop to do so, passing over the business to Eason’s. It was the sign of closures to come for book retailers; Greene’s on Clare street went online-only in 2007, Hughes & Hughes entered receivership in 2010 with three of its four remaining stores becoming Eason’s franchises earlier this year, and Waterstones closed all but two of its Irish outlets in 2011, including its flagship Dawson Street premises.

THE IRISH PRESS: Founded by Eamon de Valera in 1931, the daily edition of The Irish Press and its later Sunday and Evening editions became the pro-Fianna Fáil alternative to the Independent Newspapers Group, which was pro-Fine Gael, and The Irish Times, which was then seen as primarily aimed at the Protestant middle classes.

Teachers and civil servants made up the bulk of its readership. Journalists and columnists included Brendan Behan, Patrick Kavanagh, Mary Kenny, Con Houlihan and John O’Shea.

The newspaper ceased publication in May 1995 after an industrial dispute, with a debt of £20 million and the loss of 600 jobs.

FRUIT OF THE LOOM: Established in Ireland in 1987, the American clothing manufacturer employed more than 3,500 people in six factories around the country at its peak in the 1990s.

As the Irish operations became less competitive, the company began to transfer its sewing, knitting and dyeing operations to Morocco, and in 2004, it announced the closure of its remaining two factories in Donegal and Derry within five years with the loss of 650 jobs.

A small Irish operation was retained in Buncrana in Donegal, owned by investor Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway group, which still employs 27 people.

RYANAIR: The airline everyone loves to hate has transformed the way the Irish travel since its first flight route opened between Waterford and London in 1985.

Customer service is abrupt, the colour schemes brash, the plastic seats sticky and the hidden charges sometimes startling, but when it’s possible to fly from Dublin to Morocco for less than the price of taking a train to Cork, there’s no arguing with the value.

Last year the low-cost carrier took 79.3 million passengers on 1,600 routes from 57 airports around Europe and north Africa. Profits rose 13 per cent to a record €569 million, despite rising oil prices, far exceeding the €40.6 million profit posted by Ireland’s other low-cost airline Aer Lingus.

PFIZER: One of the first major pharmaceutical companies to open an Irish operation in Ringaskiddy, Co Cork, in 1969, Pfizer has grown to become the largest investor and employer in the sector.

Best known for its Viagra and Lipitor drugs, the company employs more than 4,000 people across eight sites in Cork, Dublin and Kildare, manufacturing a range of consumer and animal health products and medications for global export.

Nine out of 10 of the world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies have established operations in Ireland since the 1960s. The sector now employs more than 47,000 people, according to the IDA.

GOOGLE: Attracted by Ireland’s low corporate tax rate, capital investment reliefs and easy access to Europe, Google chose Dublin as the location for its Europe, Middle East and Africa headquarters in 2003, initially employing 100 people at a small office in the Docklands.

The multinational workforce has since grown to more than 2,000, providing technical, sales and operations support to customers in more than 50 countries.

Google Ireland’s turnover for 2012 was €15.5 billion, making it the country’s second- largest company after the building materials group CRH.

Where Google has gone many other young social media companies have followed, transforming Dublin into a tech and telecommunications hub. The past decade has seen the arrival of Linked-In, Twitter, Facebook, PayPal and eBay, which together with Google employ more than 5,000 people.

IKEA: When the first Irish outlet of the Swedish furniture giant opened near Ballymun in north Dublin in 2009, bumper sales of goods ranging from mattresses to meatballs resulted in a pre-tax profit of €11.4 million, making the store one of its most profitable in Europe.

Although earnings plunged to just under €3 million last year, three million customers still came through the doors, spending an average of €2 million a week on flat-pack furniture and home accessories.

KYLEMORE: Founded in 1920 as a dairy, Kylemore became a bakery before opening its first cafe on O’Connell Street in 1987 – 14 more casual restaurants followed. Facing tough competition from frozen and par-baked breads and pastries, the bakery closed its doors in 2002 with the loss of more than 300 jobs, but the company still serves three million customers annually at its 11 surviving food outlets, which range from airport cafes to shopping centre burger joints.

Facing stiff competition from multinational and indigenous cafe chains, Kylemore is currently undergoing a complete rebranding.

BROWN THOMAS: Dublin’s most exclusive department store, which opened as a haberdashery and drapers on Grafton Street in 1849, has flourished in recent decades as its rivals have struggled. The company, owned by Canadian businessman Galen Weston since 1983, purchased the Switzer Group, including Switzers in Dublin, Cashs in Cork, Moons in Galway and Todds in Limerick, from House of Fraser in 1991, and moved to its current location in the former Switzers building on Grafton Street from its original building opposite, which is now home to Marks & Spencer.

Still synonymous with style and designer fashion 164 years after it began trading, the company directly employs about 1,100 staff at its Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway branches of Brown Thomas and BT2, its smaller offshoot aimed at 18-35s. Other indigenous department stores which continue to trade despite tough competition from their British-owned rivals include Dunnes Stores, Arnotts and Clerys.

PENNEYS: The pioneers of disposable fashion have been offering Irish consumers affordable clothing, footwear and accessories since the first store opened on Dublin’s Mary Street in 1969.

The concept behind the brand is simple – high sales volumes driven by extremely low prices and vice versa. Over the last decade, the company, retailing as Primark outside Ireland, has expanded rapidly in the UK, as well as opening branches in Spain, the Netherlands, Portugal, Germany and Austria.

It now operates more than 260 outlets around Europe. The company, headquartered at the original Mary Street premises, is owned by Associated British Foods, controlled by the Weston family who own Brown Thomas and Selfridges.

Penneys employs more than 3,000 workers at its 38 outlets in the Republic.

MICROSOFT: The software giant first opened in Ireland in 1985, employing just over 100 people at a small manufacturing facility. Since then, it has grown to encompass four divisions at its Sandyford campus in Dublin, carrying out software development and testing, localisation, sales and marketing for Ireland, Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

In 2009 Microsoft opened its Windows Live EMEA data centre at Grangecastle to host the company’s cloud computing services. Microsoft now has more than 1,200 employees and 700 contractors in Ireland.

Pre-tax profits at the company’s Irish subsidiary more than doubled last year to over €1 billion, as revenues climbed to €13.7 billion, driven by an increase in demand for cloud computing.

LIDL: Irish shoppers were slow to embrace change when the German budget retailer opened its first store here in 2000, with its unfamiliar European meats, own-brand produce sporting foreign names, and wacky weekly offers ranging from snow boots to pop-up garden greenhouses.

But with more than 3,000 people now working at its 170 Irish stores, Lidl has established itself as a firm household favourite. The chain and its rival Aldi have both benefitted from the downturn in recent years as shoppers abandoned their brand loyalties in search of better value.

The two supermarkets now have a combined share of almost 15 per cent of the Republic’s total grocery spend.

DIAGEO: The merger of Guinness with the British property and drinks group Grand Metropolitan in 1997 created a global conglomerate which employs more than 1,500 people in Ireland, producing brands such as Guinness, Baileys and Bushmills.

The company’s headquarters are located at the St James’s Gate Brewery in Dublin, providing sales and marketing operations for its international markets.

SPAR: One of the most dramatic changes to Ireland’s towns and villages over the past 50 years has been the demise of the independently-owned newsagent or local corner shop, with franchised convenience stores now catering for all our magazine, newspaper, small grocery and confectionery needs.

More than 450 Spar and 230 Mace stores, both franchise operations run by BWG Foods, employ more than 15,000 people in the Republic. Centra, the convenience franchise run by the Musgrave group, has about 450 stores around the country, while the Londis co-operative has 360 and the Costcutter franchise has 135.

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