‘I think people really love that they can actually influence the brand’
Inside Track: Diarmuid McSweeney co-founder Gym+Coffee
Owners Karl Swaine,Diarmuid Mc Sweeney and Niall Horgan in the Gym + Coffee shop in the Dundrum Shopping Centre. Photograph: Kyran O’Brien
Gym+Coffee exercised a novel approach when launching its athleisure clothing range to the world, proving timing is everything. Now with three permanent stores in Dundrum, Cork and Limerick and a pop-up in Swords Pavilions, the brand, which is accumulating a mass following one hoody at a time, has set its goals to more stores this year.
What distinguishes your business from your competitors?
We bring our community as close as we can to everything that we’re doing. I think people really love that they can actually influence this brand, they have the opportunity to contribute to designs or influence our events. A lot of people have been tracking us from day one and they feel very much part of it.
What’s been the biggest challenge that you’ve had to face?
Due to our size, it’s supply chain. A lot of the time we’re growing at such a fast pace that by the time the sales periods pick up, we’re kind of playing catch-up with ourselves. We can have some key points during the year we can be out of stock of certain items and that can be frustrating for us and it can be frustrating for customers. I mean, it’s a good complaint to have; if it was the opposite, we’d probably be in trouble.
What’s been your major success to date?
Our biggest success has been the community that we built around the brand. Seeing it grow so quickly and seeing how passionate people are about the same values we’re passionate about and also being passionate about our brand kind of blows us away, it’s been incredible. Going from three people to 39 people across the office and our stores, it’s amazing just to work with a team of people who are full of ideas.
What do you think Government could do to help SMEs?
Financing is very challenging and the private sector in that regard isn’t really fulfilling the role that they used to. The Government could put some pressure on the finance industry in that regard.
Our local enterprise office in Dublin were great and gave us a grant allowing us to expand our team: some of the State agencies need to make those things more accessible and easier to apply for.
Do you think that the banks are open for business?
The banks are certainly willing to talk to us and are very courteous to us but, in our experience, they haven’t provided what you’d consider to be a business banking support. It’s very challenging for smaller businesses to really get off the ground because there are points when you just need a loan. It’s a very challenging environment, particularly for start-up businesses at the moment.
What’s the biggest mistake that you’ve made in business?
We were very, naively, enthusiastic back before we launched the business and our biggest goal was to launch in time for the Christmas period of 2016. We completely miscalculated how long logistics take and how long you might have to wait for items to go through things like customs and all that. We launched on the 18th of January instead which was Blue Monday, the day people have the least amount of disposable income in the year. But at least we didn’t get lost in the noise of Christmas.
Whom do you admire most in business and why?
Certainly people like Chip Wilson, who founded Lululemon, and Phil Knight, who founded Nike, but for us it’s more about people we can relate to. Companies like Glendalough Distillery, Fulfil, Spotlight and Glofox, all Irish start-ups that have gone on to do well internationally. We’d admire them and take a lot of inspiration from them.
What is the best piece of business advice you’ve ever received?
Luckily enough, we’ve received a lot of good business advice. I think the key thing really is cash flow, the business lives and dies on cash flow. Anyone who we spoke to early on just kept ramming that down our throats so now we are obsessed with it.
How do you see the short-term future of your business?
We certainly feel like we’re really kind of growing up as a business. We will be looking to add three more stores, two in Ireland and hopefully one internationally later this year.
What’s your business worth? And would you sell it?
We certainly have no plans to sell our business and valuing it is very difficult. We don’t spend time thinking about it. What we focus on really is growth and profitability and making sure that everyone who is working for us is enjoying the work that they’re doing.