Inside Track Q&A: Ruth Ní Loinsigh, Om Diva

‘I will never wait for a phone call . . . again’

Ruth Ní Loinsigh runs Om Diva, a shop and designer atelier on Dublin's Drury Street, which sells young designer, contemporary and vintage fashions and had a sewing school.

What sets your business apart from the competition?
I know that we have a niche market. There are very few places in Dublin where you can shop for something that is contemporary and reasonably priced that isn't in one of the high-street stores. We work really hard on our display and on making the whole experience of shopping here a positive one for the customer.

What is the best piece of business advice you have ever received?
When we were young my dad always said: "Neither a borrower nor a lender be." I have never borrowed for the business. I started really small at markets, built the stock up and reinvested, so the whole business has been built on selling to create funds to buy again.

Aileen Dempsey in DCEB [Dublin City Enterprise Board] also gave me great advice. She said: "Do your sums." It can't be pie in the sky. It has to add up financially.
What's the biggest mistake you have ever made in business?
Around 2008, Topshop asked me to design a collection for it. My daughter was only a few months old but I went to India and put a 30-piece collection together. The buyer in Dublin loved it so I pre-ordered the collection and then the people in London said it wasn't right for them.

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Ultimately I was able to sell the clothing in my own shop but my focus had been taken away from my own business and family. Afterwards I thought, “I will never wait for a phone call like that again”.


And your major success to date?
It's been a great achievement to be able to support young designers in Atelier 27, to provide an incubation space in which they can make collections, see how difficult it is to sell and how they need to adapt, and it allows designers to develop a profile.


Who do you most admire in business?
Rosalia Mera of Zara. I really admire the fact that she came from a working-class background, left school early and went on to become Spain's wealthiest self-made woman.

Mera [who died recently] was very private person who nevertheless made her voice heard. She founded the Paideia Galiza Foundation which works with groups at risk of social exclusion. She also opposed austerity cutbacks to Spain’s national healthcare and education.


Based on your experience during the downturn, are the banks open for business with SMEs?
This building went up for sale about six months ago and the asking price was very reasonable. I went to my bank manager at AIB and told her I wanted to buy it. She was brilliant and, though it didn't work out, I had a very positive experience. Maybe I'm going against the grain but I find that even if the banks are being more cautious, they are still proactive.


What one piece of advice would you give the Government to help stimulate the economy?
A reduction in VAT and rates would help. Adding 23 per cent on to the asking price for items is a lot. Some shops are paying up to €15,000 a year for rates, which doesn't even include refuse collection.


What has been the biggest challenge you have faced?
In 2010, I relocated from my old premises to Drury Street. It was a month before Christmas and there was really heavy snow. I had to move the entire shop, stock, fixtures and fittings into a warehouse while I waited to sign the new lease.

I effectively did not know if I would have somewhere to trade for the Christmas period, the most important time of the year for retail. When I did finally sign the lease two weeks before Christmas, my wonderful staff, husband and I worked 20 hours a day for a week to get the door open for Christmas week.


How do you see the short-term future for your business?
We have three different concepts of retail working well together. I hope that in a few years' time we will have a great little business that someone might like to buy.


What's your business worth and would you sell it?
As a speculator you could say that you would be buying into a good solid little business and that profits have been growing. And I think next year will see even more evolution in terms of the business. Because so much of my identity is tied up in the business, it's hard to know if I'd sell it, but ultimately in five to seven years' time, it could definitely be expanded to more branches and that would make it more saleable.

In conversation with Ruth O’Connor