Reopening a business that has been closed for six years might seem like a risky move, particularly during a recession. But everything's been coming up roses for Sean Doyle since he resurrected his family's nursery and garden centre in 2011.
Doyle's Nursery is in the foothills of the Dublin Mountains in Cabinteely. Doyle's grandfather, John Doyle snr, established the nursery in 1963 as a rose production company, providing plants and shrubs to wholesalers in Dublin.
"Cabinteely was very much a part of the country when my grandfather set up the nursery," says Doyle. "He was quite well known because he'd developed a lot of gardens for industrial schools and religious institutions in Dublin, and won a number of Royal Horticultural Society awards for his rose plants."
Doyle’s Nursery soon flourished and built a reputation that helped sustain it through difficult trading years. Doyle’s father, John Doyle jnr, who studied horticulture at the National Botanic Gardens, took over the business and carried on the family trade from the late 1980s. He developed it further by introducing imported stock from the Netherlands and Italy, and by making it more of a retail business.
Demand for plants
"When my grandfather ran the nursery, it was focused on wholesale production, but by the time it was handed over to my father, things were very different. Cabinteely had become a suburb of Dublin and there was a lot more demand for plants for people's gardens. He responded to this by extending the range on offer at the nursery."
As Sean Doyle had grown up with the business, it wasn’t too surprising when he became interested in horticulture.
“I’d be in the nursery every weekend and all through the holidays when I was a child. It was like a second home,” he says. “I even did my work experience in there after managing to convince my school to let me do it.”
Doyle’s father had high hopes that his son would one day take over the business, but when John Doyle jnr died prematurely in 2001, Sean was only 18 and did not feel ready to step into his father’s shoes.
“I was way too young to consider taking over the business at that stage and glad I didn’t try. The family decided to close the nursery at that point,” says Doyle.
"I went off and worked in Holland, where I specialised in tree-growing for a while, before returning to Ireland and setting up a landscaping business known as Doylescapes on the site where the nursery had been."
Doylescapes grew to become one of the State's leading landscaping firms, winning two gold medals and one silver medal at the Bloom garden festival for its work. It also achieved international recognition after completing projects in Britain and France.
Despite the company’s success, Doyle had always dreamed of reopening the nursery. In 2011, at the height of the downturn, he did exactly that.
“It was a risk to open during the recession and I knew it would cost quite a bit in terms of infrastructure because it was no longer enough to just have a few fields, as it had been during my grandfather and father’s day, but my heart was set on doing it,” he says.
With a family name that was still remembered locally and that gained further exposure through the success of the landscaping firm, it was a no-brainer to trade as Doyle’s Nursery.
While Doyle found it difficult to get financing initially, when he got the business up and running, it grew successfully to the point where he sold his share in Doylescapes at the end of 2013 to focus solely on the nursery.
“I missed not being involved in retail, but doing the landscaping business gave me the experience to run the nursery in the way it should be run. It means I can make a much better stab at it than I would have done at the age of 18.
“What I really enjoy about it, as well, is that we sometimes get three generations of a family in to us and they will have all separately had dealings with me, my father and grandfather. It’s nice to know the family tradition is continuing.”
Doyle attributes the success of the nursery both to the work of his forefathers and to a focus on putting customers first. Given his plans to expand the shop over the next year, it seems like the strategy is working.
"During the boom a lot of garden centres forgot about the plants and focused on the ancillaries instead," says Doyle. "All our employees have studied horticulture and the emphasis is on spending time with customers and advising them well, rather than just trying to make a quick sell."
He adds: “I believe that if you make the customers happy you build a long-term relationship with them and they and their children will keep coming back to you. That’s what my grandfather and father did and it’s what I intend to keep doing as well.”