Future Proof: Daragh Murphy, founder of HairyBaby.com

Clever collaborations helped build the Cork-based internet T-shirt retailer’s brand

Daragh Murphy: “If you go on our Facebook page, you’ll see that there’s great interaction with our customers and great banter.”

Daragh Murphy: “If you go on our Facebook page, you’ll see that there’s great interaction with our customers and great banter.”

 

Very few businesses begin in a garden shed with a pirate radio station DJ as managing director. Even fewer are named as curiously as HairyBaby.com.

Despite its modest beginnings with a second-hand computer and single-colour printer, the Cork-based internet T-shirt retailer now employs five people, with this number tripling during the months of November and December.

Daragh Murphy, founder and director of the company, explains the origin of the odd name that everyone remembers: “When I was about to register the business – with a generic name like IrishTees.com – my wife and I took a trip back to my parents’ house in Kerry.

“My wife was flicking through a photo album and there was a picture of me at six weeks old with a head of hair that Elvis would be proud of, while my brothers were as bald as cue balls. She made a fleeting comment that I was a hairy baby, and I named my business after it.”

In the beginning, Murphy saved as much as possible and bought enough stock to keep the business going. As demand grew, the business matured from a shed, to a small office, to a bigger office, before Daragh looked to expand further.

“In 2005, I approached my bank looking for €15,000. We have a quote of their reply hanging on the wall of our offices which reads: ‘You want to sell T-shirts on the internet. Are you sure about that, would ya not try and think of something else?’

“They rejected the request. Although I tried looking for funding elsewhere, I was very much on my own. We’ve been self-funding through our entire existence.”

When the recession hit in 2008, the company remained largely unaffected and online sales figures stayed strong.

“We were saying to ourselves, what is this recession everyone keeps talking about? And then in January 2010, it was like we hit a wall, and people stopped buying overnight. I had to let staff go, strip back production, and stop spending.

“We had to rethink our approach, so we looked at partnering with other brands that were a good fit with our own. We contacted Hat Trick Productions and pitched the idea of a website based on Father Ted sayings. They agreed, and that has led to a few more partnerships since with, Sminky Animation, Moone Boy and various RTÉ productions.”

Almost immediately, the business changed. The collaborations strengthened the Hairy Baby brand and since then the company has been approached by other brands such as Disney and Paramount Pictures to design T-shirts to help promote their productions.

“In that way the recession was good for us and we’re stronger today because of it. We would have become very complacent if it wasn’t for the recession.”

Last October Hairy Baby accused Dunnes Stores of replicating one of its T-shirt designs and selling it at a fraction of the cost. While at the time there was talk of going to court in a David v Goliath style case, Murphy decided not to pursue Ireland’s largest retail chain.

At the time, although Dunnes Stores refused to comment, it was understood to believe it could see off any legal challenge.

“To us, it was a blatant copy of our T-shirt and creativity. Not of the phrase ‘Sound As A Pound’ – we understand no one owns that – but of our actual design itself.

“I had to drop the case because, as a small business, we simply couldn’t afford to fight a company like Dunnes in court. It’s that kind of thing, where the big companies are taking from the small guys without fear or consequence that really needs to change.

“The only defence, and in many cases advantage, small companies have in that situation is social media. It’s where the little guy can level the playing field and that was the route we choose.”

Hairy Baby has recently won a Sockie social media award for its activity on Facebook, where the companies has more than 46,000 followers.

“There’s great interaction with our customers and great banter. It’s also completely inspired by conversations we have in the office, like ‘Remember crisp sandwiches?’ When’s the last time you had a crisp sandwich?’ And then we’d post that to social media to get our customers’ reaction.”

As Hairy Baby continues to grow, it’s looking to move into a retail space of its own and to take on a new member of staff. With a name as memorable as Hairy Baby, they hope they will attract a crowd to fuss over its designs and merchandise.

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