Future Proof: Tom Monaghan, Monaghans Cashmere

Hard work and quality product never goes out of fashion

When the downturn began in 2009, it was the third time that Monaghans Cashmere faced a recession. The store's owner, Tom Monaghan, says that there's no doubt that it has been "the worst one".

“I think most retailers are struggling to continue to pay their expenses,” he says. “We see day in and day out [they] are... going out of business”.

In 1960, Tom and his wife Teresa spotted a gap in the market to sell high-quality cashmere and lambswool sweaters. Together they founded the first Monaghans store at the former Grafton Arcade. In the early 1990s, they moved to the Hibernian Way mall just off Dawson Street after tenants started to vacate the Arcade when their leases were bought out.

“I wanted to stay there because it had been very successful for me,” he says. “It was not easy going. We talk about austerity now, we didn’t know the meaning of austerity [then]. You put your head down and worked, and that [was what] both of us did.” Neither he nor his wife took a holiday for the first 12 years. Over time the business began to grow, becoming popular with golfers and horse racing enthusiasts. Before long it offered the largest selection of Scottish cashmere available in Ireland. “Things began to change, business began to improve,” he says.

In addition to being popular with Irish customers, Tom and Theresa’s product offering also attracted the attention of tourists, which helped the business battle through recessions.

“When Ireland was going through a very bad recession in 1970, we were doing well because we had tourism and we were catering for [it] at the time,” he says.

"Then comes [the recession in] 1980 and it was the same," he says. "The dollar was equivalent to the pound and the Americans spent as if there were no tomorrow. We have traded very successfully since."

Well-known names
A testament to Monaghan's reputation is that Tom's customers have also included well-known personalities such as Maureen O'Hara, Maureen Potter and Golden Globe winning actress Jamie Lee Curtis.

He also recalls with fondness a memory of Ronnie Drew sitting in the shop for hours while passers-by popped in to shake his hand. "Ronnie loved bright colours [and] pink shirts," he says. "He was such a wonderful character."

Tom says that the biggest challenges facing the business at the moment are rates and upward-only rent agreements.

“I met [Enda Kenny] prior to being Taoiseach... at the races in Punchestown one time,” he says. “He put his arm around my shoulder and he said ‘Tom, we’ll fix all this when we get into power’. They have fixed nothing, not yet anyway. The landlords in the boom, they got very greedy. We’ll have to come to some arrangement with [them, otherwise] I think we’ll all be in trouble”.

An octogenarian with no intentions of ever retiring, Tom says he always wanted to be his own boss. In response to the downturn, he’s drawn on lessons from the past. “We were all told to keep something for the rainy day and thankfully I did,” he says. “I couldn’t survive today if I didn’t do that.”

In order to cut costs, he hasn’t taken a salary from the company in the past five years which has enabled him to employ five “very reliable” members of staff, some of whom have been working there for up 40 years. While he cautions about purchasing too much merchandise he adds that a friend once told him “you can’t sell out of an empty wagon”.

Tom says that Monaghans’ business model is based on stocking a wide variety of styles and large quantities of sizes. “If you’re specialist, you should have the merchandise,” he says. “We’re a joy to any manufacturer when we walk in and start putting those [large] quantities down. If you don’t have stocks then it’s a sale lost.”

Tom also has committed to selling high-quality products, which he believes has been critical to the shop’s success. “We try and stay with quality,” noting that a man from Minnesota called into the shop a few months ago wearing a jumper his sister bought for him from Monaghans in 1960. “He said ‘I’m still wearing that sweater’ so that’s a good ad for your merchandise. People will tell you that that they have bought [clothes] from us and they can’t wear it out.”

While the future remains uncertain, the shop’s turnover is growing. The market that helped Monaghans get through the previous two recessions – business from tourists – is still playing an influential part in its survival today. “Where we were selling three units to each customer, they’re buying one now,” he says, adding that in the summer we had this year “nobody buys woollens, except the tourists”.

Read More

Recommended