Brexit Proof Q&A: ‘Our best case scenario is that the whole bloody thing is reversed’

Fergal Quinn of Acushla, a hospitality group in Sligo

Kevin and Fergal (right) Quinn: ‘When you’re a small business in Sligo, you literally have to roll with the punches,’ says Fergal.

Kevin and Fergal (right) Quinn: ‘When you’re a small business in Sligo, you literally have to roll with the punches,’ says Fergal.

 

Fergal Quinn, alongside his brother Kevin jnr, runs Acushla Limited, a hospitality group that operates pubs, nightclubs and a restaurant in Sligo town. Aside from its brands, which include the Belfry Bar, Embassy Steakhouse and Lola Montez Nightclub, the company also operates the henandstagsligo.ie website.

The business was originally founded more than 30 years ago by the pair’s father. He is still active in the company.

What was your reaction when you heard the UK had voted to leave the EU?

I was surprised. We can measure how much of our business comes from the Northern Ireland market on the hen and stag side. About three years ago, it was 70 per cent of the hen and stag business and you can see, when things like Brexit and movements in exchange rates happen, it’s not going to be good for us. Now the Northern Ireland business has dropped to about 45 per cent.

How much do you rely on raw materials or markets north of the Border? And how much on Britain?

If a no-deal Brexit does happen, there could be significant prices increases which would put us under pressure because even the increase in the VAT put us under a lot of pressure. Up in Dublin, they probably think the small increase in the VAT rate wasn’t a lot but I’ve spoken to people in the trade in Sligo and it has put restaurateurs and hoteliers under pressure.

With prices increases as a result of Brexit, you’re looking at double digit increases in product costs.

When did you begin preparing for Brexit and what contingency plans have you put in place so far?

When you’re a small business in Sligo, you literally have to roll with the punches. We’re not a multinational that can move operations or hedge against movement in exchange rates. There’s only a limited amount we can do to prepare for Brexit. From the point of view of the hen and stag market, we’ve put a significant push onto the southern market to get people from Dublin and Limerick, for example. But it’s limited what you can do.

Does Brexit present any opportunities for your business?

Nothing that’s obvious to us. The economic impact is going to be so severe that it’s difficult to find the opportunity in it. It’s going to have a massive impact on us if there’s no deal.

When do you expect to be Brexit-ready?

We’re still hoping that this doesn’t go ahead. For us, there’s not a whole pile we can do. When I speak to hoteliers, while they mention that we should collectively try and target other markets, we’ve always said that we should be doing that. While we’ll increase our focus in trying to get more German and French tourists in, I don’t think increases in numbers from those countries will make a significant impact.

What’s your best/worst case scenario?

Our best case scenario is that the whole bloody thing is reversed. Our worst case scenario is that there’s no deal.

Are you stockpiling goods/raw materials?

We were getting quite heavy increases in the price of our meat about two years ago and we did stockpile but because the prices fluctuated so much it was tying up money. At the moment, we’re not stockpiling. We have arranged for a large freezer which can hold a lot of product for our restaurants that would allow us to stockpile if required.

If it is the case that no deal is going to happen, we have a plan to stockpile but that’s only going to temporarily offset our costs.

How might the Irish or British governments or the EU help ease the pain of Brexit for your company or sector?

If a no-deal happened, the Government would have to look at supporting the Border counties in particular. We’re the ones that would be impacted compared to Dublin, Killarney and Kerry. I don’t think they’ll feel the impact as much so there will have to be some form of assistance to companies in Sligo and even possibly some incentive to invest in Sligo because we’ll feel the economic impact.

Looking out five years, how do you think your business or industry will have changed as a result of Brexit?

Our business has come through the recession, which is good, and there is a bit of positivity coming back. Sligo is coming around to itself now: it’s not going at any breathtaking place but, if something like a no-deal happened, I wouldn’t like to see confidence reverse again because it’s been a long road getting back to this positivity.