Centenarian purveyor of potions takes a powder

 

Almost 101 years after Hayes, Conyngham & Robinson began selling powders and potions to ailing Dubliners, the company has been swallowed by Boots, a larger and older chemist. As part of the sale the two brothers who owned HCR secured their workers' jobs, as well as £6.5 million each.

The deal, described by the British company yesterday as "a perfect fit", will see Boots' logos on display by March at HCR's 14 chemist's shops in Dublin and Cork. The firm already runs 24 stores in Northern Ireland and seven in the Republic.

Despite Boots's own solid reputation after over 121 years in business, many Dubliners will mourn the loss of a distinctive Irish company with its prominent Grafton Street store.

Hayes, Conyngham & Robinson was founded in April 1897 and adopted the motto: "Straight forward dealing. Everything of the best and at the lowest price at which it can consistently be sold."

Its founders were pillars of Dublin society. Mr William Hayes was a founder of the Irish Pharmaceutical Society and the superintendent of the Harold's Cross Sunday School for 50 years.

Mr Henry Conyngham, one of the first chemists in Europe to understand the importance of coca as a remedy for nervous and physical exhaustion, was renowned in Dublin for speculating on such topics as the origin of man and Egyptology.

Mr Thomas Robinson, a councillor, was the first public representative to welcome Queen Victoria to Ireland and was later knighted. Ironically, he was appointed a director of Boots in 1920.

By the late 1960s the business was still in family hands but doing poorly. Mrs Sybil Shiell, granddaughter of Mr Henry Conyngham, effectively took over.

She closed down or sold unprofitable branches and in 1975 bought all the shares in the company with her two sons, Michael and Christopher.

They turned the operation around. By the 1980s, the brothers owned and ran HCR together as a successful business.

"Of course I'm sad," said Mr Michael Shiell yesterday. "But in the competitive market out there, it is a good deal for us and a good deal for our staff."

The brothers will split the £13 million purchase price evenly, and hold onto four of HCR's properties, leasing them to Boots. "Grafton Street is for the grandchildren," Mr Michael Shiell said.

Boots already runs seven outlets in the Republic and 24 in Northern Ireland. The company said yesterday it would keep on all HCR's staff and would "pursue a constructive relationship" with Irish suppliers.

As well as the 14 extra HCR branches, the British company said it wanted to open at least another nine new stores over the next two years.

Boots purchases HCR chemists in £13 million deal: page 18