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Column: Bobby Kerr – We need to promote our Irishness

The Dragon’s Den star explains how his own firms reached the brink of failure, and what that taught him about supporting Irish business.

Bobby Kerr

I NEARLY WENT bust on a  few occasions in my time – but you have to have self belief and, above all, a fear of failure to succeed in business.

I remember those days like they were yesterday, where I didn’t know if I could even pay the wages come Friday and having suppliers at the back door looking for a cheque. I will never forget how that felt. But you should never forget how it felt because it is that feeling that keeps you grounded in business. I have a real fear of failure but that is what drives me.

I like to think of myself as a champion for small businesses, but starting a new business is not easy by any means. However, Irish people understand, now more than ever I think, that it is important to support Irish businesses and buy Irish. There has been research that indicates that Irish customers look for the stamp of something being Irish much more than their European counterparts do for their home-grown brands – it matters more to the Irish people.

“Buying Irish” has become a consumer mantra over recent difficult economic times.  In my business we have noticed our customers are far more aware of the origin of the food and products they are choosing to buy than ever before. But “buying Irish” can’t just be a blanket buy for the sake of it – the quality has to be up there with every other producer and they must be competitively priced. We must trade on quality and unique products – then we can make an impact.

Supporting Irish business is a  good thing.  It is of natural benefit to the economy and it will help the growth of local producing sectors and of course will retain jobs at a time when so many are being lost.

Supporting Irish

I am proud to shout about Insomnia being 100 per cent Irish owned and supporting Irish suppliers, as many as we can as long as the quality is there. It is part of our strategy to source locally where possible. We are in a position that we can platform the local producer and we are currently doing that for over 14 Irish suppliers.

But not all brands are easily identifiable as Irish. There are brands we have grown up with, reflecting the heritage of the brand which the mums, siblings and friends carefully parcel into care packages for the diaspora around the world like Tayto, Galtee and Barry’s Tea. While no less Irish, contemporary brands have less of an emotional link with their consumers who need further persuasion on the credibility of their ‘Irishness’.

People actively wish to support Irish and so as businesses, firms and brands we need to promote our biggest assets – namely Irishness, quality and growth – and in doing so we are helping to grow this economy.

There have been some good outcomes to this recession. It is great to see new farmer’s markets and artisan foods popping up. It is fantastic to see such great Irish products hitting the market, many of which have come about because of the recession and pushing people into new avenues and ideas.

Feeding families

I saw a status on Facebook recently from someone who has their own business which read something like this “when you are buying from us, you are helping me build my business, employ my team, feed my family and clothe my children”.  Perhaps a little dramatic, but in many cases it is reality.

We recently launched a campaign in store where our Insomnia customers will have the opportunity to engage with four Irish suppliers. The Meet our Irish Suppliers campaign is our way to engage with our Insomnia customers to champion Irish produce, while relaxing and being treated to wonderful Irish products by us.

The mood out there may be sombre but Irish businesses are getting on with things and trying their best to keep going. We are opening four new shops this year – the business is growing, not as fast as we used to, but we are in this for the long haul.

Insomnia’s Buying Irish campaign showcases the Irish products for sale in store such as Solaris Tea, Sweet Things, Keogh’s Crisps and Broderick Bars. For more information visit Insomnia Coffee Company or their Facebook page here.

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Bobby Kerr

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