Co Clare-based Máire McKeogh is owner of ‘Sealed with Irish Love’ a homeware and gift products website for people looking for a flavour of Ireland in their homes.
Máire traces her passion for all things Irish back to growing up in the West of Ireland where every inch of surroundings within a six mile radius was explored.
Tell us About Your Business
While working abroad for a number of years, I realised that something as basic as receiving a card from Ireland or an Irish gift can pull at your heartstrings and make you feel very much at home.
Upon my return to County Clare in 2013, this nostalgia for my Irish surroundings combined with a background in interior design inspired me to design and create a range of homeware and gifts called ‘Sealed with Irish Love’. The products such as mugs, tea towels, coasters, notebooks and cards are mainly printed in Ireland. With a mixture of hand-drawn traditional Irish imagery combined with contemporary bold, geometric patterns; the designs provoke a reminder of Ireland past and present.
The products are sold online (www.sealedwithirishlove.com) and can be seen in approximately 30 Irish shops such as The National Gallery of Ireland, House of Ireland and the Cliffs of Moher gift shop. This year, Sealed with Irish Love also took part in the Taste of Dublin Festival and are currently taking part in the Dublin Christmas Market on St. Stephen’s Green.
Why are you located in the West of Ireland?
I grew up in the West of Ireland and my inspiration for the designs comes from that time. The Irish designs such as the windswept hawthorn tree; old Irish bicycle; village water pump and bird feathers can be seen on the product range. The designs provoke a certain nostalgia and fond memories of time spent with friends and family which I think many people can associate with. I love living in the West of Ireland and particularly Clare as it is such a scenic and traditional county. My friends and family also live around this area.
When did you start your business and what inspired you to do this?
I started working on my business in January 2013 and launched it in November 2013.
While living and working as a town planning consultant in London, I became aware that a range of eclectic and distinctive designs and brands of homeware products were on sale both in shops and on-line. It was during this time that I tried to source an Irish gift for an Australian friend who was returning back to Australia. I wanted to give her a gift which had a modern, quirky feel and which would remind her of the Irish traditions which we had encountered during two weekend trips we had made to Ireland. However, many of the products at the time were novelty products which depicted Ireland in a stereotypical and old fashioned way. I wanted to create an up-to-date take on these products.
What were your start-up costs? How did you get the money, and what did you use it for?
I received a feasibility grant from the Clare Local Enterprise Office which was very helpful during the market research stage of my business. I worked on the feasibility study for almost twelve months before launching the business. This involved product design and development and undertaking primary and secondary market research. As part of the primary market research, I spoke to many retailers and people in my target market and also tested the products directly at a market in Galway.
The business was also funded by personal savings and family loans. More recently, I have received a stocking loan from Bank of Ireland.
Where is your market? How have you targeted international markets?
There are three main target markets for the brand. They are Irish people buying the products for themselves or as gifts for others; visitors to Ireland who purchase souvenirs and also the Irish diaspora. There is also a huge opportunity to sell to the Irish diaspora in the US market which I am currently working on.
How long did it take you to get everything your business off the ground?
It took approximately 12 months from my initial idea to launch of the business.
How did you learn and acquire the skills you use to make your business successful? How do you continue to grow and learn?
My first degree was in Corporate Law which gave me a good grounding in business. However, the most valuable experience I gained was while working as a town planning consultant in London where I project managed the submission of large planning applications. I had to deal with numerous stakeholders under time and budget constraints.
Following this, I have taken part in numerous courses, many of which were provided by the Clare Local Enterprise Office. These included a Start Your Own Business Course, Web Marketing Bootcamp, PR workshop, Marketing Development Programme as well as a Profession Web Design Course. I am currently improving my graphic design and photography skills but I am constantly upskilling.
How do you promote your business?
As with most small business’s now, social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram are a great way of promoting my business to my target audience.
I use a professional photographer to take photos of my products and put a lot of work in to the styling of these images and website. As a result, my business has been featured in a number of Irish newspaper and magazine publications. I consider that the best form of increasing brand awareness for my business is to combine an on-line and in-store presence. I recently attended the Autumn Home and Gift Fair tradeshow which was useful for meeting buyers and gaining new stockists. I will also be attending Showcase which is the national trade show for craft workers.
If you had it to do over again, what, if anything, would you do differently?
Sealed with Irish Love is a relatively new business and I am constantly learning and working on ways of improving and growing my business. Mainly, I would have sought more advice on how much it would cost to set up the business as it did end up costing more than I had anticipated.
What do you love most about being your own boss? What are the drawbacks?
Fusing creativity with business is one of the most challenging aspects of my work. While I love the design aspect, this work will have been in vain if the financials and marketing or sales strategy is not coordinated. Finding the right balance as your own boss is essential. Initially, I spent a lot of time on my own in front of my laptop which I was not used to coming from a busy office environment. I found this difficult to start with but I am now interacting with people on a much more regular basis.
What should happen in the West of Ireland to encourage further entrepreneurship?
The following would be welcomed – the roll out of broadband to the Western seaboard; maximise the potential of the Wild Atlantic Way as an initiative to grow and develop tourism related businesses in the region; low interest finance for small businesses and group marketing initiatives particularly focusing on overseas trade shows such as Birmingham, London and New York.
What advice would you give to anybody thinking about a life in the West of Ireland
I like the pace of life in the West of Ireland and the bigger cities feel like no distance if I need to get away for a weekend or visit stockists. I feel that I can have a better standard of living without the costs of living or buying a house in other cities such as Dublin.
More at sealedwithirishlove.com