At a special Entrepreneurship Conference hosted by Waterford Institute of Technology, students saw a host of top speakers and one of the best personal experiences came from Wexford chemist and businessman, Sam McAuley.
Mr. McAuley described how he left Ireland in the late Sixties to seek new challenges elsewhere before returning home to found a chemists shops chain that is probably the largest in Ireland.

He noted how he managed to make it to university without a super Leaving Certificate. He qualified and went back home to the family business before getting a little bored with provincial Ireland. He applied to the Canadian and Australian Embassies and, when he got the first reply from the former, he duly flew to Toronto.

He got his first start with a hospital pharmacy where the boss was from Northern Ireland. The Irish connection helped, he admitted. Returning from Canada with a Ukrainian/Canadian wife in tow, he settled into the family business where he decided to embark on new ideas.

He trebled the floor area to 1000 square feet and it was a success as turnover jumped thanks to extra cosmetic and other products. A spa was added upstairs.

He then set up shop in Wexford where he repeated the formula. Self service was introduced. Then it was a chance to bring in other managers as he enlarged the shareholding of the business and continued this formula with exit strategies for shareholders.

He now has become a plc with extra finance and over 20 shops around the south of the country from Wexford to Kerry including Waterford. Having a larger management team means that there are more ideas. He gave the example of ‘hearing aids’, a range of products where he has tied up with other suppliers in the USA to come up with the largest operation in Ireland in this sector. Think outside the box was his advice. Pursue your interests and enjoy what you enjoy.

Today, he is up against big firms like Boots but he feels he is able to compete and change more quickly because of his size and set-up. Now he is executive chairman and ‘look, listen and learn’ is his advice to others in similar roles. advises. Also one should always watch our for key performance indicators in expanding a business.

Turnover has gone from €1m to over €70m in 2008 and he employs over 600 people. There is also an online business called buy4now.

Reward performance, advises Sam, and be careful of over trading. Get the right advice in finance and personnel. Expertise and professionalism is needed in fields where you are not an expert yourself. Try not do everything as you cannot but get the right people.

Make sure you have a good location with your shop, is another piece of advice. He found it a good idea to locate near Dunnes Stores in Wexford which was different to the neighbourhood chemists.

Joanna Gardiner

“Expand and have some scale”, says beauty product business woman, Ms. Joanna Gardiner. She joined a family business, which dated from 1934, after her business degree from Trinity and specialises now in skincare products from a Dundalk base. Again she enjoys what she does and says one should know what you are good at.

Managing people is a key skill and one should always listen to your customers, have self awareness and set up business in several locations. Her company is called Ovelle Pharmaceuticals and she now exports with a turnover of €4m and employs 50 people.

She has made a great success specializing in irritant free skincare products and was finalist in the 2004 Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year awards.