Irish Women in Business: Elaine Clogan of O’Donnell Boutique in Limerick
For the latest in our series of editorials focusing on Irish Women in Business, we're talking to Elaine Clogan of Limerick's O'Donnell Boutique.
O'Donnell Boutique is a family-run store which has been in business and providing top quality fashions for over 70 years.
We spoke to Elaine about bringing the business into the digital age and finding a balance between work and life...
I have always had a huge interest in business. Even as a kid I was always looking for something to sell. We regularly set up shop at the gate! Truthfully, when you grow up in a house of two self-employed parents where work was the centre of every conversation - be it over dinner or on holidays - business and the running of business becomes ingrained in you. Fashion has grown on me. I had an interest like most teens but over the past few years I feel I have really found my niche. Fashion was always a huge part of our lives growing up but it was always grounded and strictly business. It was the business and the drive to succeed that superseded the fact that it was clothes we sold. It was our means of survival and everyone pulled their weight. I studied Media and Communications in college and always had a huge interest in photography which helped me greatly in setting up the online side of the business. I was able to do the fashion shoots in-store myself as well as shooting for our YouTube channel. This made the leap into the digital world easier and more cost effective for us than others.
The business was born in 1946 by Christopher O’ Donnell. He took a leap of faith and it paid off, as O'Donnell’s is now in its third generation and it has seen so many changes. When I joined the business I was determined to make a difference. The business was quite progressive and had a brochure site so I set about devoting more time to this digital area so I could create a marketing tool that would place us on a global stage. This has proven a success story for us and has promoted our name to an extent beyond our dreams.
At the beginning my aim was to take the business from its existing success to the wider audience by marketing ourselves online. I am in the company 10 years next year but really I'm there since the day I was born, and my aim initially was to create an eCommerce site for our existing customer. People thought I was crazy. They believed that the website was allowing my competitors learn more about my business. An online presence opened our doors to a greater audience and we saw instant results. It also meant that it allowed our customer shop when suited them and they were not constricted by our opening times.
I was building on a business that was already hugely successful so yes I believed that the potential was endless and with perseverance and determination thought that our digital story could be as much of a success as our bricks and mortar success. It was only once the online store was up and running and sales began to grow that this side of the business became more demanding. I employed a marketing assistant and focused on making this a very accountable part of our business.
When I started in the business I knew I wanted to make a difference and set ourselves apart from our competitors. I focused firstly on the online store and with that a whole world of digital interaction was opened up to us. Facebook came next and is still an integral part of our business. We set up a YouTube channel and realised that people really enjoyed our styling tips which led us to engage on other platforms including Instagram and Pinterest. Now the digital side of our business is a force to be reckoned with and one we place such huge importance on. We continually push ourselves to be the best at what we do. We recently applied to Eircom’s Digital Boost fund and were awarded money to put into digital training and strategy.
There is no normal working day when you run your own business and that is probably the one element of working for myself that I truly enjoy the most. Organisation and planning are key to my day. My calendar is very full but everything gets done and I have a great team. Delegation is important when working for yourself. We are the financial controllers, the HR managers, the buyers and the sellers. My days can vary so dramatically. From a buying trip in London, Paris or Milan to visual merchandising, window design, photo-shoots and styling, there are never two days the same. Customers are the only reason our business is where it is today so I always try to spend as much time on the shop floor as I possibly can but with so much going on in the background this can be a challenge in itself. I get up very early and have two small children (a three-year-old son and a two-year-old daughter) so my home life has to be running like clockwork for my work life to run smoothly. I try to take one day off with them every week and I would love to say I do no work on this day but the reality is you never fully switch off when your business is open and nowadays, with our online store, we are open 24 hours a day seven days a week. I work a few nights a week after they have gone to bed because while they are young this works best for me. The ability to adapt and change quickly is key to my success. I love what I do, I love being busy and I love the ever-changing dynamics of my career.
The fashion world has had a bumpy road over the past few years and it has been a challenge for everyone but we kept our heads down, focused on what made us excel in our field and this stood to us. It has been a huge challenge to our business to continue to grow all aspects of the business with often limited resources and limited time. The business is in its third generation and every generation faces challenges. We have weathered two deep recessions but the biggest challenge for our boutique business was the arrival of chain stores and the environment they created in society of disposable clothing. The internet has created its own challenge as people shop everywhere and at any time. However, instead of looking at these as stumbling blocks, we embraced every challenge with an open mind and a determination that we were going to beat and become stronger and better by learning from these. We focus strongly on our bigger competitors and how to position ourselves as a threat to them. There is always a weakness and it is important to find that in your competitor but also in yourself to make you grow.
I have been so lucky to have so many highs in my career so far that I could not pick one but every day that someone leaves with a bag and a smile on their face is a high for me because I know we have made their life easier. Shopping does not come naturally to everyone and it thrills us to be able to take that anxiety away from someone and help make their busy lives less stressful. Our customers have started to call it the 'O’Donnell Addiction' and for me this is the highlight and it gives me great hope for the future.
Our business is unique because there are few independent fashion retailers competing with the big players online but it is also the unique experience that our bricks and mortar store gives to its loyal customers that sets us apart from the rest. We are a destination for mothers and their daughters to shop together. The business is run by a mother and daughter team and places huge emphasis on the delightful experience of shopping for that new wardrobe with your mum and her mum. We get grannies, mums and their daughters travelling from all over Ireland to Limerick to O’Donnell Boutique for a day out.
We are expanding and growing our business every day and we have a really exciting new venture in the pipeline for later in the year. We will be bringing something new to Limerick which will be exclusive to us in Ireland but all will be unveiled soon. You will just have to watch this space!
To find out more about O’Donnell Boutique in Limerick, visit the website here, the blog here or the Facebook page here. To suggest other great Irish women to feature in this series, please do get in touch. To find out more about Eircom’s Digital Boost fund click here. Applications for the next round of funding closes on April 30th.