Trading Stories: The Barry Group races ahead

Trading Stories: The Barry Group races ahead
Jim Barry, Managing Director of The Barry Group. Pic by Conor McCabe

How did the business start and how has it evolved over the years?

It was founded in 55 by my dad, James.

He started off selling fruit and veg in North Cork. He started off in a small way in Banteer. He went into the local area, Kanturk, Ballydesmond, Boherbue, extending to Mallow.

Over the years it's extended, but in the early days, it was all van sales.

He moved to Mallow in the mid-60s. Mallows was a central location, and that enabled more expansion.

I joined the business when I was 18, straight out of school.

Something I got from my dad was that he had a very credible, hard-working reputation. That's something that stood to us and gave us a foundation.

We built on that over the years. We saw opportunity and we took it.

We had very good people o out team over the years - some we still have and some who have moved on.

We have always worked hard. We're good at reading the market. We're good at strategy. We keep close to our customers.

Now we do about a quarter of a billion in turnover in a year. We have 1,000 customers. We employ 240 people. We export.

We have a number of elements to our business.

At the core of our business, we have three franchises. One called Costcutter, a grocery store franchise. We have Carry Out, an off-license franchise, and we have Quik Pick, another grocery franchise.

That gives us about 270/280 franchise customers. We're guaranteed an order off them each week, so that gives you a good core business and you can always plan your supply chain.

But we also supply the catering and pub trade.

We also supply independent retailers throughout the country.

We have relationships with other large businesses like Woodies, Penneys, Applegreen, and Dairygold, to name a few, where we would have contractual arrangements to supply a lot of product.

We also supply smaller wholesalers.

How does your business compare to others in the market?

We're at a scale where we can by big volume at a good price. But we're small enough to be nimble and close to our customers.

As a medium size company, we have a lot more flexibility.

We're in a crowded pool. We see ourselves as a medium size wholesaler.

I'm not sure I want to be three or four times our size. It's a comfortable size and it's working well for us.

We have competitors who are very large and competitors who are very small. , and we feel our medium size is a good place to be.

Our team is very strong. They're very hardworking. We're very trusting and really focus on teamwork. That's fine at our size, but if you employ 1,000 people or more it's very hard to have that. We have our own truck drivers, they know our customers, so they're another touchpoint. In a large company, staff are a just a number, customers are only a number.

We get more feedback, more contact, more buy-in.

Do you still see yourself as a family business?

It's very much a family business.

We try to play to our strengths. We try to find a balance between the family business ethos and a corporate structure.

We try to balance that, we have for a long time, and I think we've done it quite successfully.

My wife, Niamh, works on the innovation side of our Costcutter group. There's a huge move in hot food and deli and coffee. She's involved in the innovation side of that, the imagery...etc, which is very important.

My daughter Holly, who is currently doing a PhD in experiential marketing in CIT, is acting as our brand strategist. She has brought a really fresh way of thinking from a marketing perspective.

My other kids would help out whenever they are around.

My dad, who's actually 89, still pops in every day for a cup of coffee.

What challenges are in the market at the moment

The retail market is tough. It's a low margin business. But it's been tough for years.

What you have to do is identify what's ahead and mitigate against it. We've diversified.

Before we were just a small wholesaler, but we've broadened an awful lot.

We've got a very good chairman, Denis Kennedy. With the combination of Denis and myself, we have a good strategy in place. We have got it right over the years, and we've been able to identify areas of growth and be ahead of areas of contraction.

We're about to get into the catering business, so we're always diversifying.

Brexit is a potential big challenge to the business. But there's no point stressing over it until we know what they're doing.

Our concern is would there be a shortage of stock in the first few weeks, but our suppliers, in general, have built up stock.

If tariffs come in, that will be the same for everybody, from a competitive perspective.

What will happen if there is a no-deal Brexit is that it will impact on the cost of living, generally. You'll have a lot more cost in logistics plus tariffs.

That would be outside our control and we'd have to go with it.

We are looking for new opportunities, and there may be sources that don't work today but would work after Brexit.

You can find opportunities when you look for them.

Over the years we've been good at, when there is an issue in the market or a market drying up, we tend to be successful at moving on and finding something else to do.

I'd be confident we'd be able to meet any challenge that comes before us.

Tell us about the Race and Taste Festival at the Mallow Racecourse your sponsoring.

Race and Taste is a new event put together by the racecourse in Mallow, and what they are trying to do is build it into a really big event in the coming years.

Taking place on Friday 10 and Saturday 11 of May, it will have a food village with local food producers and chefs like Rory O'Connell and Lilly Higgins. There will be the official opening of a new seven-furlong flat track, The Frank and Walters will be playing, and there will be a glamourous Ladies' Day.

There's really good enthusiasm from the management in the racecourse at the moment. We really like their plans, and they need support from local businesses. If we can support this to become a really big event, it's good for the racecourse, but it's also good for the local area.

Giving back is always important, and we try and give to good local initiatives.

We think this could become a really big event as time goes on.

It will showcase some of our brands. We think it's the right thing to do for our business. It will work for us as well.

It will also showcase a lot of local businesses producing food, which fits into our core dynamic.

It's something we're excited about supporting.

It's part of our family business ethos. It's part of being local.

It's right to support that local dynamism. Mallow is a good town, but more could be going on.

This is an event that will hopefully grow, but it's also a show of support for the management team so they'll hopefully do more too.

The racecourse in Mallow is an absolutely fantastic facility.

I do think the current management are going to get a lot more going on there.

I predict that in 12-18 months time, this will become a very busy events centre.

What's in the future for the Barry Group?

We're in business over 60 years. The plan is to keep driving on the business.

While the grocery business is difficult, we are seeing a lot of opportunity in the convenience business. That would be one of our key areas of focus.

We've developed new imagery in our Costcutter brand in the last 12 months, so we believe we have an offering that is probably the best in the market in the convenience sector at this point in time.

We're attracting a number of new shops, so we see good positivity in that.

Our Carry Out brand, we are very excited about that. We expect minimum pricing to come in the next 12 to 18 months. If that were to happen, that will really make that a very strong offering.

We have a number of new people joining that brand in the next few weeks too.

We are very confident in our own trading ability. We're commercially strong, so we see a very positive future for us.

More in this section

Sponsored Content