Against all odds, while the country continued to navigate the Covid-19 pandemic, a mother and daughter in Cobh decided to start their own home interiors online shop.
Rosie and Debbie Ford launched Citrus and Sage Interiors at a time when people were spending more time in their homes than ever before and online shopping was at an all time high.
Debbie worked in retail and visual merchandising for more than 15 years and home interiors has always been a passion of hers.
“I had always dreamed of opening a bricks and mortar shop, but the time was never right. Rosie is now 20 and her brothers are 16 and 13 and we just decided to go for it,” said Debbie.
They started the business, at citrussageinteriors.com last November, having originally planned it in January, but then Covid hit and everything was paused.
“I did a business courses with the Local Enterprise Offices to use my time wisely.
“We just threw all of our savings at it — it was a bit of a mad thing really, but we never do anything normal,” Debbie laughed.
They wanted a business that was genuine, homely and rustic with a shabby chic vibe.
Working from a purpose- built log cabin in their back garden, they are putting a personal touch into every aspect of the business, right down to the gorgeous packaging.
“I wanted every delivery to be like opening up a treasure. We are also really into sustainability, so we re-use our boxes and wrap products in brown paper with twine and a little wooden heart and I personally handwrite a note to thank customers for their purchase,” Debbie said.
She added that it is a lot of work, but she firmly believes that you get back what you give.
She stressed that usually people only need a few key pieces to transform their home.
Rosie takes care of all of the stunning photos on their website and Instagram and manages their social media.
“I had been watching what people were doing to succeed online and where they were going wrong, and even though we had planned to launch earlier, it was good timing in the end because everyone was at home,” she said.
They gained 1,000 followers on Instagram before even having a single item for sale and it just grew from there.
“Everyone is at home and so fed up and people started getting more interested in their homes and they were excited about it,” Rosie explained.
“We put so much passion and energy into what we do. It was a leap of faith, but sometimes the best businesses are built in the face of adversity,” said Debbie.
On a bleak day last March, the doors of the popular Love Cherish boutique in Charleville closed and no-one knew for how long, but it didn’t keep owner Maeve Dennehy down.
The boutique first opened in 2012 and they started trading online in 2018 and built it up gradually from the shop floor.
“When the pandemic hit, I thought we were gone, I filled in temporary lay-off forms for my staff and I didn’t know what to do.
“I literally brought half of the shop home with me and started ‘Lockdown Dressup’ on social media,” Maeve said.
She started to think about people working from home or home schooling and ordered in casual, comfortable clothes.
“It was getting difficult to get stock from northern Italy because of the virus, but luckily I had good relationships with my suppliers.
“I was home with the kids and getting stock delivered to my house, juggling all of that, while myself and Sonia packed orders.”
When the online sales surged, Maeve rented a small unit a few doors down from the shop, but soon realised this would not do. In September, she took on more staff and got a dedicated warehouse for the online sales.
“The sales doubled and that was without the shop,” she said.
“There was definitely a moment when I thought ‘who do I think I am?’”
The staff started to try on clothes, they were showing clothes every day online and the feedback from customers was that they really enjoyed the honest chats, the clothes and the lighter content to keep them going on the hard days.
“There were 13 of us in the business in December and now there are just four, but it’s still going really well.
“We only got to reopen for a month, but I am keeping the store. I do think this pandemic will lead towards a resurgence for the bricks and mortar shops — for occasions, people still want to go and see the clothes,” Maeve said.
Love Cherish sales are now up 82% year on year from when the shop closed.
“Online sales are going great, but I don’t want to grow them massively, I have a good work life balance now. I don’t want to open multiple stores, I’m happy with the business I have. I miss the shop, but the success of the online sales is down to trust too — people trust us, they know us,” Maeve said.
People are spending more and more time online, at home and the pandemic has helped some to realise that they are not in the right career — Louise Bunyan of Smart Fox Digital in Clonakilty capitalised on all of this and launched her LinkedIn online school.
When she was suddenly made redundant in 2016 and then interviewed unsuccessfully for jobs for five months, Louise started to think outside the box.
She started up her own business the following year having seen a gap in the market for digital marketing, recruitment and employer branding.
Before Covid hit, she would have done training for LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram in house for businesses and she was helping people to work on their LinkedIn profiles.
“During the pandemic, user rates for LinkedIn went up by 27% — it’s used by over 96% of recruiters and over 54% of successful candidates are found through the platform,” said Louise.
“Before, I was driving all around the country, I was on site and I was there for the day. I also spoke at conferences, to college students and jobseekers,” she added.
When the first lockdown hit, plans were put on hold, then they were pushed out and finally cancelled.
“I had begun to dip my toe in the online training space and a lot of executive and career coaches got in touch because their face to face networking had stopped.”
The online school was a big undertaking and Louise developed and professionally produced video content for four courses for sales people and four courses for jobseekers.
“A lot of it is confidence. By helping someone to use LinkedIn or update their profile, you are empowering them and taking away the fear. People are very afraid of doing something wrong, looking foolish or pressing the wrong button,” Louise explained.
She added that for Irish people and women, we struggle with singing our praises, but that is precisely what LinkedIn is for.
“If you’re not going to shout about your successes from the rooftop, no one else will.”
When you hear the word reflexology, you think hands on, physical work and one might wonder how this could possibly transfer into the world of social distancing, no treatments and online business.
Catherine Clooney had work lined up in Ireland, Wales, England, the Middle East and New York before Covid hit and it all came crashing to a halt.
She was training foot reflexologists in face reflexology, an area she has specialised in for more than ten years, as well as giving treatments to clients.
"Everything for me was face to face and suddenly there were no treatments and no training, but I knew I wanted to carry on," she told WOW.
The Network Ireland West Cork member, based in Baltimore, saw a unique and unexpected opportunity in the pandemic to work with people from all over the world.
Catherine continued to give treatments in the form of online wellness consultations.
"When people have a treatment, there is a lot of talking and people want you to listen, so that is still going on and I can give people techniques for little things they can do to their own faces to help with different things.
"Talking to people is especially important now - to have that connection to someone who can be empathetic and listen - people just want to be listened to," she explained.
"I give people little rituals to build into their routine. It's about handing them back control of their own health."
She has also started training practitioners in GuaShua - which aids lymphatic drainage and hopes to expand this to provide training to the general public in the future.
While her business has changed drastically over the past year, Catherine has adapted well.
"It's a different way of working, I thought I wouldn't be able to do it, but now I think that when the world gets back to normal, I'll still offer training online.
"It's about caring and nurturing people, so the course doesn't finish with the last part, it lives on through emails, WhatsApp groups and Facebook connections.
"I think we have all learned that the most important thing is to care for each other," Catherine told WOW.
In part two of our series in WoW! we chat to other Cork business women working in the fields of interior design, HR, auctioneering and crafting/ sculpture.