“Disruption and change bring challenges and opportunities, the challenge is to see the opportunity in time” – CEO Q&A with Daniel Plewman, HappyThreads

By Business & Finance
09 June 2021
Pictured: Daniel Plewman, CEO of HappyThreads

Happythreads was set up in 2009 by Daniel, former construction engineer, and his wife, paediatric dentist, Abigail Plewman. The company has grown from a bedroom in Dublin to the market leader in Ireland, with a warehouse in Ballymount and branch in Enniskillen employing a staff of 20 in total. Exports account for over 55% of sales, and the company’s main markets outside of Ireland are the UK and France. Daniel has spoken candidly about his experiences (struggles) post-Brexit.

What are your main priorities and goals in your role?

My main priority is making Happythreads a place where our team is happy to come into work and indeed a place where I continue to enjoy being! I’ve learned over the years that a happy team overachieves – if the team is satisfied and respected, business will take care of itself. Our goal is to come out of the other side of this pandemic unified, stronger, and with an expanded customer base.

We are still working on a post-Brexit roadmap – another huge challenge this year. This is going to require significant investment and nimble footwork, but once we have the nuts and bolts of the transition I aim to grow our presence in the UK market to 10% by the end of 2022.

What are your biggest challenges as CEO?

As the company has grown I’ve found it difficult to juggle all the balls that are thrown at me while still keeping focused. Looking after the day to day while finding energy to put into new markets. I love working with people and have been happiest when working closely with the team. Together with COVID restrictions and the increased demand for our product I’ve been forced to work remotely from the business a lot more.  It has been hugely difficult to keep up good communication and keep in touch with our staff without regular person-person lunches and meetings that before were a huge priority.

2020 with COVID has been an extremely challenging year – yes, we were lucky that our product was in demand but this came with huge difficulties also. Trying to keep up with customer demand while operating safely and also looking after our staff was the hardest year I have had in business.

How do you keep your team/ staff motivated?

We promote a culture of participation, decisions are made where they will have most effect, team members are involved in setting their own targets and have an input into how these can be achieved. During COVID I noticed staff were really struggling – everyone has had their own battles and everyone experienced a different pandemic. We introduced a wellness budget to encourage staff to seek help with their mental health such as counselling, reflexology or anything that made them feel better! We have done some online mindfulness and pottery sessions as a team which everyone loved (or so they said). Either way, whether pottery and mindfulness is your thing – the act of giving it a go and doing something together is fun & rewarding.

We have taken on a new team member, Oisin, who has a special interest in team motivation, so I am sure once restrictions are lifted we are all in for some enlightening experiences!

What are the challenges facing the industry going forward?

Disruption and change bring challenges and opportunities, the challenge is to see the opportunity in time.

What new trends are emerging in your industry?

There is a focus on microfibre or athleisure wear, medical scrubs are designed like sportswear using stretchy moisture wicking microfibres. There are some movements towards a more environmentally sustainable garment, we have a range made out of recycled plastic and Happythreads are making laundry bags from old scrubs.

Are there any major changes you would like to see in your sector?

I would love to see an increase in environmental awareness, here is a lot of packaging required in healthcare for hygienic reasons, I would love to be involved in reducing the waste while not compromising hygienic standards.

As an employer are you finding any skill gaps in the market?

At present we have a great team and I am really proud of how they have adapted over the past year, we may need some cover for the holidays they will be taking when things open up!

How did your strategy develop in the context of the banking crisis and economic crisis?

I set up this business in 2009, I was an unemployed Engineer. Money was very tight for the first few years and this was a great discipline.

How has Brexit affected you?

Over 50% of our business is export, mostly to the UK. We had prepared for Brexit and had sign-off from our carriers that we were Brexit ready. I opened a bottle of Champagne on 23 December and toasted Boris when the deal was announced. Unfortunately our carriers were not Brexit-ready and neither were we, it has been a crazy few months, the motto has been, ‘get the orders to the customers at all costs.’ We had spent years building up the UK market and failure was not an option. We did get all our orders delivered, we have stabilised delivery routes and the UK part of the business is growing again<

How has the COVID-19 crisis affected your business/sector?

Initially the supply of scrubs dried up, we had been sourcing from the Far East, our stocks sold out quickly and we couldn’t get more as the factories were on lockdown. We worked with a manufacturer in Portugal and produced our own brand of scrubs, it was a very quick design and sign off. The middle two quarters last year were a crazy time.

How do you define success and what drives you to succeed?

For me success is having the freedom to decide how you want to spend your time and money, I spent the early years working 7 days per week, 18 hours per day for little or no money. Having the ability to spend time with my wife, my kids and my parents keeps me focused.

What’s the best advice you’ve been given, or would give, in business?

If you treat employees as lazy and stupid that’s what you will get, treat them as stakeholders and they will bring the whole creative brilliant self to work.

What have been your highlights in business over the past year?

Surviving the lockdowns, keeping focused on the mental health of staff.

What’s next for your company?

I would like to expand on the participation of the team in all aspects of the business.

Where do you want your business/brand to be this time next year?

We would like to be an established player in the French market