60 Seconds With

“I am as excited about our twentieth store as I was with my first,” — 60 seconds with Colm Carroll of Carrolls Irish Gifts

By Business & Finance
30 November 2022

Colm Carroll is the Chairman and Founder of Carrolls Irish Gifts. His path to success in business has been a fascinating one with its foundation rooted in Irish culture.

What was your first job?

I was born and lived in Walkinstown until I was about 12 years of age. I always had an evening or weekend job including collecting old newspapers door to door with a bockety pram and delivering them to a local paper factory who would pay you 6 old pence per load. 

I also delivered meat on a butcher’s push-bike until I was sacked after abandoning the bike and a full load of meat on being attacked by a bunch of neighbourhood dogs who obviously smelled all the meat on board. They had a feast, but I lost my job. 

My first real job after leaving school following my Leaving Cert was as a civil servant in the Land Commission in Merrion Square where I worked for about 4–5 years. My weekly wage was £14.50 per week. 

During this period I also started my first foray into retailing by opening weekend stalls in both the Dandelion and Meath St markets where I gained invaluable experience.

What pushed you to pursue a career in this field?

There were six children in the family, five boys and one girl. We were all enrolled in the Municipal College of Music in Chatham Street to learn classical music when I was about 7 years old. We attended there for about 7 years. We also joined the local “Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann” music Association where we learned to play Irish Traditional music and songs. We also attended Irish dancing classes. Now walking through Walkinstown carrying violin cases and sometimes wearing kilts got us a lot of slagging and jibes but with 5 boys together we could deal with these issues fairly quickly.

The Music became a huge part of our lives when from about 12 years of age the five brothers started to play professionally at various cabaret and concert venues around Ireland. We appeared on many TV shows including “Opportunity Knocks” with Hughie Green, The Val Doonican Show and many appearances on the “Late Late Show” with Gay Byrne. 

While still in School we joined “Jury’s Irish Cabaret” which featured Irish singers, comedians and musicians playing mainly for tourists. The show was on 7 nights per week for 7 months of the year and we played in that for about 12 years. 

With the music we toured all over Europe and America where we performed in many venues including Carnegie Hall and the Boston Symphony Hall, which not only gave us all money to buy our first houses but also showed me a different side of life and the benefits and lifestyles that could be had if you made money. It also sowed the first seeds of the importance of tourism to the Irish economy and possibly the potential of starting off an Irish Giftware retail Company.

What would you regard as your greatest achievement to date?

It really has been an accumulation of building block achievements since opening my first store in Dundrum in 1982 that has enabled me to celebrate 40 years in business this year with 19 retail stores throughout Ireland and creating a property portfolio which contains commercial, residential and accommodation.

Career wise, would you do anything differently?

I believe I have been very lucky in landing a career that I had an aptitude for. I love both the retail and property businesses with the retail providing cash flow and liquidity and the property providing the security of long term income.

In one sentence, how would you define success?

For me success has been achieved by 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration. Money is hugely important but success is ultimately getting the right balance between business and family life and being happy in both.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

It is important in business to surround yourself with good people, especially your work colleagues but also your professional service providers like solicitors and accountants.

You must enjoy what you do or you will not survive the highs and lows of a business career.

How do you motivate yourself and your staff?     

I really enjoy my work and have always been highly motivated and try to lead by example in both work ethic and ethos. It is vital to be always open to change and innovation. There are always challenges but it is how we deal with these that will define the business. 

Carroll’s has survived the economic downturns of the 80’s and 90’s, the tragic 9/11 bombings, the Sars epidemic 2002–2004, the world recession of 2008–2014, the COVID pandemic of 2020–2022 and now we face the war in Ukraine.

How do you handle adversity?

Particularly in the early years there were many sleepless nights but now thankfully with 40 years’ experience I don’t generally dwell on adversity. Carroll’s has an extremely competent and experienced Board of Directors and senior team who meet and debate all major issues before taking action.

How do you relax?

I have started taking more holidays with my wonderful and supportive wife Annette and spending more quality time with my five children (four of whom work in the business) and extended family. I enjoy all water sports, snow skiing, hill walking and playing golf. Badly.  

What are your aspirations for the future of the business?

I am retaining my position as the founding Chairman of Carroll’s Irish Gifts. We are still in expansion mode and are moving into our new 40,000 sq ft warehouse in late November 2022 and have more retail stores opening shortly. 

I have great pride in watching the team we have built taking on the challenge of driving the business for the next 40 years. I am here to mentor and support the board when needed. But I still love the business and enjoy walking the stores and speaking to my colleagues. 

I am as excited about opening our twentieth store in early 2023 as I was with my first in 1982.


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