60 Seconds With

“People see through false individuals very quickly” – 60 Seconds With Dave Whelan from Barnhill Stores

By Business & Finance
14 December 2021
Dave Whelan 1

Pictured: Dave Whelan, Owner of Barnhill Stores, Dalkey

Dave Whelan has been in retail all his life. He built up a business to a turnover of €35m, employing 300 people for eight Centras between Dalkey, Co. Dublin and Tinahely, Co. Wicklow.  At the age of 49, he sold them to Musgraves and decided he wanted to do something very special at Barnhill Stores. He has invested €2m this year because during the pandemic, people were keen to purchase good quality food products. As a result, Barnhill Stores has become the one-stop shop for wonderful foods featuring many Irish artisan producers. 

What was your first job? 

Working with a neighbour in 1973 who had a fruit and vegetable shop. Each morning over the school holidays, we would get up and jump into a baby blue Volkswagen combi van at 5:30am to go to Smithfield fruit and vegetable market to stock his shop.

What pushed you to pursue a career in this field?

Feargal Quinn coined the phrase “retail is detail” and that’s what I love about retail – the detail and work that goes into a good store is incredible. I get immense satisfaction from creating the ultimate retail experience and listening to customer feedback to constantly improve. 

What would you regard as your greatest achievement to date?

Getting married to my wonderful wife, raising three beautiful girls, and watching them bloom.

Career wise, would you do anything differently?

I would probably have spent time with a corporate retailer; my training was with independent retailers and with that came the good ones and the bad ones. But I feel I would have always gained some better structures and disciplines from a corporate such as Dunnes Stores or indeed Superquinn in its day.

 In one sentence, how would you define success?

Achieving your dream, always dream big!

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

Turnover is vanity, profit is sanity.

How do you motivate yourself and your staff?

By working with them and allowing them to make mistakes. Giving them the opportunity to learn and by simply praising them and genuinely appreciating them. People see through false individuals very quickly.

How do you handle adversity? 

I “eat the frog for breakfast”, tackling issues head-on and not allowing things to fester. I listen to all sides and I have learned that you can almost sort out any issue without conflict if you listen. Sometimes that may involve me having to turn the finger on myself and admit that I’m wrong and change my processes!

How do you relax?

I like nothing more than popping into John Hoade in our off-licence on a Friday evening, letting him pick a bottle of wine that he knows I’m going to enjoy, going home, sitting down with Karen and having a date night! It doesn’t get any more relaxed than that, but of course I like getting out and having a few pints with my buddies!

What are your aspirations for the future of the business?

We are now actively seeking new sites to expand the brand in South County Dublin. We plan to bring our brand to at least five new locations over the next four years. We have perfected the financial model, we still have some work to do on our product range but that can be an ongoing challenge which we relish and keeps us fired up!