“People are moving away from fast fashion in favour of more quality and sustainability” – CEO Q&A: Marian O’Gorman, Kilkenny Design

Business, CEO Q&A | Wed 28 Aug | Author – Business & Finance
Marian O'Gorman, CEO Kilkenny Design

In our latest CEO Q&A, Marian O’Gorman, CEO of Kilkenny Design speaks to Business & Finance about her ambition to connect customers everywhere to Irish design. 

Q. What are your main priorities and goals in your role?

Our primary reason for being is to champion contemporary Irish craft and design both domestically and around the world. It is our aim to be synonymous with delivering this for our customers.

Right now we are focussed on transforming Kilkenny to meet the retail challenges of the future by investing in our online store, seeking new acquisitions that enhance the group portfolio, and continuing to evolve our customer experience both instore and online through investment in our people.

We strive to consistently deliver a superior service to our valued customers, and continue to find new innovative ways to differentiate Kilkenny from competitors.  

Q. What are your biggest challenges as CEO?

As CEO it is my responsibility to ensure we have an agile and motivated team with the right skills and creativity to face the retail challenges. It’s important we continue to recognise the need in the market and adapt to ensure we are delivering what the customer wants.

We need to keep up with the pace of change in retail, trends, tastes and even technology and e-commerce developments in order to connect contemporary Irish Design & Craft to existing and new customers and markets around the world and remain relevant.

Q. How do you keep your team/staff motivated?

I believe in living the values of open and honest communication, listening to your team and learning from each business experience is so important.

It is vital to recognise, reward and value your people for their efforts in achieving company goals. The team are focussed on our customers having a positive experience and their feedback keeps us motivated.

Q. What are the challenges facing the industry?

In the retail sector, traditional bricks and mortar stores are challenged by online businesses, who can offer increased convenience. For a unique business like ours, particularly in the craft industry our customers value the experience of our products first hand. This is difficult to replicate online.

We also find the sector is suffering from a skills gap now that the country is near to full employment. We find it increasingly difficult to recruit skilled people for our roles as we no longer compete with other retails or restaurants but with larger companies offering competitive packages.

Q. What new trends are emerging in your industry?

Customers are seeking more immersive retail experiences and we ourselves along with other retailers are embracing this trend by introducing more innovation instore.

We can see also that people are moving away from fast fashion and disposable products in favour of more quality and sustainability in their purchases, which of course is advantageous to us due to the nature of our product offering.

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

Yes definitely. We see more people upskilling and moving into specialised fields, leading to longer recruitment processes and wage inflation. In particular we find it increasingly difficult to source appropriately skilled restaurant and retail staff.

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

We needed to adapt in order to survive. In the height of the economic crisis we identified areas for potential growth for the business and maximised every opportunity. Through carefully managing our costs we were able to successfully open and sustain seven new stores during this time.

Q. How will Brexit affect you, or have you started to feel the effects already?

With growing uncertainly in the marketplace we expect a reduction in our UK visitors. We anticipate some logistical impact with our UK suppliers particularly with potential border controls.

However, we are unique in that the majority of our suppliers and products are made in Ireland. But we are keeping a close eye on developments and will be ready as a business to tackle whatever comes.

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

We frequently receive feedback from our customers, both verbal and written, of their positive experience and interactions with our people, products and service. This makes me proud and I see it as a measure of success. It’s a strong indicator that we are getting it right.

I also take great encouragement when one of our Irish Craft suppliers attribute their growth and development to the support they get from Kilkenny. Seeing the business growth and expansion over the last few years has been a strong barometer of success for the group.

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

My father once told me to always treat every customer as you would want to be treated yourself. I, along with my team, have lived by this advice every day of every year.

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

Last November we acquired the Kilkenny Design Centre in Kilkenny, consolidating both our brands after 30 years of separation. This was a career goal of mine for quite some time and I feel a strong sense of achievement with the seamless integration of the brands.

Q. What’s next for your company?

We are investing more in e-commerce through additional resources and new technology to create a more omni-channel experience for our customers, both domestic and abroad.

It is our ambition to connect customers everywhere to Irish design. We are also expanding our food portfolio and opening more outlets over the next 12 months.

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

We need to maintain our relevance with our customers, continuing to grow, evolve and develop as Ireland’s leading home of contemporary Irish design in a sustainable manner.

It is important for our business that we continue to source the next generation of inspiring Irish designers and craft makers and bring to them to market.

Our Scéal campaign, which takes place for the month of September is the building blocks of this and a great way to remind our customers what we stand for.

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

I would certainly like to see a reversal of the Dublin Port decision to significantly reduce the number of cruise liners coming into Dublin from 2021 which will have a major effect on the Irish economy.

I also would love to see a more balanced playing field with on-line purchases from outside the EU being subject to vat at 23pc in the same way as indigenous businesses are levied.

Marian O’Gorman, CEO of Kilkenny Design

Marian O’Gorman, CEO Kilkenny Design