Industry View: Denis Hurley, Founder & CEO, Lee Valley
Denis Hurley, Founder and CEO of Lee Valley Clothing sees his business as part of his local community - supporting the sports teams, golf club and even the local pipe band. “We are part of the community,” he says.
Established as a cottage industry in the small West Cork village of Inchigeela in 1986, the business currently employs 12 people in the roles of machinists, embroiderers, packing, dispatch, web administration and accounts. The company is currently investing in the B2C side of its business and Hurley has invested in both the online presence of his business as well as in the bricks and mortar. “B2B is an extremely important aspect of our business,” says Hurley who has both a trade and a commercial website. “Development of our business is ongoing and we are currently onboarding with a platform for online retail. Our Shopify site has been a very secure and effective platform and has taken us to where we are but now we need to move onto the next phase. Since the onset of Covid the whole retail scene has changed so much. The retail side of our business is growing, however B2B remains about 75 percent of our business.”
While the company is best known for its soft brushed cotton flannel grandfather shirts, it has also expanded into a range made in cotton and linen and is currently focusing on producing a range made in organic cotton too. The sustainable aspect of the business is something that has become important and the business is currently focusing on introducing more eco-friendly packaging.
“Organic is possible for us to introduce as we are a small company and are more agile," says Hurley. "We are currently examining our own impact on the planet here at Lee Valley. We have spent a lot of time during the pandemic examining how we as a company can come out of it better and stronger than before.”
Luckily the product range helped during this challenging time as many consumers sought out comfortable, easy-to-wear clothing such as loungewear. Lee Valley makes nightshirts, pyjamas and slippers in flannel but has been careful to remain on brand, says Hurley. “There was a time in the mid-noughties when we started doing polo shirts for golfers. My stockists in Germany and the States said to me at the time ‘Denis, we don’t want your golf shirts, we want your flannel shirts,'" he laughs. "So I learnt the hard way at that time to always stay on brand and stay true to my core products.”
The past two years of the pandemic have been challenging says Hurley, but they have also allowed he time to take stock of the business. “All the bills still kept coming and still had to be paid,” says Hurley who has received support from Enterprise Ireland as well as Guaranteed Irish and DCCI in the past. “All of the support the business receives, whether financial or advisory, really helps to support ‘Brand Ireland’. We have a great reputation internationally and it is important to protect that,” he says.
When it comes to Brexit, unlike many other Irish companies, Hurley says that Lee Valley was not overly exposed to the difficulties presented by Brexit as the UK is not a main market for the brand. “We have not been overly exposed to the difficulties presented by Brexit,” says Hurley. “However it has been an inconvenience when it comes to things like importing paper, packaging availability, spare parts, building materials etc. - it is hard to say if these difficulties have been brought about by Brexit or by the international shipping crisis. It has been disruptive but I haven’t been overly exposed in terms of the market as the vast majority of our markets are in Canada, the States and EU countries.”
Lee Valley products are stocked in a variety of retail settings from “mom and pop” stores to large mail order retailers. The business has recently invested to the tune of around €250,000 into its 21,000 square metre facility in Inchigeela - modifying the existing manufacturing facility and adding a hospitality space where both trade and retail customers can be welcomed.
Hurley believes that the pandemic has led people to “learn a bit more about themselves and their surroundings”. He says that people became more loyal to Irish brands and businesses. “We are hoping to keep that sense of loyalty going by making sure that we can welcome people into our showrooms and show them some hospitality and an important aspect of that will be maintaining really good customer service too.”
When it comes to Showcase at the RDS, Hurley says that he and his colleagues have missed the opportunity to meet and do business face-to-face not least becuase of the longterm relationships he has with his clients: "The last two years we’ve missed meeting people from stores and tourist shops across Ireland and abroad - many of whom have become family friends over the years. Everybody wants to get back to seeing each other and I believe that buyers from abroad in particular are very keen to get back to business," he says. "We are back and the RDS is a great facility for brands and buyers to get together - it is a personal show and when you look back on what we’ve missed over the past two years you really realise how important it is.”
Find Lee Valley Clothing at Stand E94