Irish Fairy Door Company goes global

ThinkBusiness talks to Irish Fairy Door Company founder Niamh Barry about what it’s like to have her creation positively impact so many children and to be on the cusp of international fame.

An idea for a present for their children while on holiday grew into a toy company that has helped thousands of kids with anxiety, the founders recently signing a global animation deal to bring their fairy characters to children all over the world.

Barry said that listening to customers was the key to success for the innovative toy company.

“The four of us were sitting around the kitchen table, talking about our fairies, having fun with it and all of a sudden we looked at one other and thought, maybe we could make money from this”

How did you come up with the idea for the Irish Fairy Door Company?

The company was founded in 2013 by myself and my friend Aoife Lawler and our husbands Oisin and Gavin. We were Celtic Tiger cubs. With both families being entrepreneurial, we had our finger in a few different pies. We were living the dream.

The recession was absolutely horrendous. My husband Oisin was in finance so we were struggling for at least five years and were seriously considering emigrating to England. It was really bleak.

Myself and my business partner Aoife had been in New York before the recession. We were in this very random department store and saw these little wooden doors, about two inches high. We brought them home to our kids and came up with the concept that fairies lived behind them.

The four of us were sitting around the kitchen table, talking about our fairies, having fun with it and all of a sudden we looked at one other and thought, maybe we could make money from this.

“Our evolution from fairy doors to the worry range and consequently the deal with DHX was very much inspired by our customers”

How has the company evolved?

We’re where every toy brand wants to be. About a year ago we signed up with an animation house based in Canada – DHX Media, now rebranded as WildBrain. They are one of the biggest players in the world when it comes to animation.

There are three different stages of the animation. The first one is live action videos, that bring the fairy world to life, then short form animation, which exists currently on our YouTube channel and then longer form, which is terrestrial TV or a feature film.

The business has changed fundamentally, in the long-term it’s for the better; go into any toy shop and most of the aisles are dedicated to merchandise from animation, so the market is huge. But in the short-term it has been very challenging. Waiting for the animation to be made has meant the company is on hold. This is the first Christmas we don’t have a new product out, the reason being the company is going to be rebranded with the animation that’s being developed in mind. It will be based on wellness for children. 

Picture of a toy door inside a tree.

Image: Irish Fairy Door Company

How did the fairy doors develop into a wellness brand?

Our worry range was developed through feedback from customers. The fairy friends associated with the doors were helping children. They didn’t necessarily identify what they were feeling as a worry but through communicating with their fairy, parents realised there was something going on.

DHX partnered with us because of the worry range. Anxiety is not a new thing in children but the awareness of it is, particularly in America because of gun crime and the current administration. Adults are worried and it is filtering down to children.

“Anxiety is not a new thing in children but the awareness of it is, particularly in America”

What have some of the challenges of growing the company been?

The partnership with DHX is going incredibly well but we were unaware how long it would take to come to fruition. In the short-term, it’s quite heart-breaking. We make 80pc of our turnover in the last six weeks of the year and not being able to launch a new product for Christmas for our customers, who are very connected with our brand has been really upsetting. We have to wait for the content to be finished. At the end of the day DHX are content kings, they know exactly what they’re doing and we have to follow their lead -great in the long-term but very challenging in the short. We’re about to sign contracts on the long form stage. It’s very exciting and challenging at the same time.

Smiling woman with black hair.

Irish Fairy Door Company founder Niamh Barry

What are you most proud of?

Our evolution from fairy doors to the worry range and consequently the deal with DHX was very much inspired by our customers. We have a huge following on social media of genuinely engaged mammies and daddies. The reason people are still so engaged is because we are inspired by one another. What I’m most proud of is that we’ve created something that has the capacity to stay in a child’s memory forever. Children have fun with their fairies, but they also help them feel better. My passion is being able to make a difference.

“There is a natural stage in every business when you have done everything to bring it to where it needs to be and it’s time to hand it over”

Was it hard to assign roles with four people in the company?

One of the reasons we were successful at the beginning was that we brought four different skill sets to the company. My husband was in finance. Gavin was in sales, Aoife worked in mental health and the HSE for a long time and is a writer. She was very much on the magical, storytelling side of things. I am very social media savvy and brand focused and I love getting in front of a camera. I was a Montessori teacher so kids are my passion. We are all very comfortable in our roles but it didn’t come easily. We could agree something in the office and go home and change our mind. It was very challenging at times.

Picture of a toy kit to help reduce anxiety in children.

Image: Irish Fairy Door Company

What are your plans for the future?

We have all branched into other things while waiting for the animation to be finished. I started my own company – The Content Fairy. I help small and medium sized businesses to tell their brand story without them having to pay big brand agency prices.

One of the reasons we were successful so quickly was down to our messaging. So many businesses get it wrong at the beginning and find it much harder to get up and running because if it. I’m using my experience and expertise to help people at the beginning of their journey. About six months ago, Aoife and her husband Gavin started their own company. They’re still shareholders in an Irish Fairy Door Company but have been able to go on to build other products.

The ultimate goal is to sell the company. All four of us have put our hearts and souls and very beings into it. There is a natural stage in every business when you have done everything to bring it to where it needs to be and it’s time to hand it over, for someone else to take the reins with fresh eyes, new blood and take it to the next level – people with a lot more experience and expertise than we have when it comes to this new world of animation. The Holy Grail is that it’s bought by the animation company and it’s very much shaping up that way.

Interview by Olivia McGill

Published: 13 November, 2019