Margaret Farrelly began selling free range eggs in the early 1980s to supplement income from her husband Leo’s small farm on the Cavan-Meath border. Clonarn Clover started with 150 free range hens. Today the business has a free range flock of 160,000 hens and produces and packs 48 million eggs a year. She recently launched a new brand, O’Egg, which includes traditional free range eggs plus pasteurised liquid egg products for cooking and baking. The business employs 32 people.
What’s your business’s elevator pitch?
We are the biggest dedicated free range egg producer and packer in the country.
What do you regard as your business’s greatest achievement?
Launching the O’Egg brand and diversifying into pasteurised, liquid egg products, both whole eggs and egg whites.
“O’Egg allowed us to grow a new market and find a use for perfectly good eggs that were just too small for the regular market.”
It also positioned us as a highly innovative business in a very traditional market.
What was the lowest moment?
Everybody remembers Edwina Currie’s sweeping statements about eggs back in the 1980s but in fact we benefited from that, as we have from all other food scares, because, in the consumers’ eyes, less intensive farming is more healthy. Our real lowest moments have tended to be around customers whose credit is running high, leaving us worried about whether we’d get paid.
How have you coped with setbacks?
When it comes to that kind of issue it’s all about good credit management. But whatever setbacks come your way, when you’re in a family business, with fewer people involved in decision making, you can act fast to ensure a situation doesn’t get out of control. I don’t know how large corporations do it, but when you’re in a family business and you’re meeting around the kitchen table at breakfast, dinner and supper, it’s very hard to miss red flags as they are being raised.
What’s your attitude to risk?
You can’t be an innovative business and be risk averse. I also have the gift of not being a worrier. I used to be the world’s biggest worrier but, in 2003, I went on a pilgrimage to Medjugorje and somehow I managed to leave all my worries there.
“I never worry anymore, and I don’t waste time second-guessing myself.”
Who has inspired or motivated you and why?
In life, it is my late mother. Everything she got involved in she did well. Her philosophy was that if you’re going to do something, don’t half do it. In business, I attended a course in the early noughties in St Angela’s, the food college in Sligo, and one of the speakers was Bernard Coyle of food company Mr Crumb. He was a revelation to me because here was this very successful entrepreneur who made products from bread crumbs. He was this ordinary person who was so down to earth that I could relate to him. He was the perfect role model for me. He also said things that day that have stuck with me ever since, such as not to be putting yourself down, there’re plenty of other people who’ll do that for you. And he told us to enter every competition you can, not because you could win all of them, but because they’d give you exposure.
What do you do, if anything, to switch off from the business?
Well ever since that first one I’ve been going on a pilgrimage twice a year. It’s how I recharge my batteries spiritually and physically. I’m also just back from a five-week stay with my daughter in Australia, which was fantastic. A few years ago we couldn’t have even imagined being away from the business for so long, so getting that time was an achievement in itself.
What would you do differently if you were starting your business today?
Without a doubt, I’d put more value on our time. When we were doing our initial costings we never left any value on our work because we reckoned ‘sure, we are farming anyway’. We were also worried we’d be uncompetitive. Looking back I can see how important it is to put a value on your time and that we could have got more out of the business earlier, and still been competitive. Then again, I never felt like I was a ‘busy fool’ because I loved it from day one.
What lessons have you learned in business that others could apply?
If you’re going to do something, do it right, right from the start. Even if what you are doing isn’t producing massive fruits in the early years, if you start off on the right footing in terms of quality, you will keep that up as you grow. The other value of it is that, if you are doing things right, it gives you the confidence to tell people what you are doing, which isn’t always easy if you’re a shy person, as I was starting out. Producing quality and holding high standards, both about product and ethics, gives you confidence.
Finally, if there were one piece of business advice you’d like to give to another business owner, what would that be?
Be yourself. Let the rest of the world do what it does. Don’t be constantly comparing your business to that of others in your industry. Do what you do and do it well. And don’t rely on advisors to run your business for you. If you’re in business for nearly three decades, as we are, it’s okay to think you must be doing something right.