MoMuse is a jewel in Dublin’s retail crown

Jewellery brand MoMuse is celebrating 15 years in business this year. Growing year on year through boom and bust, its founder Margaret O’Rourke shares with ThinkBusiness. some of the secrets to its success.

Can you tell us a bit about MoMuse?

I set up the business on a part-time basis at the beginning, designing and making little bits myself. It started off in a market on Cow’s Lane in Temple Bar, before moving into the Powerscourt Centre, where I have been for 10 years this year.

It started out as part of a market on the top floor of the Powerscourt. Loads of us got together, just at weekends. In 2009, we opened on the ground floor with a collective of people. We were deep in recession, the rent had dropped, we had nothing to lose. Powerscourt were approachable and said we could give it a try. We were quite scared actually. It was a small group of designers. I built the business from there.

“In 2009, we opened on the ground floor with a collective of people. We were deep in recession, the rent had dropped, we had nothing to lose”

I started out with a partner and took it over on my own almost six years ago. The business has gone from strength to strength. It has taken a lot of hard work. When you’re a one-man band doing everything from designing the products to creating the interior, it’s a lot of work. I am very interested in interior design and it was very important to me to create a space people could relax in. 

What challenges did you experience and how did you overcome them?

The most difficult part of my job is the staffing. I have a total of six staff, between part-time and full-time. Trying to keep people is probably the hardest part of the business. I have a whole new team this year. They’re great and I’m very lucky to have them. Finding staff with the same kind of vision as me and people I trust is the biggest challenge.

Building a customer base is challenging. For me, it’s not about the hard sell. I hate when I go into a shop and somebody’s pushing something on me, it drives me mad. I have created a space people can relax in. There’s no pressure to buy, it’s about soft-selling. Building up a good, strong customer service for me is huge – talking to customers not up-selling, which a lot of people do. Bigger shops are target driven but thankfully we are not.

“When you’re a one-man band doing everything from designing the products to creating the interior, it’s a lot of work”

MoMuse a creative space. It’s quite unlike a retail space – it’s relaxed, the lighting is low, people coming in are not intimidated. There’s loads of room to browse. If somebody looks like they want help, we usually go up to them and ask them if they are happy browsing but that’s it.

Inside the MoMuse jewellery store in Dublin.

How did you grow such a loyal customer base?

We’ve a huge customer base, from tourists to people looking for presents for 18th birthdays, bridesmaids and brides come in regularly, men buying gifts for their loved ones. We have built a lovely client base. They love the shop because of the relaxing atmosphere, the moody interior and our soft-sell approach.

We have three parts to the business – online, wholesale and retail. We sell quite a bit online and that’s grown over the years. We sell a lot internationally as well, which was helped when two years ago we were featured as one of five places to shop in Dublin by the New York Times. It was amazing, it put me on the international stage and helped take our customer base to another level.

“Finding staff with the same kind of vision as me and people I trust is the biggest challenge”

As regards the wholesale element – I sell into all the Avoca shops. I also have a couple of other shops around the country. I’ve built those up over the last five years, that’s helped the brand as well. Our customer base has grown through word of mouth, articles in the press and about four years ago I designed a piece for Pieta House. I have relaunched it again this year. In two years, I raised the guts of €40,000 for Pieta House. I’ve always been associated with the word hope and what I did with Pieta House, that all helps as well.

My family was impacted by suicide and I thought I have to do something, I have to give something back. The little pendant was only €65 and in the first month we were sold out. It was an emotional rollercoaster. We had people crying in the shop, telling us their stories of loss. I’ve always believed in business giving back. I think it’s so important.

What advice do you have for setting up or growing a business?

You need to believe in your product. I’ve seen so many businesses come and go in the last 10 years. People think you just open a shop and it happens, it doesn’t. It takes a lot of hard work to be successful. It’s about creating a space that’s a little bit different, try to stand out from the crowd and focus on good customer service.

“I have created a space people can relax in. There’s no pressure to buy, it’s about soft-selling”

There was a lot of doom and gloom around during the recession but I always talked up the shop. Try and err on the positive. I must have done something right, sometimes I can’t believe it. 

What is your unique selling point?

The USP for me was about creating something that’s affordable as well as focusing on soft-selling. I’ve had customers over the years saying to me – you’re not trying to sell to me – and I say there’s no point and they laugh at me. My staff laugh at me too but they’ve learned that’s the way I like it. 

“MoMuse a creative space. It’s quite unlike a retail space – it’s relaxed, the lighting is low, people coming in are not intimidated”

I think that our website is very important, I spend money on it because I think the imagery and the story it brings are so important. The videos on our website tell a story and customers engage with that.

What are your plans for the future?

I’m currently just signing a new lease, with rent going up. I’ve been in the same spot for 10 years. I’ve been here through recession and while the boom is back, things could change again, it’s like a pendulum. I’m really happy where I am in Powerscourt. I’ve a lot of lovely neighbours around me that have similar length leases, we started at the same time. I’m happy growing the business. It’s still growing year on year.

“We were featured as one of five places to shop in Dublin by the New York Times. It was amazing, it put me on the international stage and helped take our customer base to another level”

I always need to think about what’s coming up. We have to come up with new ideas for design and what the customer is looking for. My fine jewellery, as in the gold, has really grown and I do little diamond bands. I have no interest in competing with the big jewellers. There is always a concern about another recession but my price points are really affordable and the quality is good. I stand over my product very confidently.

I believe once you have strong customer service and a good product, nice packaging and good staff, that’s all you need. The level of service in Ireland is deteriorating again. I suppose that comes with the boom, everybody is becoming a little bit more impatient. I’ve seen it get worse year on year. Being in retail can be difficult and customers can be difficult but you have to keep calm and put your customers first. 

Main image: MoMuse founder Margaret O’Rourke. Image: Fergal Phillips

Interview by Olivia McGill

Published: 13 December, 2019