In early 2016 Ronan Murphy and Derek Walshe (Elm Tree, Glounthane) teamed up with financial consultant Rory O’Doherty and Cork firm MC2 Accountants to form the Emporium Company, which has been discreetly buying and renovating bars since the tail end of 2015.
The company currently has commercial interests in four bars in the Cork area; The Castle in Glanmire, The Hunted Hog in Castlemartyr, the newly acquired J.J Coppinger’s in Midleton, and the Tradehouse in Ballincollig.
The company has recruited 125 staff across these four premises and has invested c. €7m in acquisition and refurbishment programmes, to create something modern, fresh and new for Cork. Recruitment for these locations is ongoing, and as with many businesses in the hospitality industry, Ronan believes that one of the challenges they face is attracting staff away from cities to fill these roles. The locations of these bars have had a boom in population over the last few years and both Ronan and Rory identified a gap in the market that The Emporium Group could fill.
Ronan, who spent some time working in New York for a construction firm specialising in the renovation and fit out of bars and restaurants, took his skills and learning and applied them to the Irish hospitality industry.
Each of the bars has its own unique and distinctive charm, mostly in a classic-contemporary style, while at the same time having a common ethos in respect of superior customer service and maintenance of assets. A key factor for the smooth running of the bars simultaneously has been the simplification of communication and management structures. In other words, staff are not spread across locations and each general manager reports directly regarding their specific establishment.
Ronan also cites customer service, high quality products and hygiene as the key critical success factors of the bars. Not only do the bars offer consumers a vast range of speciality craft beers and spirits, but they have mouth-watering menu selections on offer.
Ronan and Rory along with the Emporium team have grown their business quite successfully at a relatively young age, however both have serious experience in the industry. Ronan has over ten years’ experience in hospitality as he operated a number of successful bars in Cork (The Riverstown Inn & Castle, Glanmire) and also worked in New York City for a Construction firm that specialised in the renovation and fit out of bars and restaurants. He is also an expert in creating successful hospitality brands and managing large scale operations.
Rory, who is a chartered accountant, previously spent a number of years working in corporate finance with global companies such as EY, EMC and Protiviti. During his career Rory has worked with listed companies on improving their operational risks and reporting to boards on process improvements. In recent times Rory has provided advisory services in the hospitality sector to a range of Irish SME clients, where he focused on leading large scale assignments, and providing finance solutions and strategic advice. Rory is one of the principals in his boutique advisory practice, ODG Advisory, located in South Mall, Cork City.
The Emporium Company is focused on a growth agenda over the next three years. This agenda entails developing the existing bar brands and capitalising on other potential opportunities by way of management contracts, leases and strategic acquisitions. Both of the duo feel that their strategies have been implemented smoothly this year, bar a few hiccups, due to their meticulously planning but also the speed at which they have expanded “Happened a little faster than expected”.
Rory attributes their success to “Sticking to your plans,” especially when it comes to operations and finance, as well as what Ronan calls “Good communication structures” within the business.
Speaking in relation to the success of the company to date, Director Ronan Murphy commented: “Rory and I are delighted with the direction the company has taken in its first year of business. It has been great to see these closed or under developing bars receive the much-needed revamp they required and see our visions for each premises come to life.
“The real success metric for us has been the amazing feedback from pub goers, expressing their love for their new favourite locals. This can be seen by the large number of repeat and regular customers the bars have gained.”
Where possible the group uses local suppliers, both for their refurbishment programmes but also day to day service requirements. Food is sourced from local butchers, growers and fishmongers, for example, Ballycotton Seafood, Clifford’s in Castlemartyr and Ó Crualaoí Butchers and Delicatessen, Ballincollig. This group therefore not only drives the local economy via those directly employed in their bars, but also through local suppliers.
When asked about what the future holds for the company, Rory stated that “We are now looking to expand our portfolio further, both in Cork and beyond. A key focus for us in the coming months is to push the management side of our business in which we offer asset owners a full suite of management services to include bar fit out and design, day to day operational management, staffing, stock maintenance and financial expertise.”