John O’Beirne: An Irish success story with a growing retail business
JOHN O’BEIRNE holding one of The Mad Hatter’s beautiful Pashmina scarves.
EXTERIOR of main warehouse distribution centre and office headquarters for The Mad Hatter’s in Surrey.
JOHN AND OLGA O’Beirne in their office/warehouse at The Mad Hatter’s in Surrey, B.C.
THE MAD HATTER’S Superstore located in Scottsdale Center, Delta, B.C.
By CATHOLINE BUTLER
It’s always refreshing to hear successful immigrant stories and Irish-born John O’Beirne and his Russian-born wife Olga are truly an inspiration.
The couple own a thriving chain of The Mad Hatter’s Superstore retail shops in Surrey, Delta, Edmonton, Calgary and a soon to be opened location in Saskatchewan with more in the planning stages.
With headquarters in Surrey, B.C., owner John O’Beirne recently took me on a tour of the large warehouse facility and offices and I was absolutely blown away by the scale of his operation.
He said, “Actually, we run three retail concepts: One is The Mad Hatter’s Superstores; the other is Fascino Travel and Leisure, which is our luggage department catering to people who want lightweight luggage.
“The third concept is called a ‘Pop Up Shop,” which is a temporary store that would be opened say from September to the end of January. It’s really a seasonal store that you might often see in malls for the Christmas season.
O’Beirne explained, “Mad Hatter’s is really just a name. What it really does is bring ladies, men’s, household accessories, and fashion items to the customer at value prices.
“We have our own label and we design our own goods offshore and bring in our merchandise virtually at wholesale prices. In the past there used to be all kinds of middle people between the store and supplier, but we just bring it direct to the customer.
“That’s why they really like it, and that’s how we are able to keep our pricing quite low.”
Olga is the buyer for the business and at the moment they have a staff of 50 working for the company. The main distribution centre for all the stores is located in Surrey with six different bays for deliveries to all the stores and they are continuously expanding.
John said, “We always have to pick the right locations and that takes a lot of good judgement, because we’re up against national and international retailers. We might seem to be big but in the whole scheme of things, you’re just a regular player.
“Our warehouse is 15,000 square feet and we feel that’s probably big enough for about another two or three years. The great thing about Surrey is there is all kinds of space and you can actually find space fairly quickly.
“Getting warehouse space is not an issue, it’s getting the right retail locations that can be an issue.
“We have a team in our warehouse that start about 6:30 AM. Even though the shops aren’t opened until 9:30 or 10 AM, they can still receive the goods at 8 AM. So we ship out as early as possible so that the goods are in the store before the customer comes in to shop.
“We really have to run this like food shops, where the merchandise is on the shelves when the customer walks in, because you really can’t be taking the merchandise out of the boxes like in the old days when the customers are arriving.”
John was born on a farm near Elphin, Roscommon, his folks are all farmers and still are to this day, very few of the O’Beirne family travelled abroad.
The only reason that John emigrated was that he was from a family of nine and his father kept telling the family that there was no real future in farming. It was a lot of hard work and he encouraged them to travel the world and do things.
John credits his life on the farm for giving him an introduction into the business world.
He said, “Most things on the farm were not done on credit or debit, but on cash. If you sold something, you got paid for it on the day. If you bought something, you paid for it then and there.
“So really, you learned the transactions of business at a very early age, and that background has absolutely helped me to this day.”
“I immigrated to Canada in 1986, and came to Toronto first and spent a few years there. I had a small concession business there where I really got off to a good start in the retail business.
“Then, the recession hit and it became really hard to sell anything, but it was booming in B.C., and in about 1992 or 1993, I moved to B.C.. It’s had its ups and downs, but really for the most part, it’s been great.”
From his own experience in business, O’ Beirne offered the following advice to the many new Irish emigrants who are making their way to our shores.
“Keep focussed on what it is that you want to do. If you see a company where you might like to work, offer your services on a voluntary basis for a month or something like that.
“You might just be surprised, and if you meet the right people they might just link you up with someone else, and one thing leads to another. It’s also a way of proving one’s talent.
“These days applying for something can just take forever. It’s not like in the old days where it’s not what you know but who you know. These days it’s a level playing field and it’s who has the talent.
“The Irish are renowned for being quite good at feeding into different corporations and quite good at fitting in with people and after all, Canada is a lot of corporate world.
“The other world is really what I’m doing and that’s business. If you have an idea in the business world, then why not go for it yourself.
“There is government sponsorship and all kinds of assistance available. The government is really encouraging people to get into their own business because if you do, chances are you will be hiring other people.
“That’s how I came to this country. You really don’t need a lot of money to get started and I actually employed four or five people.
“I consulted a lawyer and after we looked at what I could do, he proceeded to work on a business application for me.
“In those days, you didn’t need much money, but you did need to show that ultimately you would be employing people.
“I think one thing for the newly arriving Irish to keep in mind is to be flexible.
“For instance, there are plenty of jobs in Alberta and that doesn’t mean that you can’t be based out of Vancouver.
“For instance, if you work in the oil sands, companies will pay your flight back to Vancouver and you will get a reasonable time off and things like that.
“If you’re flexible to travel, then that opens a whole new chapter. Travelling might mean that you are in far away areas but there are real opportunities there.
“If you’re young and you want to make money, without a doubt, Alberta is the place to go.
“Sooner or later the pipeline will go through and there will be even more work. I think people become fascinated by the scenery here, but you can’t eat the mountains or drink the sea.
“We didn’t put it there and it doesn’t really make you any income and you become almost like a sightseer, and you can’t do that every day.
“I think in the very near future, you will see Canada excelling in the natural resources industry.
“A lot of young single people want to go out and have fun, but if you want to move to some of these remote places in northern B.C., or Alberta and make money it helps if you’re a couple.
“Life on the frontier can become quite the wild ride, but when you’re with a partner it becomes much easier because you’re both working toward the same goal.”
For more information, call John O’Beirne at (778) 895-4060 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. For locations of The Mad Hatter’s Superstore and Fascino retail shops, visit their website at: www.fascino.ca.