Speaking to the boss
The head of Barry Group, Jim Barry speaks to ShelfLife about what it means to reach this important milestone for the group
19 May 2015 | 0
Jim Barry has clocked up more than a few years’ experience working across the retail, off-trade and wholesale trade. Growing up in the business means that he has witnessed it navigate its way through all sorts of economic changes and survive more than one recession. This has made him a savvy business man and has helped maintain a company that his father, James A Barry must be very proud of today as it reaches its diamond anniversary.
Barry has received a host of awards, both personal and company-related over the past decade. These accolades denote how progressive he has been in business and what a positive place Barry Group is to work. The most recent of these was The Great Place to Work Award 2015 and being listed as a Deloitte Best Managed Companies Gold Standard in 2015. Barry believes that one of the keys to success is good communication and creating an environment that’s empowering to people.
On a personal level, he has been named as Ireland’s most trusted leader 2015, was a finalist in the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year in 2010 and named as Cork Business Person of the Year in the same year.
While all these awards testify to the type of person Jim Barry is, it’s the cold hard figures that really unveil the success of this €250m company. It took a huge amount of courage and foresight to steer the business through the recent recession. Rather than hunkering down and weathering the storm, Barry decided to use the recession as an opportunity to identify ways in which the company could be improved by increasing efficiencies and investing in new technologies. According to Barry, “A company like Barry Group has to keep reinventing in order to have a future as well as leading our customers down a new path to ensure that we will be relevant for the long term. From a Barry Group perspective we have continually challenged our plans and processes and as a result of this mind-set we expect to have a very positive year.”
Barry tells us about the significance of this year and his secrets to running a successful business.
Reaching the company’s 60th anniversary is a major milestone for the group. Are you feeling slightly nostalgic about the past?
Well, it’s inevitable that you pause and reflect on the journey we as a company have been on for the past 60 years and it’s important to celebrate the occasion and use it as a springboard for the future. We had a wonderful staff night in January to kick off the year and there was a great video presented on the night, going back through the years of the company from the very beginning. I was extremely proud and humbled in a sense while looking back on that and seeing how far the company has come.
Barry Group has always been a family business. Are you delighted to see your children taking an interest in it now and what are your hopes for the future of the Barry Group?
It’s fantastic to see the kids take an interest in different aspects of the company but it’s important to let them grow and develop their own passions and find what makes them happy in their careers. The fact that the company is so family orientated has helped us enormously in terms of continuity and framing the culture within the company. For the future, there are still so many possibilities across all our channels for expansion and growth. We want to keep pushing the bar in terms of our customer service and we will always aim to put innovation at the heart of everything we do.
What part of the business excites you the most?
The next project! We work in a very fluid and challenging environment and I think we as a company have gotten very strong at predicting how the market will change and adjusting our mindset and plan to take advantage of that. What excites me is seeing a plan that we’ve worked on as a team being executed and the company reaping the benefits of that. We’re not afraid to embrace change and to try different things and I think this has a great effect on our customer service.
What would you say was the biggest decision you’ve ever had to take in regards to the future of the business?
Every decision you make has an effect on the future of the company, safeguarding the company is obviously very important but I think in the last year or so, we’ve moved on from a survival mindset to very much a growth one. There have been numerous big decisions over the past few years that have been critically important to get right such as acquiring Carry Out or moving into chilled distribution and with decisions like those, confidence in your team and your methods is very important and I’m fortunate to have always had that.
What was the toughest year you have seen in business?
It’s difficult to define one particularly tough year, there have been a few periods down through the years where the economy was struggling and the market slumped as a result. The last few years were very tough in the market with such a sharp economic downturn coupled with the rise of the discounters which made the pie that bit smaller for everyone. There are always peaks and troughs in the market and it’s how you react to both that defines how well your company performs.
The retail landscape has changed dramatically over the past five years. How did you react to these changes and is there anything you would have done differently if you had hindsight?
We were very pleased at how we reacted to what was a huge shift in the market. We challenged ourselves as a company and I challenged myself as an MD and asked how we could perform better across the board. That brought about a number of projects and process changes that ensured we could cope with the downturn and come out of it a better company and in a great position to capitalise on now in the next few years.
Have you seen an uplift in the grocery business this year?
There is an uplift in the grocery business, consumer confidence has returned somewhat and we’re seeing that reflected in the market. It is still a little bit tentative at this stage but the graph is certainly pointing upward after a difficult few years.
Do you think the drinks business is going to become more challenging with increased legislation in the coming years?
Well it’s obviously a huge issue and in the last couple of years things like minimum pricing and excise on wine have been particularly big issues. We welcome the likelihood of the minimum unit alcohol pricing being introduced on the basis that the levels are pitched correctly. A well worked model should stop the irresponsible selling policies of some of the large players in the market. The excise and VAT taken on wine in Ireland is one of the highest levels in Europe which we believe is totally unfair. We believe that wine sales have been hit by excessive taxation and strongly suggest that wine does not get hit with any more increases in excise duty. It’s our duty as the largest independent off-licence franchise in the country to be committed to responsible selling and to best react to the changes in the market in the next few years.
Many of your employees have been with you for a long period. What do you think is the secret in retaining good staff?
There’s a great saying that I’m fond of: “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to”. We invest heavily in our staff and the fact we have such a strong core of team members who have been with us for so long is testament to that I hope. We try to create an environment that’s empowering to people and we trust the talent and application of our team members. The spirit within the company and the relationships between our team members is one of the things I’m most proud of.
Aside from work, what are your main interests and how do you switch off?
Spending time with my family is the main way I switch off. I’m also a big sports fan with Munster rugby and Cork GAA being particular favourites. I also enjoy hill walking to unwind and stay fit. It’s important to switch off at different times and unwind, it helps keep you fresh.
In what way do you intend to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Barry Group?
We’ve already had a few great nights, at the start of the year we had a wonderful staff night and that really kicked off the celebrations. A major part of marking this year is our charity pledge. We as a company have pledged €60,000 to be divided between six charities; Focus Ireland, Pieta House, Concern, Our Ladies Children Hospital Crumlin, the Jack and Jill Foundation and Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind. We are also setting up collection boxes in each of our 265 franchise stores and we are hoping for a significant amount to be raised for these great causes.