The year 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic brought a lot of struggle to the people of Ireland; particularly those in business. However, it also brought opportunities for many enterprising Irish entrepreneurs. Consumer behaviour changed rapidly with lockdown measures in March – home cooking increased, as did online shopping and demand for delivery.
These changes occurred as a direct result of COVID-19, but even now, as we hope to return to some kind of normalcy with the scheduled roll-out of the vaccine, these consumer behaviours and expectations remain. Most Irish businesses plan to continue their online services and delivery options; realising it has opened up an entirely new side to their existing business.
For others, lockdown presented an opportunity to take the plunge into business for the first time. Farmsy.ie is a business born during the first COVID-19 lockdown in March. Husband-and-wife team Michael and Carmen O’Sullivan saw potential, started off small and now, having grown substantially in a relatively short time, are looking at the long-term viability of the business, which delivers locally grown and produced foods directly to their Co Cork client base.
“I suppose we started with our own hens,” Carmen says. “We live on a popular walkway and people out walking would see our hens out and about. Some started asking about eggs, so we got more hens and started stocking an honestly box. Michael’s a real people person, and after a while, he set up an egg run (around Kinsale, mostly) and it’s just gotten so popular – just by word of mouth.
“In lockdown, people were asking if we were able to source other products, which is how Farmsy.ie really started,” she continues. “Local producers were hit badly when lockdown started and some even had to plough their veg under. One supplier worked with 70 cafes and restaurants in Cork pre-lockdown, which overnight went down to four. So we were doing a small bit, just to help, by getting their products directly to customers. Our clients love the products and love having them delivered.”
Using their skills
Michael works for the county council and Carmen rents out a holiday home in Kinsale. Her background is in web design, so when Michael saw the opportunity to start selling locally, she was able to quickly develop a website. Each Monday, they post the available food items on the website; ensuring customers can make their orders by Wednesday morning. That gives Carmen and Michael most of Wednesday and Thursday to organise product from producers and arrange for deliveries, which take place each Friday and Saturday.
As Michael has continued to work his full-time job throughout the year, this extra work has taken its toll – especially as their business has grown. He plans to take leave for 2021 to further develop Farmsy.ie.
“We started the business in March,” Carmen explains. “While we were in lockdown, I was free to help Michael, but then [during the summer months], I was busy with the holiday home with local Irish visitors.
“However, I kept helping Michael as the business was growing. I do the administrative work and Michael is collecting, receiving and delivering – at the moment it’s just the two of us.
“We see ourselves expanding at a steady, manageable pace in the next year,” she continues. “There are always teething problems in the beginning. You don’t want to disappoint customers; that’s the last thing we want.”
Plenty of choice
Currently, customers can order local organic meat (including beef sausages and tomahawk steak), beetroot, stir fry greens and curly kale from Food for Humans (a producer based in Ballinhassig), cauliflower and purple sprouting broccoli from Horizon Farm in Kinsale, their own fresh eggs, and fresh herbs from Ancient Organics in Rosscarbery.
“In the New Year, the plan is to add more suppliers to the list,” Carmen says. “Dairy products and bread are at the top of the list, and then we’ll see after that.”
Michael and Carmen currently focus on a route between Bandon and Blarney in Co Cork. As it’s still just the two of them, they can’t expand further into west Cork, but they would love to hear from potential customers around the county, see where they live and develop their future routes around these areas of interest.
The danger with selling online is always losing that face-to-face interaction with your customer base
Carmen believes, even though they’ve gone the digital route with their business, they are still able to provide the service and personal attention consumers expect and desire. The danger with selling online is always losing that face-to-face interaction with your customer base. Luckily, as Michael is doing the deliveries, they haven’t felt any disconnect.
“People know Michael,” she laughs. “The new customers meet him when he arrives with their deliveries, so we definitely haven’t lost that personal touch. This is something Michael enjoys, anyway; it’s one of the reasons he enjoyed the egg run in the beginning. He wouldn’t have had that many deliveries, but he would take a long time [to get home] because he’d be chatting away to everyone!”