My mum at 18
I was feeling a little lonely last week as it was the 5th anniversary of my mum passing. My mum, Joan Waldron was the first female entrepreneur I came in contact with and the older I get the more I appreciate her work ethic, her tenacity and her passion for business.
Here is what she taught me, that has helped me become a better business person:-
Lesson No 1: Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger
Around 1969 my mum and dad moved to Tralee after their business went bust in Mallow. Mum would have been In her late 30’s with five kids under the age of 13, with no job and no real prospects, apart from the most tenacious approach to business I have ever come across.
Dad wasn’t working and they were both still licking their wounds from the failure of their business, but she knew she couldn’t wallow for long, knowing she had seven hungry mouths to feed. In the town on Castle Street she spotted a grotty, near closed down chip shop.
Even though she had no money, she knocked on the door of the house nextdoor to see what the story was about the place, found out that they were the owners and on the spot made a sweetheart of a deal to take over the business – including negotiating for a ton of potatoes thrown in on the deal for good measure!!!
With absolutely no funds, wearing her only “good” suit she visited the bank manager (a family friend) who gave her a small collateral free business loan. (Ah, the good old days of banking!!!)
Dad had thought she had lost the plot by opening a chip shop and I think he thought by discouraging her, she would come up with a plan B. She didn’t. She just rolled up the sleeves, negotiating with tradesmen and suppliers to make the place respectable,
The opening day, came, dad still refused to entertain the notion, so she went off and she opened on her own. Within half an hour, dad same in, said nothing, just rolled up his sleeves, went behind the counter and started serving up the chips!!! And he remained by her side in the various businesses that they had until he passed away in 1991.
Mum and dad would always say they never made more money than they did in that little chip shop! Mum spotted an opportunity, it was really tough going, but it made her stronger and even brought herself and dad closer.
Lesson No 2: The value of networking
Mum and dad thrived in Tralee, moving from the little chip shop to “The Central Grill” one of the first restaurants in Tralee in the early 1970’s on a prime corner location in the centre of town and in 1984 bought a little hotel in Fenit, which had an excellent restaurant and bar trade.
Mum and dad didn’t do much advertising, had never heard of PR, but were brilliant at promoting their business through networking with the local business community and people.
My mum joined the local Bridge Club; after a few years she became President of the local Soroptimist Club and networked to an inch of her life! She encouraged my dad to join the local Rotary club and he went on to be local President of that organisation the same year she was President of the Soroptimists.
I swear Frank Underwood would have been very proud of her – in a positive way!!!.
She organised meetings on our premises, held bridge parties, where members could sample the food and get into the habit of considering our restaurant for any family or business events. The Central Grill and later on the Lighthouse in Fenit became one of the leading places for family occasions and a lot of that was down to my mum’s ethos of networking and using her personal contacts to bring in more business.
Back then it’s the same as it is now – people like to deal with people and the best way to close a deal is the same and its to engage with a client or prospect on a one to one basis. My mum taught me that.
Lesson No 3: Make sure they leave with a smile on their face
Growing up in the hospitality sector gives you great abilities around reading people – the good tippers, the stingy people who would order hot water and bring their own tea bag (seriously!), the couple who were on a first date or in the middle of a fight; the people who you could tell even by the way they walked in the door whether they were going to be nice or difficult.
We could also always tell a bluffer, where people would try anything to get out of paying for a meal. Mum taught us how important it was to listen to our customers complaints and handle them all with courtesy and if at all possible make sure they left feeling that their grievance was heard and dealt with.
She would say, if they have a good experience they will tell two or three people but if they went out feeling negative (even when at times we knew they were in the wrong), they would tell 100 people! She always had the ethos, that the customer was always right – even when she knew they were in the wrong!!!
Mum and Dad by the Trevi Fountain in Rome
Lesson No 4: Work hard but play hard!
My mum always loved to throw a great party and she loved her holidays with my dad – the good times balanced the times when it was heads down, working at top gear. They both were two of the hardest workers I have ever known – I think the only one that could beat them is my husband Greg!
During high season they worked seven days a week, from 8am until after 9pm, but then they made sure to treat themselves to really nice holidays in far flung places. They also had nice weekend breaks together, were great customers in other restaurants in town and just loved having people over for parties and dinners.
Mum very much taught me that if it is all about work, it’s not success.
That if you work hard, it’s important to spend some of that hard earned money creating lasting happy memories and treating yourself to nice things. Mum had lots of happy memories of herself and dad in Rome, travelling along the Amalfi Coast, having a glass of wine in St Mark’s Square in Venice, visiting Russia when very few Europeans were going there.
I must get my love of Italy from her – you can’t keep me away from the place!
No matter what business was like during the turmoil of the last few years I always made sure Greg and I had some downtime together, with some sun on our faces for a week or two. There are always a million reasons why we shouldn’t take the break from our busy business – but we have gathered an amazing Fuzion family around us who watch our back and our business when we are away and we come back with a renewed sense of vigour for our business, with fresh ideas and energy.
Mum with one of her greatest friends – and bridge buddy – Monica Kelly
Lesson No 5: Mind your friends, they will become family
Mum had some strong friendships going back decades to when she first came to Tralee including, Maureen Deane, Monica Kelly, Phyllis O’Sullivan and Noreen O’Sullivan. Her friends loved her and our restaurant on Castle Street was the meeting point for all her buddies.
Even though she was very busy she always made time for her friends and they always knew they could count on her for a chat, a piece of advice or just an ear to listen.
We would come home from school and there she would be in the middle of them, at table one in the right hand corner of our restaurant, hatching some plan or just shooting the breeze. We would roll our eyes up to heaven and disappear to our home upstairs, knowing that we wouldn’t get any attention from her until her friends had left.
She loved bridge and loved her weekly bridge club. I remember once asking her not to go to the club and stay home with us as I probably had a bad day at school or something. She explained to me that she had committed to go; that she would be letting her friend down who she was paired with for bridge that night.
She told me that it was so important to cherish and respect your friends; that they provided support and balance to her life and that when the chips are down and when all us kids had left the nest, they would still be around.
It was so true; her five kids very soon got on with our own lives, but she still had her friends, her bridge and her Soroptimist club and later the Probus club. And those same friends formed her guard of honour at her funeral. She was so right, they were there for her, right up to the very end!
I always remember what my mum said and really cherish my friends. The older I get the closer I get to my friends and know that I will have most of them in my life forever. We don’t live in each other’s pockets, but they know I’m there for them if they need anything as they are for me – they are my family every bit as much as my siblings are.
Deirdre Waldron is the founding partner of Fuzion
Fuzion are a Marketing, PR and Graphic Design firm with offices in Cork and Dublin, Ireland