I met up with businessman & entrepreneur Niall O’Farrell recently and wasn’t sure what to expect as he’s a self-made millionaire and is now famous as a “Dragon” from the very successful programme Dragon’s Den.
I got to know the man behind the camera and the brains behind Blacktie. Niall didn’t shy away from any of the questions put to him (as some interviewees do!) & it went something like this:-
Who is Niall O’Farrell & what defines you?
My friends would better answer that question but I’m hard-working, fun loving, have a very strong work ethic instilled in me from my Dad as we grew up in a “business” house. My Dad would come in from work (he worked in property) , have dinner with the family and go out to collect rents from properties that he owned. It was actually my mother who advised him to get him into the property business. I love classical music, Chopin being my favourite, love watching sports (rugby), sailing & skiing. Niall revealed EXCLUSIVELY to SimplyWeddings.com that he’s tailoring none other than Brian O’Driscoll’s wedding this Summer to the lovely Amy Huberman!
How did you get into men’s dress hire?
I hate that term “dress hire' as it conjours up old fashioned, stereo-typical images! I had planned to go into my father’s property business but back in the 80’s the property market fell apart and my father’s real estate business was the only one to survive in Ranelagh so he advised that I go into an alternative business. I served my time in Boylans Shoes & Duggans Menswear for a year and a half and then decided at 19 yrs of age to branch out on my own. My first shop was called “Club Dresswear” but was rebranded in later years to Blacktie and this year we’re 25 years in business”. I remember my first weeks takings was £32.50!
If you could turn back the clock, would you do it again?
Yes! I love it! It’s been a great rollercoaster. I set up the business with £2,000 and £340 of that was my Communion money that my mother had put in the Post Office for me. Instead of leasing properties as Blacktie grew we bought the buildings which I would still view as a good investment.
Mistakes you’ve made & learned from?
I should have got out of property sooner but of course hindsight is a great thing! I’m now more aware of overheads & performance of each shop.
How can you convince or even find an investor for a start-up business?
Go onto Dragon’s Den & if your idea is strong and you’re the right person behind it you never know…. The person is more important than the product. You can tweak a product but not a person. Sometimes, our investors need a dragons’ input into the business more than they need our money.
If you were to start Blacktie in the current economic climate, do you think it would be as successful?
It would be very difficult for an independent formalwear business to compete with Blacktie. We have shops all around the country and can interchange with each other to meet our customers requirements which is a huge advantage over an independent shop. Blacktie is a signature of quality – we source our suits from Italy and our shirts are all Swiss cotton.
If you weren’t in the formalwear business, what would you be doing?
Undertaker – seriously! There’s a definite growth area. I also have significant interests in property both rental & commercial (high end) in London.
Why did you decide to “go it alone” with Blacktie”?
I was offered investment in the business but turned it down. It was a gentleman who had returned from Australia with a few quid. He wouldn’t have brought anything to the business only money so I would have ended up doing all the work anyway!
Who was / is your inspiration?
My father (who only passed away last year) had a huge influence on my life and was a real inspiration to me. I also admire Warren Buffet (USA) and Dermot Desmond. I admire the way Dermot Desmond retains a media profile but always in a positive way.
What sacrifices have you had to make to achieve your success?
Well, I never got married as all my energy and focus went into the business. I don’t really do regrets but focus more on what I have and how fortunate I am. I love what I do & have a huge zest for life. I can honestly say I’m very happy.
You were well known in business circles re Blacktie & your property portfolios but Dragon’s Dens has made you a household name. Were you surprised to be asked? Did you realise the impact that the media would have on your life?
I was flattered to asked to be honest. My old friends told me to go for it whilst my newer set of friends warned me against “putting my head above the paraphet”. I’m very happy doing Dragons Den and have no regrets. In the main, most people just say hello and are friendly so it’s not a problem. One just has to be a little more discreet ....
From being involved with the show I’ve been asked to speak at conferences, county enterprises meetings etc., Dragons Den is the only encouraging programme on the TV and the current recession is actually good timing to give good businesses the chance to succeed that they otherwise might not. All my investments from Dragons Den are doing well – so far!”
What’s next for Niall O’Farrell?
Having invested in seven businesses from Dragons Den I feel like I’m a father of 7 and am watching them take their tiny baby steps onto the next step and really enjoying it. I will hand over the reins from running Blacktie in the next 2-3 years and become more of a mentor to my businesses and concentrate on my property portfolios. We’re in the process of setting up an on-line shop for Blacktie and that should be ready to go live in 6/8 weeks.
Your advice for any start-up’s in 2010?
Look to your experience. Turn a hobby that you love into a business. Define your aspirations. Be realistic about your lifestyle and family needs and if you’ve been made redundant, turn a tragedy into an opportunity.
Niall couldn’t / wouldn’t choose his favourite dragon but finished by saying “I’m a nice dragon” and I think so too!