It’s four days before Christmas when we meet and Shane Flynn, Managing Director of Avoca, the lifestyle empire loved by Ireland’s aspirational classes, is about to check-in at some of the chain’s 13 outlets. After all, it’s the retailer’s busiest week of the year, and the staff at Avoca’s central kitchen and bakery in Bray have handcrafted 5,500 Christmas cakes and 200,000 mince pies for the shops.
But on Twitter, not everyone shared Avoca’s Christmas spirit. One tweet read: “As you fight to get those last few Christmas gifts, remember that Avoca is owned by Aramark, the same people responsible for the Direct Provision families who receive this.” The tweet was accompanied by photos of gloomy-looking foods, including a burnt pizza slice and a plate of two small white muffins with pasta sauce.
The tweet received 1,233 likes and was retweeted 410 times. After his first business interview, Flynn sent an email through his public relations firm to say that Aramark was “disappointed to be falsely connected to images that are not related to the food we serve and that did not come from any of the three “direct supply centers that the US company operates for the State. “Aramark is proud of the work of our employees, who go above and beyond to serve and support residents while their asylum application is processed,” says Flynn.
Aramark is one of the largest American multinational employers in Ireland. Its reach in the Irish economy is huge, from canteens for factories and offices to food services for hospitals, nursing homes and universities.
It operates the retail section of Maxol service stations under license and its facilities business provides mechanical and electrical maintenance to the ESB and the Central Bank. Aramark’s portfolio also includes food services for Croke Park, Guinness Storehouse, Apple and even the daily operation of the English market for Cork City Council.
And then there’s Avoca, which Aramark bought in late 2015 for around 64 million euros from the Pratt family, who turned an 18th-century hand-weaving factory in the village of Co Wicklow into a household name famous for its dishes, salads, crafts and design. . The Avoca brand seemed like an unlikely option for a multi-million dollar provider of outsourced services based in Philadelphia, including serving meals to millions of American prisoners.
Flynn was asked to take over as CEO of Avoca when Tara O’Neill unexpectedly resigned in May 2020, just weeks after outlining her plan for how the brand could survive pandemic restrictions. Flynn, who grew up in Killiney, seemed destined for a career in retail, despite studying English and history at UCD with plans to become a teacher. He spent his summers working at a corner store in the town of Ballybrack during college and spent two years running the store after graduation.
“I found out that I liked retail, I liked the cut and the oomph,” says the 49-year-old.
Flynn went on to work for three Dunnes Stores across the country and spent a brief stint at BWG Foods. When the German discount chain Lidl entered the Irish market, Flynn joined the chain as a district manager, establishing and managing supermarkets. When he came up with a job with Statoil, the Dubliner moved to Galway to fill the position and has lived in the county ever since.
“I stayed with that company for 12 years; Statoil became Topaz along the way and has become Circle K ever since,” says Flynn. “When I left in 2013, Topaz had 120 service stations.
After a brief stint at Applegreen, where he launched his dealer business and managed his highway service area network, Flynn joined Aramark in 2015. He is now leading the Aramark and Avoca businesses at a challenging time for the retail and food service sectors. .
Aramark Holdings Ireland posted a pre-tax loss of € 59.9 million, nearly the same amount it paid for Avoca, in the 12 months ended October 2, 2020, compared to a loss of € 16.2 million. euros the previous year, while revenue fell 29% to 238.2 million euros. There was a one-time restructuring cost of € 31.4 million, with Aramark’s workforce falling from 653 to 4,587, but Flynn says the layoffs only affected head office and store management. The company received 15.8 million euros in payments from the Covid-19 wage subsidy plan.
“We had some parts of the business that were severely affected, particularly those that were exposed to international tourism, but we are pleased to say that we have returned to pre-pandemic levels (of staff at Avoca) and are looking to hire people.” Flynn says.
“Business is doing well; we are currently up 12% from our fiscal 2019 weekly levels.”
A shortage of office workers and international tourists in Dublin city center meant that Avoca’s flagship store on Suffolk Street was closed for 18 months and did not reopen until 5 November.
“That store would particularly depend on foreign tourism and also on local office workers.
“For much of that period, restaurants and pubs were also closed, and no one was traveling downtown, which meant that the city center was very challenged,” says Flynn.
“I would suggest that while things are looking up this holiday season, we certainly will not return to 100% of our pre-pandemic levels on Suffolk Street. It’s growing week by week, but other stores are significantly ahead. “
The Avoca store in the town of Co Wicklow has been closed since the start of the pandemic.
“We have all of our stores open that would normally be open at this time of year. We have two seasonal stores that would normally be closed at this time of year. We reopened our Avoca in Molls Gap (in Kerry) in July, but we did not reopen our store in Avoca town in July and there were a couple of reasons for that.
“One was that we had some maintenance problems that we had to take care of in the store and in which to invest.
“We also made the decision that, with the staff shortage really acute, we would reassign our staff to other stores,” says Flynn. It should reopen in March.
The company is investing in Avoca’s online presence: “We recognized that our website does not measure up to the experience our customers receive in the store and that it will be a critical part of our approach to this new website.
“We are definitely going to invest online probably in the next six months and it will probably take a couple of phases over a 12-18 month period to get exactly where we want to go. We are focused on growth and we believe Avoca has a bright future and that’s really our goal. “
Avoca is also expanding into bricks and mortar and plans to spend € 3 million to add a store in Galway and one in Leinster in the first half of 2022.
“We’re a little nervous about what’s around the corner, but overall we see that the outlook is positive for Avoca,” says Flynn.
Managing Director of Aramark Ireland and Avoca
Peterswell, Co Galway
Married to Evelyn with three children: Conor (14) and twins Oisín and Aoife (13)
BA in English and History at UCD
Master in Business Studies at TU Dublin
I am currently finishing ‘The Man Who Kept the Red Flag Flying’, a biography of Jimmy Murphy, who was Matt Busby’s right-hand man and led Manchester United after the Munich air disaster.
Favorite TV show
I don’t watch a lot of TV, but I’m watching ‘Drive to Survive’ (a documentary series about Formula 1 racing) on Netflix right now
What did you learn about retailing during the pandemic?
We had to quickly find new ways to get products to customers, like a delivery service in some stores and click and collect. I think the lessons of the pandemic are that you need to be flexible and responsive. There is no better group than retailers to understand changing consumer trends and demands and react quickly. Avoca did that and did it well.
What business lessons did Aramark bring from his time in supermarkets and gas stations?
That it is important to surround yourself with excellent people who can find solutions to challenges.