29 Jun 2022

A Day in the Life of Marian O'Gorman, CEO of Kilkenny Group

Kilkenny Design Centre

Marian O'Gorman

Marian O’Gorman has been CEO of the Kilkenny Group since 1999 and has succeeded in establishing one of the country’s most reputable retail groups. As CEO she leads 17 stores, 5 restaurants and an online business directly employing 360 people and many more indirectly, including designers and craft makers who design beautiful contemporary products in their own homes and studios. She began her retail career at the age of 16 and credits her father, Christy Kelleher, for much of her business and entrepreneurial acumen.

Marian lives for the buzz of retail and takes a very hands-on approach in her role as CEO, working closely with her teams across all company departments to deliver exceptional results across the board.

Amongst her career achievements to date, Marian was named as the 2014 Image Businesswoman of the Year and was also named one of WXM’s Top 25 Most Influential Women for 2 years running in 2013 and 2014. Marian was a Lead Entrepreneur in the Going for Growth Initiative, mentoring Ireland’s up and coming female entrepreneurs.

She is also one of the leading figures in the promotion of Irish craft and design in the country, working closely with the Design & Crafts Council of Ireland, and has assisted in the adjudication in the annual Showcase Awards for many years. Marian ensures her team are involved in the mentoring and development of many up-and-coming Irish designers and craftspeople and is now involved with designers at student level nurturing Irish talent of the future. She continues to grow Kilkenny's portfolio of stores and is constantly on the lookout for new expansion opportunities.

Here is a glimpse into Marian’s world…

Describe your typical day as CEO of  The Kilkenny Group

Morning:   I rise at 6.30am, have a healthy breakfast whilst reading the morning news on my phone followed by stretches and a shower. I check my email, plan my priorities for the day and then I go into the office.  I catch up with some of the team individually and discuss our sales and customer service objectives. 

Midday:  A conference call with the senior team discussing how the previous week went and the learnings and agreeing the actions and initiatives needed for the week ahead.   I would make time in the afternoon to review team projects and updates. 

Evening:  Down time.  I have dinner with my husband Michael, we chat and watch TV together and I’m usually in bed for 10pm. 

Marian, why expand to Kilkenny?

It has been an ambition of mine for many years to re-join both the Kilkenny Store in Dublin and the Kilkenny Design Centre back together again after being separated for 30yrs.  I am very proud to have achieved this ambition through the work of my team.

How have things progressed since the days of the Kilkenny Design Workshops?

Shortly after the official launch in 1965, a retail space was introduced which today is Kilkenny Design Centre. In 1976 due to the success of the original retail shop in Kilkenny City, a 2nd store was opened on Nassau St to reach the thriving tourist and Dublin markets.   In 1989 the government sold both Kilkenny stores, the Kilkenny Design Centre was bought by the then manager Kathleen Moran and Blarney Woollen Mills purchased the Kilkenny Store in Dublin.   Fast forward 30 years and the two iconic shops are reunited once again under the umbrella of the Kilkenny Group

Still to this day it’s a family run business, with a lot of strong women at the helm.

Yes, I am joined by two daughters,  Michelle who is Head of Retail and Melissa who leads the buying department, they are a huge help to me in managing the day to day operations of the company. We are surrounded by a fantastic team of highly skilled, dedicated and committed people throughout the company.

Why do you think the brand is so successful?

Firstly because of our people, without them there would be no Kilkenny.   Secondly we champion the very best of Contemporary Irish Craft and Design which sets us apart from our competitors, and thirdly we pride ourselves on having excellence in customer service, through our friendly, knowledgeable team who go that extra mile for our customers. 

What is your role these days?

Being CEO I am overall responsible for delivering results through our people for the business. I continue to look for opportunities to grow the retail and food businesses, and I look for ways to diversify into other businesses as retail is becoming more challenging.   I like to think that I spend time coaching, communicating and developing my team to meet the everyday challenges of business.  My teams success is my success.  

What is the future of Kilkenny Design Centre in terms of retail and food?

I see a great future in the Kilkenny Design Centre and now that is part of a bigger operation, the opportunities are endless. Our team is working closely with Fáilte Ireland to further develop visitor experiences within the centre and in the nearby local area which we are really looking forward to.

How did you find the transition to Kilkenny, especially since Kathleen Moran is such an icon here.

It was a really exciting time for us and the transition ran very smoothly. Kathleen built up a strong, vibrant and incredibly successful retail and food business, and an amazing team of people, we hold her in a very high regard.

Have things changed since the take over?

We have made changes such as reviewing menu prices, adding many new retail lines, further integrations within the local community and the launch of the Castle Yard Walking Tours. We have been developing the Kilkenny Design Centre team by providing additional training, up-skilling and career progression opportunities. We are absolutely thrilled to have won Retailer of the Year at the Kilkenny Chamber Business awards this week, it is fantastic for the business and a great boost for the Kilkenny Design Centre team.

What’s coming up between now and Christmas?

We have received a great response to our recently installed Christmas windows and our shops are brimming with fabulous gifts.  We'll be offering complimentary gift wrapping and proceeds from this fundraising campaign will be matched by us and donated to Cois Nore Cancer Support Centre. Our team are looking forward to the welcoming locals through the doors! We are hosting a 'Taste The Island' event in Anocht on the 28th of Nov, and are launching 'Green Friday' on the 29th of Nov asking People to shop local and to buy Irish this year on the run up to Christmas, Green is the new Black, lets support our own.   we are delighted to welcome harpist Orla Fallon back for a concert on December 15th. Our delicious festive menu is launching shortly and the Christmas decor will be beautiful!

When you are not running the family empire, what do you do?

I like the simple things in life, spending time with my family and friends.  I enjoy walking, reading, watching tv and most of all I love travelling.

Is there anything that people don't know about you?

I love a good challenge! 2 years ago I went to a special yoga retreat with 15 strangers. We stayed in yurts out in the wilderness and to get to the toilet at night meant a trek through the fields with only a flashlight to guide you to the nearest facilities. It was a brilliant experience and those 15 strangers have since become great friends. I do believe it is important to go outside of your comfort zone every once in a while.

What was the biggest lesson you have learnt in business over the years?

It’s all about people, happy staff means happy customers.   Being genuine, having empathy and respect for everyone you meet and knowing that it is ok to be yourself. 

Your favourite memory?

At the age of 16 selling Aran sweaters and Irish souvenirs to tourists from a thatch cottage at the side of the road in Blarney alongside my father Christy Kelleher. 

Who would be your role model?

My Mother is my role model, she worked hard during the 50’s and 60’s rearing her family of 7 with very little money at hand. My mother was a great cook and we had the best homemade meals every day of our lives.  She somehow managed to save money as well and gave it to my father to start his business back in the 1960’s. 

What’s on your bucket list? 

I want to travel to China, South Africa and Japan.

Green Friday is an initiative led by Marian O’Gorman of Kilkenny to champion a movement to support Irish brands and businesses.

Kilkenny, and bodies like the Design and Crafts Council, Retail Excellence, SFA, Enterprise Ireland and the Chambers of Commerce and others will lead a powerful and passionate drive to reawaken people to the significance of buying Irish, shopping local, and the wealth of talent and enterprise behind our Irish craft and design businesses. A national campaign is to be rolled out in the coming weeks, encouraging people in Ireland to drive our economy, support jobs and nurture our creative community in these uncertain times by purchasing Irish goods on one of the busiest shopping days of the year - the last Friday in November.




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