Hennessy’s of Blessington marks 100 colourful years as a family-run independent business in its Wicklow hometown. The owner, Martin Hennessy shares the story with The Hardware Journal.
The best view is the long view. Hennessy’s of Blessington’s history shows how resilience and adaptability enabled this family enterprise to come through a century of conflict, recession, change and Covid-19, and not just survive, but flourish.
Today, Hennessy’s role at the heart of its Wicklow community is as essential as ever. The Blessington landmark has been providing a vital local service and resource throughout the pandemic.
This year the independent hardware retailer celebrates its centenary with the third generation of the Hennessy family at the helm: Proud of their past, as they look to the future beyond the Covid-19 crisis.
Through thick and thin
In 1921 Hennessy’s of Blessington was established as a wine, spirit, grocery and hardware business by Arthur and Kathleen Hennessy in what was the Downshire Arms Hotel. The young business put down roots through civil unrest in the 1920s, economic depression in the 1930s, World War II and the rationing and scarcity of goods and jobs.
Martin Hennessy recounts how big an achievement this was. “During the hardships of the 1930’s, they did their best to provide goods and materials to customers around the area which was mostly agricultural at that time.”
Following Arthur’s death in the late 40s, their son Thomas (Toddy) took over the running of the business with Kathleen. For this second generation, the stagnant economy of 1950s Ireland was the major hurdle, recalls Toddy’s sister Beth, who, aged 93, has provided a mine of information in documenting the family history.
The 1960s brought new economic activity to Blessington and a welcome resurgence for Hennessy’s. Toddy and his wife Elsie took the opportunity to renovate the grocery, bar and lounges, and in the 70s secured the premises next door, which became the current hardware store.
But Hennessy’s faced fresh challenges that decade: bank strikes, 35% VAT, followed by recessions in the 80s and in 2007. Despite these setbacks, the store continued to develop its role as a mainstay for the people of Blessington.
In 1987, Toddy passed away suddenly and sons Martin and Ronan took over the running of the business under the watchful eye of Elsie, who died in 2002.
“Great credit must be given to this wonderful woman for persevering in the business. She is remembered in our hearts always,” says Martin.
Covid-19 is only the latest obstacle this hardworking family has overcome. This knowledge helps Hennessy’s look ahead with confidence.
Better and better
Confidence comes too from the firm foundations built in recent years, to offer customers a bigger product range, a better shopping experience and enhanced service.
As Martin explains: “In 2005 we extended the hardware at the rear of the premises and expanded the shop floor.”
This extension means the shop now comprises a 250sqm area and a 300sqm shed, hosting a wide range of products in building materials, paint, DIY, household goods, ironmongery, plumbing and electrical, in an easy-to-navigate, well merchandised layout.
“We are lucky to be located on the main street and use the space outside the front of the shop to display larger items, flowers, garden features etc.
The store stocks the quality brands customers are looking for, like Dulux, Crown Paints, Bord na Mona and Calor, in addition to in-store services including key cutting, paint tinting and deliveries.
Such services are part of Hennessy’s commitment to customer care. We offer one to one personal attention, providing advice on all aspects of our stock and how to use our products.”
Many of the latest changes are driven by the need for greater sustainability. Responding to market demand, “We now take back old electrical bulbs and appliances for recycling and provide paper bags to customers. We’ve introduced eco products including eco-glow coal, wood pellets and waterbased paint”.
The business also reduces waste by recycling all cardboard and reusing packaging wherever possible.
A family welcome
Customers also value the unique ambience and a sense of place that comes only when a family retailer has been part of the community for decades, where service is delivered by local people they know.
Hennessy’s is still very much a family enterprise and the dedication and care is obvious. The team comprises four fulltime and four part-time staff, headed by Martin who oversees the running of the business, sales, meeting reps and ordering stock.
Rena, Martin’s sister, looks after sales and accounts, and his daughter Cara and nephew Eoghan, young part-timers, are bringing another new generation to the business.
Long-time sales assistant John Griffin, delivery driver Niall Dunne and part-time staff Felipe and Conor also play crucial roles as part of the wider Hennessy ‘family’.
“Product knowledge is a distinguishing quality among our team, helping them to deliver a personal service,” Martin affirms. Regular on the job training keeps skills fresh and staff product knowledge up to date.
This ethos is especially important for today’s savvier consumers. “Customers often research online first and then come looking for products. We can provide them with advice on our large range of hardware and homewares.”
Hennessy’s product knowledge and customer focus proved particularly helpful during the Covid-19 restrictions: “We were fortunate to experience very strong sales growth as people began to shop locally.”
“People became aware of the wide variety of stock we offered and began to realise that they could shop locally and still get value for money.”
Customers are their most important source of information, guiding improvements and changes. Thanks to customer feedback, the store has made changes and improvements to keep stock regularly updated, tailoring their offer to local needs.
“We regularly keep in touch with customers around special offers, new/innovative and in-season products.”
“Now, in addition to advertisements in local publications and programmes for community events, we engage with consumers through our Facebook page.” Technology has also helped Hennessy’s innovate and streamline business processes, be it accounts management or communications with customers and suppliers.
At the heart of Blessington
Because the Blessington community has proudly supported Hennessy’s for a century, the family, as locals themselves, are committed to giving back.
“Our name says it all. We are a Blessington-owned and operated company, employing all local people.”
“We also sponsor a number of community charities and the GAA club, and regularly bring in students for Transition Year work experience programmes.”
On the horizon
Post-2021, Martin sees the resurgence of interest in DIY as a positive development, but growing competition is a concern. “Larger retailers are becoming an increasing challenge. Our advantage will be the unique experience we offer to our customers and in continuing to provide a wide variety of stock to suit and adapt to our local customer needs.”
Responding to the surge of interest in gardening and grow your own, Martin plans to expand Hennessy’s range of garden products. “We’re preparing to meet the growing market trends in gardening, organics and self-sufficiency.”
“The best way to future-proof your business is to keep an eye out for new stock, products and ideas.” It’s a formula that has worked for a century.
Looking back on 100 years of success, Hennessy’s Hardware owes it to: “Personal service, knowledgeable staff and a willingness to help solve problems, these have all been and continue to be essential.” Martin offers his sincere thanks to all staff and to the faithful customers who have supported Hennessy’s of Blessington then and now.