He revolutionised Irish retail, held five honorary doctorates, was father to five children and grandfather to 19 and, when he ‘retired’, he became a Senator and a broadcaster, but Feargal Quinn had one regret.
It was a regret he hoped would provide inspiration for other entrepreneurs. “I didn’t open my first shop until I was 23, I should have opened it at 21,” he told Margaret E. Ward on the Broadly Speaking podcast during the summer of 2017. “Start earlier than you’d planned,” he added.
In a wide-ranging interview, the successful entrepreneur charted the course of his career, expertly dissecting the actions that resulted in Superquinn becoming a nationwide chain of grocery stores and a business with sales that increased in times when those of its competitors decreased.
As well as starting earlier, Feargal offered another key piece of advice: Fail. Fail fast. But go again. And now.
“Be willing to have a go and don’t be afraid of failure,” he said, “and if it fails, it fails, but have a go at something else. You come across more of that [attitude] in America than in Europe” he said.
The entrepreneur was well known for championing the customer. His first book was called Crowning the Customer – it sold 100,000 copies and was translated into 14 languages.
Placing the customer at the centre of his business wasn’t just the accidental approach of a sociable entrepreneur, it was Feargal’s guiding principle.
“The business philosophy came about from my mother’s and father’s business in Red Island,” Feargal said. “This is the boomerang principle, that everything is aimed at getting the customer to come back. You take the long-term approach.”
He gave an example of how this worked in his life. He held a meeting with a high- level executive of a large multinational brand in the cereal aisle of one of his stores.
The executive was somewhat taken aback by the location of their meeting but, as they talked, the two men had bumped into several Superquinn customers and the businessman understood the genius method behind this supposed madness.
For Feargal, business wasn’t solely about the balance sheet, it was about enjoying life and his day. He felt this was an essential component to success. “The overall approach is to make sure you enjoy the day and that the people you work with enjoy the day and, to do that, you have to make sure that the customers enjoy the day.
“You have to get up in the morning looking forward to going to work and, if you look forward to coming to work, you can achieve it. But if you find it’s a hassle, a burden, it’s something you don’t particularly care for, then it won’t work,” Feargal said.
At the end of what would be one of his final interviews, Margaret asked Feargal what he hoped for as his legacy.
“I left the world a better place than when I came to it and I left more people smiling than scowling.”