Making It Work: Family business weaves its way to fifth generation

Tipperary-based John Hanly & Co Woollen Mills faces fresh challenges with Brexit as its owner prepares to hand the business over to his son

17th January, 2021
Making It Work: Family business weaves its way to fifth generation
Brian Hanly, managing director of John Hanly & Co Woollen Mills: ‘Brexit is a complete shambles, a nightmare.’ Photo:Barry Cronin

Brian Hanly is carefully preparing to hand over the reins of the family business to his son John, who will be the fifth generation to run John Hanly & Co Woollen Mills.

But the 59-year-old owner of the Tipperary-based company is in no rush, so laying the groundwork for his son’s succession will be a slow and steady process.

“We’ll be working together for a while yet. In any family business, there is a lot of responsibility: responsibility for the business itself and for the people employed in it,” Brian said.

“I never wanted any of my children to feel that they had to take over from me, and with John I’ll make sure I’m here long enough to give him the support he needs.

“There’s no manual, and I think you only ever really feel that you’re minding it for the next generation. It can be a challenging road because of that. You need support.”

Right now, the biggest challenge facing John Hanly & Co is Brexit and its impact on the flow of goods and materials between Ireland and Britain.

“It’s a complete shambles, a nightmare. Ferries are being cancelled because lorries can’t get through the gates at the ports to fill them,” Brian said.

“We move goods to and from the UK nearly every day of the week. Apart from one spinner, we import our raw materials from all over Europe, so that’s not an issue for us, but after we design and weave our products, we send them to Scotland to be finished and then they come back across to us.

“That’s a big issue for us at the moment. We have our own paperwork in order but not everyone in the chain is the same and, like a lot of Irish manufacturers in different sectors, we really need this problem sorted out as soon as possible.”

John Hanly & Co has been exporting since 1910, 17 years after it was founded by Denis Hanly, Brian’s great-grandfather, and John, his grandfather.

Today more than half of the company’s revenues are generated in overseas markets. They include Britain, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, the US, Japan and South Korea.

In Ireland, the company has more than 120 stockists, including Brown Thomas and Blarney Woollen Mills.

John Hanly & Co makes a range of throws, blankets, scarves, capes and hats using lambswool, Merino lambswool, cashmere and mohair. Prices start at €49.95 and the company employs 35 people at its own woollen mills in Ballyartella in north Tipperary.

It recently launched two new e-commerce websites for consumers and the retail trade, and will be among the Enterprise Ireland clients taking part in the first ever virtual Showcase later this month.

Each of 120 designers and craft-makers taking part in the event this year will get a virtual showroom online at The showrooms will operate for five days from January 25 to 29. Exhibitors will use them to introduce new products and set up one-to-one meetings with buyers from Ireland and overseas.

They will take part in a virtual selling masterclass ahead of the event organised by the Design and Crafts Council of Ireland, Showcase Ireland and Enterprise Ireland.

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