GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — When it comes to selling Irish-made products, Vincent Breslin has a unique relationship with some of his suppliers, and a close-up view of Ireland’s current economic hardships.
“All our tweed caps here come from my hometown,” said Breslin, a 47-year-old Margate resident and native of Donegal, Ireland. “I actually know the people who make those hats. I’ve had a pint with the guy who owns that factory. It’s a small little factory, but they make the best hats in the world.”
Breslin owns Out of Ireland, an Irish shop in Historic Smithville, with his wife and sister-in-law.
The Atlantic County retail business has grown each year since 1998, and had its best year in 2012, Breslin said.
This stands in contrast to much of Ireland’s economy, which is still limping from a housing market collapse, banking meltdown and high unemployment that have persisted for nearly five years.
When he returns to his native town, Breslin said, he sees five or six closed shops on the main road.
One of Ireland’s major economic drivers is its exports, what it sends to other countries and other shops such as Out of Ireland.
Ireland’s economy relies heavily on exports to the U.S. — $33.3 billion in 2012, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Foreign Trade Division.
About $1.2 billion went to New Jersey, including nearly $1.7 million in apparel, $3.7 million in glassware, and $38 million in dairy products.
Out of Ireland has nearly 100 Irish suppliers, which sell the store its jewelry, clothing, pottery, knickknacks and other items.
Breslin is in business with his wife, Kathleen O’Gara, and sister-in-law, Christine O’Gara, all of whom were born in Ireland.
Breslin said many of his customers have Irish lineage, and want products reflecting their heritage.
“People want the connection to their roots really. They want to know they’re wearing a hat from Ireland or a sweater from Ireland. It’s very important to them,” he said.
In the U.S. since 1986, Breslin had worked as a casino dealer and supervisor, while his wife and sister-in-law both worked as waitresses.
Although he was not a business owner before, his family had owned several businesses in Ireland, including a hotel and nightclub. His shop carries business cards for his father’s Dom’s Pier 1 Bar & Restaurant in Donegal.
“We borrowed $15,000 from the bank and decided to just give it a go and see what happens,” he said. “We’re Irish, but there were few Irish stores in the vicinity. We thought we’d give it a try, but basically because we’re all from Ireland originally we had contacts and could get the stuff directly from the suppliers.”
Breslin said they used the $15,000 to buy inventory, and put more of the profits into the business. About five years ago, they moved from a small, approximately 300-square-foot shop to one nearly three times larger.
“In 1998 we started just buying a few things to see how it was going. Our suppliers helped us with what was a seller and what wasn’t. Now we buy more in bulk, mainly to save on shipping costs, which helps keep our costs down for the customers,” he said.
Breslin said the business has improved even despite the U.S. recession. About three years ago, Out of Ireland started selling items online.
In a small business such as his, Breslin said having an owner work at the store is important.
“It’s huge. People come in here and ask if you have this and you try your best,” he said. “Personal touches are huge, especially in small businesses like this.”
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