Skip to main content

How Connemara Marble continued to innovate with support from the Sustaining Enterprise Fund

Thanks to the Sustaining Enterprise Fund, we are one step closer to recovery. In the meantime, we’re continuing to innovate. Enterprise Ireland genuinely gave us hope.”

Stephen Walsh, Managing Director, Connemara Marble

Key Takeouts

    • JC Walsh & Sons, Ltd. and Connemara Marble have been in business for 75 years and a partner of Enterprise Ireland for nearly as long. They specialise in tourism retail, religious goods, and marble jewelry sales.
    • The Covid-19 pandemic and world-wide lockdowns hit the majority of their sales very hard. As a result, Managing Director Stephen Walsh reached out to Enterprise Ireland and applied for the Sustaining Enterprise Fund.
    • The funding provided by Enterprise Ireland allowed Connemara Marble to reposition their business to focus on television and online sales, worldwide. They are back up to 50% capacity and foresee a steady recovery over the next year.

    Case Study: Connemara Marble

    JC Walsh & Sons, Ltd. has been in the tourism retail, religious goods, and jewellery business for 75 years. This third-generation family business owns and operates the oldest Connemara marble quarry in Ireland. They are also a longtime client of Enterprise Ireland. Managing Director Stephen Walsh remembers when his father joined a trade mission to Washington, D.C. in 1963. He stood in the Rose Garden at the White House with John F. Kennedy just months before he was assassinated. Connemara Marble has been a solid piece of the Irish business landscape for many years—and then Covid-19 happened.


    As a business heavily reliant on tourism, their major trading season begins on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17th, and continues throughout the summer. The Irish lockdown was implemented on March 12th, 2020.

    For us, the timing of lockdown was terrible—every cent we had was tied up in stock,” says Managing Director Stephen Walsh. “We were looking forward to a big year of sales. We were ready to fly and suddenly the wind completely changed direction.”

    Travel bans meant tourists disappeared. Connemara Marble’s religious goods market is aimed at an older crowd, who were all cocooning, as recommended by health officials. Churches were closed, pilgrimages cancelled, and sales came to a halt. Their exports business suffered, too, as presidential museums, cathedrals, and other destinations in the US and UK were closed. All that was left was their online and television sales. This remaining revenue stream was encouraging, but Walsh recognised that their business was going to need outside help if they were to survive this global pandemic.


    A partnership with Enterprise Ireland

    “One of the first calls I made was to Enterprise Ireland,” Walsh recalls. “They came back with an immediate response.” He was extremely thankful for the quick, positive response and agreed he first step was for Connemara Marble to work with a finance business growth advisor. Following that report, Enterprise Ireland supported the company to prepare a sustainment plan for the struggling business. A consultant came up with a strategic plan forward, which Walsh says was absolutely crucial. After this phase, they were able to apply for the Sustaining Enterprise Fund.


    Walsh says, “Enterprise Ireland gave us support, encouragement, and belief. They were like the cavalry coming over the hill.”

    Since Connemara Marble had tied all of their capital up in stock for the year of sales that never came, receiving the Sustaining Enterprise Fund gave them a vital influx of cash to get the rest of the business up and running. They bought raw materials to facilitate the shift to online sales. They also put money back into web development and promotion of their online business.


    The future of Connemara Marble

    “The Sustaining Enterprise Fund gave us the cash to support our existing business and invest in new products,” says Walsh. “Most importantly, we’ll be able to sustain our business and stay above water until recovery comes.”

    Walsh says he does not see any prospect of recovering the tourism retail business until Summer 2021, at the earliest. Instead, they are concentrating on their partnership with the shopping channel, QVC. Normally, Walsh would appear live from their studios in Pennsylvania. Due to Covid-19, they have transitioned to Skype appearances. This gives the viewer a direct window into the seller’s home, which Walsh says seems to have been a game-changer. The response has been very positive and sales with QVC have doubled since 2019. “If this is what the viewer is responding to, we’ll stick with it,” says Walsh. “It’s been a pleasant surprise to see how the market has responded to this new way of doing things.”

    Today, Connemara Marble are running at about 50% capacity, which is in line with their strategic financial plan. Walsh says with this sort of turnover, they can survive this unexpected year. He acknowledges they still have a journey ahead of them, but says they are better situated than he first thought possible.

    Walsh says, “Thanks to the Sustaining Enterprise Fund we are one step closer to recovery. In the meantime, we’re continuing to innovate. Enterprise Ireland genuinely gave us hope.”

    His advice to other companies suffering due to fallout from the global pandemic? First, call Enterprise Ireland. Then, cut overheads and concentrate on the parts of your business that haven’t been negatively impacted by Covid-19. Look around corners, search for new opportunities, and never give up.

    Click here to learn more about applying for the SEF. Contact your Development Advisor or our Business Response Unit to find out more.


    • Share this article