Shannon Duty Free kick starts entrepreneurial excellence

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Martin Moodie
Martin Moodie is the Founder & Chairman of The Moodie Report.

Readers of this Blog may recall my story from February this year (Waxing lyrical about a 14 year-old candle-maker at Shannon Duty Free), which reported how Evan Quaid, a 14-year-old student from Castlemahon in Limerick, had become surely the world’s youngest travel retail supplier after having his product listed at Shannon Duty Free.

After winning the junior category of the National Student Enterprise Programme in 2017, Evan had messaged the Shannon Airport Instagram account asking for his Quaid Candles to be listed. With a nod to Bob Dylan, after meeting Evan and his mother Triona, the Shannon Duty Free team “didn’t think twice” and said it was (more than) all right. A listing – and plenty of sales – followed.

The success of the initiative inspired a follow-up: the Shannon Airport Young Entrepreneur competition, for which the results were announced yesterday. Richie Lillis (13) from Mitchelstown, Co. Cork and Kate McMahon (16) from Lahinch, Co. Clare beat stiff competition in the competition, which is designed to support young entrepreneurs and give them a platform to launch their businesses.

It’s a brilliant notion. The dynamic duo now will have their product listed at Shannon Duty Free as part of Shannon Airport’s commitment to supporting young entrepreneurs.

The three entrepreneurial amigos: (Left to right) Mo Phinn creator Richie Lillis; Quaid Candles founder Evan Quaid; and SeaSea Exfoliators creator Kate McMahon

Shannon Airport Managing Director Andrew Murphy said: “We are always trying to support local businesses, where possible, at the Shannon Duty Free store but this competition has really excited us as we get to see and support fantastic young entrepreneurship. We are blown away by the ideas, the enthusiasm and the potential of these second-level students. Entrepreneurship is alive and well based on what we’ve seen in our very first year of the competition.”

Richie, a student at Mitchelstown CBS, won the award for ‘Mo Phinn’, meaning ‘my pens’.  The talented woodturner designed and produced handcrafted wooden pens from Irish hardwoods. Now that’s what I call craft spirit.

Richie said: “I am really delighted. I am the fifth generation of woodturners from my family, so this is something I am really proud of.  I get to work with my father and grandfather, so I have fantastic tutors and this is as much down to them as it is to anything I’ve done. In fact, my grandad supplied Shannon Duty Free over 30 years ago with some Irish-made wooden souvenirs, so I’m not the first Richie Lillis to become a supplier at Shannon Duty Free, but I am the youngest.”

He continued: “My grandfather made pens as gifts for friends and family and I now do the same. Most of the material is locally sourced from native Irish hardwoods here at the foot of the Ballyhoura Mountains on the Cork-Limerick border.  I also work with bog oak sourced in the heart of Co. Clare. This first started with a customer asking me to make a pen from a piece I found in a local bog, and now I love the idea that I can create unique pieces.”

(Left to right) Shannon Airport Retail Manager Alan Reynolds; Mo Phinn creator Richie Lillis; and Shannon Airport Managing Director Andrew Murphy [Picture: Arthur Ellis]
Kate’s ‘SeaSea Exfoliators’ concept is also locally inspired. She capitalises on the natural environment of West Clare by packaging and selling handpicked lavender and fresh seaweed from Lahinch Beach.

“My aim was to create an environmentally friendly exfoliator without using plastic microbeads” – Kate McMahon

It is also a concept inspired by family. “My grandmother regularly picks seaweed from the shore and leaves it to dry for a few days and I get to help her. Seaweed is rich in amino acids, which smooths and plumps the skin. It also hydrates the skin by drawing in moisture and vitamins.

“Sourcing lavender was easy, as we have plenty of fresh lavender growing in our garden which I began to dry and harvest for my exfoliators.”

The idea arose when she needed to create and develop a product for a mini business as part of her Transition Year project at school. “I wanted to create a beauty product that was natural and wouldn’t impact the environment,” Kat said.

“After lots of research and with some encouragement from my art teacher, I began creating exfoliators. My aim was to create an environmentally friendly exfoliator without using plastic microbeads. I live beside the sea in Lahinch, Co. Clare, and I know how dangerous microbeads are when they enter the waterways and into our food chain.

“My key ingredient, seaweed, is known to help in clearing acne. Combined with the therapeutic effects of locally sourced lavender, I knew this would catch the attention of my fellow students in school, especially exam students.

“Once my product became available on the market at school, I quickly started to receive positive feedback from my classmates. It gave me hope that there is a market among the younger generation for natural products and that we don’t need to use plastic in cosmetics.”

(Left to right) Shannon Airport Retail Manager Alan Reynolds; SeaSea Exfoliators creator Kate McMahon and Shannon Airport Managing Director Andrew Murphy [Picture: Arthur Ellis]

Shannon Group CEO Mary Considine said: “At Shannon Group we recognise the importance of nurturing entrepreneurship. Great entrepreneurs are important to the future. Their innovations can create jobs and contribute to economic growth. That is why we are committed to nurturing the next generation of entrepreneurs, whether through our Propeller Shannon programme to encourage aviation and other start-up companies at Shannon Free Zone, or in this case to support aspiring young entrepreneurs by giving them a platform to showcase their products and talent.”

What a brilliant vision, one wholly in keeping with Shannon Airport’s proud heritage of championing local business and of course airport retail. Shannon Airport has been the starting point for many illustrious travel retail careers, including, of course, duty free industry founder Dr Brendan O’Regan and the sector’s great 21st century statesman, Dubai Duty Free Executive Vice Chairman & CEO Colm McLoughlin. And one gets the unmistakable feeling that it may also have just lit the career touchpaper of two young, dynamic and inspirational entrepreneurs who are wholly in tune with the consumer needs, trends and concerns of our time.

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