For two men from County Armagh, launching a sportswear brand was a no-brainer.
Kieran Quinn and Steven Burns saw a gap in the market and they went for it.
In January 2019, Playr-Fit was born.
Despite a strong belief in the company’s unique selling point, growth has come as a bit of a surprise to its owners, especially since, after having had a great first year in business, the rest has been under the auspices of a global pandemic. – a pandemic that has hit the sport hard – its entire market.
But remarkably, it was a catalyst to propel the young company into a position of strength.
Speaking on the Armagh I podcast this week, Kieran, who is originally from Culloville (passing through Belfast a long time ago), said it was their belief that there was a market for the plethora of sports across the island of Ireland – and in the UK – not being properly served.
So Kieran, alongside his Lurgan co-founder, set about packing their jobs and taking a leap in what was a proverbial leap of faith together.
The couple, like many entrepreneurs, had long been formulating plans in their heads but, as the old saying goes, two heads are better than one.
Kieran said: “We decided, listen, we’re going to continue together, it cuts the risk in half, but it also puts two good heads in there; it was a good start.
“And for the first nine months, it was just the two of us. We were doing everything in the office, from selling to sorting to picking and packing; we’re still picking and packing, especially before Christmas. , but we got stuck and we tried. And it really grew from there.
Their strengths as individuals have made them and continue to make them perfect springboards for each other; Kieran, admittedly, isn’t one to worry too much about the financial side of things.
Steven, as Kieran puts it, is “very, very hard on the financial side.”
“I knew he would always be in control of the finances so they didn’t run away from us. And luckily they didn’t and thanks to that we are healthy now which is great.
And although the pair have roots in the GAA, the brand has attracted teams from all sports, and rugby in particular.
With its headquarters in Newry – originally in Culloville – Playr-Fit is well placed to tackle the market on both sides of the border.
“We’ve really gotten a foothold in rugby where we’ve come up with some new material that rugby clubs, particularly in the Munster and Leinster areas, are starting to really notice,” Kieran said.
“Rugby is a game where you have your Canterburys; you have Kukri, you have Samurai; there are massive companies but with that there is a downside is that you don’t get that personalized service and the delays are longer so we kind of hear the weak points of rugby clubs .
While the pandemic proved to be a catalyzing moment, their first hire – not that it was planned – gave the company an added dimension.
That hire came in the form of Monaghan GAA goalkeeper Rory Beggan, arguably among the best stoppers in the game right now.
“He was in charge of the Monaghan development teams and he organized their equipment,” Kieran explained.
“So he called us once we made a delivery, asked us for coffee and basically said we delivered stuff in four weeks, everything was individually wrapped and everything was fine. He said “you wouldn’t believe the hassle I’ve had over the past few years putting these orders together”. And we were much cheaper.
“So he just said ‘I think there’s something to it’ and were we looking for someone? To be honest, we weren’t. Steven and I agreed it would take a year or two, or at the end of the first year, before we look for someone, but when someone like Rory comes along, we’ve done it.
“So Rory became our first employee in September of the first year and he is still with us. So we’ve grown from Rory, who was our first hire, to now 15 employees, which really shows how far we’ve come.
While it took some capital to move the business forward – not as much as you might think – for Kieran and Steven, it was all in the hours of preparation and, ultimately, the designs.
The reality of owning his own sportswear business didn’t sit well with Steven until he visited Bundoran in County Donegal.
“We’re only three or four months old, and Steven said he went to Bundoran over Easter,” Kieran recalled. “He said the next time I go up there I want to see somebody wearing a Playr-Fit top, that was his big thing.
“He then went back in the summer for a long weekend and saw someone wearing one, so it was only a few months later he was buzzing with it.
“Once we were with the kids, in the village of Kildare, just a few weeks ago, just for a day, and someone was wearing a Playr-Fit top and the kids, they’re all excited like you, so that’s a big factor. To see it all over the country is huge. And then to see people in the UK and America wearing them too, it’s just mind-boggling.
This family investment is vital for Kieran and Steven; for without their support, the task at hand would be much greater. But it’s a real family affair.
“I know they’ve sacrificed a bit over the last two or three years, but they know we’re doing it for the right reasons. we are building something for them.
“It’s probably still hard to accept that they’re enjoying the summer and that we’re working outside, but without them we couldn’t do it and they know that.
“I couldn’t imagine that if I came home late, maybe at nine o’clock some nights and there wasn’t a good atmosphere at home, it just wouldn’t be good, but luckily, there are.”
Kieran says his wife Fiona, like him, goes viral when she sees someone wearing a top on social media.
“Just before Christmas we had a few evening shifts from Fiona and the two of my two little ones helped pick and pack and they helped get things out.”
Although the support network was there, the thought of Kieran taking an initial kick was a source of concern for Fiona.
“I firmly believe that if you think you have a good idea, you have to try it. My wife would disagree with me; she would be the most careful.
“At the time, quitting a full-time job to go start something that wouldn’t pay me for six months, she couldn’t understand that. But I think if you’re convinced that something can work, it’s worth trying and if it’s been six months, or a year or two, and it doesn’t work, then you’ve lost it.
When it had only been a year and things were going well, Covid-19 had other ideas… but again, Kieran and Steven too.
“We’re starting to get some legs and all of a sudden all the sports are shutting down,” Kieran recalled.
“We quickly switched to face masks. We were one of the first to release branded masks. We released it in early April; it was actually a bit of a joke. A guy I know in New York, his club had just gotten rid of us, so we had masks made with his club crest, and I put it on Facebook. And it just got crazy. Companies messaged me on Facebook looking for these face masks – 200 of them or 400 of them – and we were actually working from home, but it was our busiest time of all. time; it was in April, May, June of the first confinement.
Northampton Saints came calling, ordering 5,000 face masks. Lotus Cars arrived with an order for 10,000.
Kieran said: “It got crazy; that’s when I thought, ‘God, it’s not just here in our area, it’s everywhere’. For me it was the beginning, this thing could take legs. The biggest thing about face masks was that they kept us open and got some money in the bank to help us keep going and employ more staff. At that moment I thought ‘yeah this is going to be big’.
Listen to the whole conversation on the Armagh I podcast here.
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