Pat Quinn of Quinnsworth Fame: Leitrim’s Famous 20th Century Entrepreneur
He was one of those people that stood out in a crowd or in a small gathering and his arrival on the Irish business landscape revolutionalised the grocery trade. He founded an empire known as Quinnsworth at a time, when the Irish family shopping was almost 100% the responsibility of the housewife. Men did not push buggies too much in public in the 1960’s, and early 70’s and if they did, they would be tagged as under the thumb.
Pat Quinn; born 1935 – died 2009, had a visionary approach for a new kind of shopping and it was still very customary for shopkeepers and assistants to serve their customers from behind their counters and dressed in their brown or white shop coats.
CHANGED THE GROCERY TRADE LANDSCAPE: The Leitrim entrepreneur changed and modernised Irish grocery stores to supermarkets and minimarkets style. Open plan display of goods, with customers serving themselves, was a new Quinnsworth trend that took off like jets into the sky. In the twinkle of an eye, Irish shoppers applauded Pat Quinn’s spectacular new shopping style and the brand Quinnsworth became a household name throughout the land.
In a successful career, Pat Quinn was an Irish publican, hotelier, music promoter and sometimes storyteller also. A former millionaire and founder of the Quinnsworth group, Ireland's first supermarket chain, he invented the term "Yellow Pack".
According to a daily Irish newspaper, Pat was "one of the Ireland’s best known business figures in the 1960s and 1970s”. His brash style made him a whizz kid of the Irish grocery business and when he landed in Douglas, Co. Cork, for the first time ever, huge morning crowds had gathered hours before his due arrival by helicopter.
Woolworths Style Of Trading Opened His Mind:
Glancing back on his Leitrim roots, he was born on 1st July 1935 and grew up in Cloone, Co. Leitrim. His mother ran a local public house and grocery store and his father was a local member of the Garda Síochána and the family were also funeral undertakers.
Pats upbringing had a strong business influence from his childhood and listening daily to business tales, the spirit of entreprenuralship was sown early in his education. He was dispatched for his secondary tutoring to famous midlands college, St. Mels of Longford.
The siblings were his brothers Fersey, Fintan and Kevin and two sisters, Annette and Mary. Working life for Pat Quinn began as a store room assistant at Woolworths of Limerick and his dedication and ability resulted in promotion to the position of store manager at the age of 22, a unique status rise for one so young. After departing Woolworths in 1958, Pat and his uncle, Peter Quinn, opened QuinnCo on Longford towns main street.
The showbiz nature of music became a magnet for an upcoming entrepreneur and Pat entered the music trade as a promoter of musical events in the early 1960’s and upcoming artists such as Joe Dolan of the famous Drifters Showband and Brendan Bowyer’s Royal Showband, were acts hosted by the young promoter. Pat’s introduction to his wife Anne, came about at one of his gigs and the romance flourished for many decades after.
Always searching for new and inventive business agendas, during a spell of emigration in Canada, he promoted artists such as The Beach Boys; Johnny Cash; The Dave Clark Five; The Dubliners; Roy Orbison and The Supremes, all mighty big acts. In 1965 he promoted The Rolling Stones and Mick Jagger for a Toronto concert.
H. Williams Dublin and Quinnsworth
On return to Ireland in 1965, Pat was employed as general manager of the H. Williams supermarket group. Always on the look out for new opportunities, he requested senior management to consider opening a branch of their chain in Stillorgan's new shopping centre.
This request wasn’t granted and now the upcoming Leitrim businessman, established his first Quinnsworth supermarket in Dublin's Stillorgan Shopping Centre in December 1966. Inspired by the Woolworths trademark and open plan display of goods, this was the spark of genius that resulted in the Quinnsworth establishment.
The husband and wife team cleaned up the store in the evenings after closing time and so successful was the new brand, in less than five years, Pat Quinn opened six new stores and made £6 million within five years.
For the opening of one of his new stores, he contemplated the services of a famous professional ManU footballer, but declined the fee as too elaborate and stated his own national profile was sufficient. Instead of appointing the famous footballer, he donated the £1,000 sought fee to an Irish charity.
The Quinnsworth label became such an iconic trademark in Irish business, that Dublin based Superquinn changed its name to avoid confusion with customers. The success of Ireland’s Quinnsworth came to the attention of the British Retail giant, Galen Weston’s Associated British Foods chain.
In the early 1970’s, with stores at Crumlin; Ballymun; Dundrum; Rathfarnham; Douglas & Wilton (both Cork); and Galway and Shannon, Co. Clare, Weston bought out Pat Quinn, making the Leitrim man and his family millionaires. Pat was just thirty six years old at this time.
Life After Quinnsworth:
A succession of ventures in Dublin pubs and three pool halls soon followed after Quinnsworth, but the magic touch didn’t ignite as rapidly as desired and in 1986, the Quinn family left Ireland as emigrants, and settled in Toronto, where books and crisps became his merchandise items. Upon settling in Toronto, pubs and restaurants, with an Irish flavour, became the tools of his trade and still continue trading successfully through his family in the 21st century.
Pat Quinn and his wife Anne, reared seven children and Pat’s death in November 2009, in Toronto, Ontaria, Canada, extinguished the life of a Famous Son of Ireland and Leitrim.
As an Irish entrepreneurial giant of 20th century Ireland, Pat Quinn’s legacy is now incorporated in our Irish Business Hall of Fame Online Gallery.
Irish Business Hall of Fame Tribute