How to create a thriving business from nothing in a rural area

Susan talks to Margaret Griffin, founder of Griffin Garden Centre in Dripsey, Co. Cork. Thirty years ago Margaret created a garden centre "out in the sticks" with no money but a big dream. Today it is Ireland's

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How to create a thriving business from nothing in a rural area



Thirty years ago Margaret Griffin opened her garden centre in Dripsey, Co. Cork. She started with a green field "out in the sticks" and today her garden centre is Ireland's #1. This is the story of how she did it.


How do you start a business with no money, in a rural area, and turn it into a thriving enterprise, creating 36 jobs in the process? Margaret has some time-tested wisdom to share on the topic!


When every obstacle becomes an opportunity


I am from Dripsey myself; I would pass Griffin Garden Centre every morning on my way to school. I have seen it  grow year after year, to become the wonderful, bustling oasis it is today. It has a restaurant, a cafĂ©, a gift shop, inspirational gardens, a playground, and of course anything you could possibly want from a garden centre.


People will drive 45 minutes just to sit down for a coffee and look at the views. And still Margaret started with nothing, no land and no money, thirty years ago. In the interview she tells me she used to be so envious of the farmers' daughters at the horticultural college she attended: weren't they lucky they had land...


The ultimate productivity hack


In the podcast Margaret talks about her process to grow incrementally. You will be surprised at how simple it is: every evening, she writes a to-do list. That's it. But wait until she shares what has truly made a difference: this is not the kind of to-do list that will let you get away with shrugging your shoulders at anything left undone.


And this incremental growth over thirty years is rooted in two essential elements: the joy that Margaret takes in the process, and her ambition. She relishes every little detail of running the garden centre, she's always looking for improvements, and she dreams big.


It's not just about the balance sheet


Margaret has a very personal way of running her business: we didn't talk about P&L spreadsheets or margins or balance sheets. On the contrary, we talked about the experience she offers her visitors. What she can do to make that experience even more satisfying, even more fulfilling. 


She researches far and wide to find new ideas: why not add a restaurant, why not add a playground, why not offer a lovely gift shop with unique ideas for home decoration. Because she wants only the best for her visitors, they keep coming and driving long distances just to enjoy a day at the centre.


She extends the same care and concern to her employees and suppliers: as you'll hear in the podcast, she prides herself on always having paid everybody. Honesty is the foundation of her business.


Branding that is both clever and authentic


Branding fascinates me and I'm especially curious of examples that reflect the deeper truth of the business. The scones at Griffin Garden Centre were voted the best in Ireland. They're called Granny Griffin's scones. In the interview Margaret shares the story of the real Granny Griffin, her mother, an outstanding baker.


Granny Griffin's scones were born out of Margaret's desire to honour her mother. And that's just one of the many ties that link Griffin Garden Centre to Dripsey: by being true to herself and her roots, Margaret has tapped into our universal desire to belong and to be reminded of the cocoon that our family, our community can be.


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