Friday, June 09, 2006


For a boy in a small rural town in the west of Ireland, going "up town" is as important a part of the Community School curriculum as is metalwork, geography and english. That this particular school perched impressively high above the town didn't make much difference. The local boys still went "up town" at lunchtime for the craic and some devilment. The boarders were confined to barracks for the lunch from hell.

Some of the local lads had parent-prepared packed lunches which they'd try to sell to the always ravenous boarders. But this was an uncertain economy. A lad could get stung with a bag full of Flaherty’s pan loaf and a Dunne Stores pack of easi-singles cheese if a competitor arrived in with his Auntie Mary’s cheesecake. All it took was a particularly large wake in recent days, to see whole sides of ham and chocolate biscuits become the plat du jour. I’m sorry for your troubles and all that but any chance you’d have a few smokes?

One particularly entrepreneurial guy knew that he’d have to diversify his product offering. He’d need to become the middleman in a lucrative transaction and shift the stock-holding risk onto some local shopkeeper. Manage his working capital better. It is no coincidence that Finian O’Rourke was son of the local auctioneer.

Dolan’s Sweet shop in the town was one of the old style. Lots of jars of boiled sweets carefully dispensed by Eagle-eyed Eddie Dolan. Eddie had no need for any of that CCTV or magic mirrors nonsense. No-one shoplifted in Eddie’s no matter how the local kids tried to distract him.

Finian had noticed the colourful supply of gobstoppers and immediately saw the commercial potential. Priced at €1.25 per quarter, he could resell these large but not too heavy sweets at 20 cent each and make close on 400% profit. And so the trade began. Finian started small for he was a cautious business man and everyone knew that it wasn’t a smart move to advertise too loudly for fear of attracting new entrants into the market. He requested 10 such gobstoppers which Eagle-eyed Eddie carefully counted out and bagged. They went down a treat with the lads. The next day the order was for 20. The day after that, and despite the death of Angie McBride’s elderly uncle, he was able to shift 30 units.

By the following Monday, Finian had graduated to a whole quarter. An easier fiver he’d never made. By the end of the next week he was shifting two full quarters. This surge in sales did raise a minor supplier/trader dispute as Finian didn’t trust the ½ lb weight on Eddie’s antiquated scales. It seemed to be lighter than the 2 quarter weights which both men eventually agreed to use. Finian diversified into other sweets (cola bottles, candy teeth and oyster shells) but he knew that gobstoppers were where his biggest profit margin was.

It was all going swimmingly until Eagle-eyed Eddie noticed that the next Bill Cullen wanted his goods dispensed into a series of small bags. By now, Finian had struck up a partnership with his cousin Alice who still attended the National School. It would seem that there was no end to the disposable income of the pre-teen scholars.

When Eddie hiked the price of gobstoppers citing market forces, the bottom fell out of Finian’s sweet trade. Finian had been selling below cost to the Fifth year boarders in the hope that he’d get first refusal on a Robbie Williams ticket. He was now financially exposed. 100’s of children addicted to these sugary delights had to revert to Calvita slices and wholegrain bread and were none too happy. And it took Eddie a whole year to shift the bulk order than he had bought.

Which just goes to show you that even in a perfect economy, there is always some greedy bastard who’ll ruin it for everyone.

Story courtesy of my brilliant cousin Andy. I encourage him to use this anecdote in his forthcoming junior cert exam.


Blogger Omaniblog said...

I imagine Eddie will do v well in life. Such admirable enterprise. Learning a few lessons early on is excellent preparation, isn't it.

I love your reference to Bill Cullen. I've been meaning to blog about him. My mother in law doesn't like him at all. I loved his "Golden Apples".

You're a great story-teller.

11:28 a.m., June 12, 2006  

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