The Paddy Box: For the Irish People in Your Life
Not many people know the origins of the word “paddy,” as it relates to Irish heritage, and its use has a complicated history. In Ireland, “Paddy” is a nickname for Patrick (Ireland’s patron saint). The Irish name for Patrick is Pádraic or Pádraig, hence why you wish someone a happy St. Paddy’s day (not St. Patty’s). As with any ethnic or slang term, it’s all about context.
Older generations of Irish consider the term derisive because of their experiences living in diaspora; the native-born of their adopted countries addressed or referred to them dismissively as “paddy,” especially in the U.K. Even some Irish use “paddy” in a negative way when they detect a lack of authenticity among their compatriots, e.g., those who reinforce Irish stereotypes or those who put on airs to distance themselves from Irish culture. Such people are called “plastic paddy.”
Mark Loftus, founder, and CEO of The Paddy Box, greets the term with a shrug. He knows the word’s history but points out that many Irish-born people have embraced the term, especially in their branding. Ireland has companies called Paddy Power (gambling) and The Paddy Wagon (travel/tourism).
Leaving Ireland to build a new life has always been a part of the Irish experience. In the years following the financial crisis of 2008, thousands of Irish emigrated to the U.S., Australia, the U.K., and Canada. Loftus, a Dublin native and resident, saw a business opportunity. If you want to send a taste of home in the form of Irish snacks (Cadbury chocolates, Tayto crisps, Barry’s Tea) to an Irish person living outside their country, check out The Paddy Box.
Describe the moment you saw a niche market for The Paddy Box.
I left the university around 2009. So, the financial crash had just happened. A large percentage of people my age left the country. There were no jobs, nothing really going on. I was sending packages over to my friends and stuff like that and family that had left. We used the National Postal Service. In 2017, I started to do a bit more research and learned quite the amount of Irish people that were living abroad or even that had connections to Ireland. It was in the millions, between first- and third-generation Irish that are around the world.
What did that research tell you?
I found a huge amount of data on how many Irish are actually abroad and even in other European countries. Australia was huge in 2014-2015. About 50,000 had gone there aged
20 to 40. Everybody looks for a little bit of home comfort. That’s when we thought there was definitely a space for this.
How much has the business grown since 2017?
In 2017 it was literally a kitchen industry—my mom and dad’s kitchen at the start. By November and December, the Christmas rush, it was really hectic, working 18-20 hour days trying to get everything out and delivered. We moved to a small office and were on a growth trajectory of about 20% each year. In 2018 we were up 50%, and then in 2020 with Covid in March, things just went absolutely bananas. Nobody could travel home to Ireland. We grew by about 500%. Even domestically, we did very well because people couldn’t even travel down to a relative like an hour away from them at that point. Last year, we went down by 20%, which was to be expected, I guess, normalization. On average, we ship 50,000 packages a year now.
In which channels do you spend your media dollars?
We use paid social, Instagram, and Facebook, and we use Google pretty heavily. People aren’t actually buying as much directly off Facebook and Instagram where they might follow an ad and go through all the way to the cart and think, “Oh, I don’t really feel too safe here. I mean, I’m still in Instagram, I don’t know…” With Google ads, the return on investment is huge. Inside Ireland, we use the radio, which is really effective in Ireland. People in their homes or cars tend to be very responsive to radio advertising. Our demographic is women aged 25 to 70 because that’s usually the people who are buying gifts. We can deliver to New York and a lot of the East Coast the next day. You can order at 3 pm on a Monday, and it’s there on Tuesday.
Do you ever invest in any OOH advertising?
We advertise with and help out a lot of Gaelic football teams around the world, whether that’s a jersey sponsorship or the events that might be going on in the Irish community. There are several teams in the New York area, Boston, that we would give prizes to or sponsor events and stuff like that for them. We’ve had pop-up shops in department stores in Ireland.
What is your funding source?
We’re self-funded and have been pretty self-sufficient from the very beginning because we are an online business. Once you’re selling, you’re making money.
What’s on the horizon?
We’re looking at a few different subscription models, and we have a loyalty scheme rolling out in the next couple of weeks, which is going to really help our returning customer bases. We
use Shopify and apps that plug into our Shopify store. It’ll allow people to do referrals, and they’ll get points and stuff like that for purchases. We’re also seeing a huge rise in corporate sales, which has been brilliant for us.