The Story of Allster

Eddie

I’m Eddie. Pleased to meet you. Brought up on the Great Peninsula of Ards, in 1997 I moved to England. 20 years later, having lived across the UK (via stints in Australia and France) I made the move back home.

This is the story of how my journey led to the creation of Allster, and what my team and I hope to achieve with the business.

My Favourite Hobby

As a passionate cook I was so happy to discover, upon my return home, that we were spoiled for choice with excellent local ingredients, food and drink producers. Whether it was the quality ready meals from Lecale Harvest or the wonderfully fatty Fermanagh Black Bacon, indulging my passion was made all the more enjoyable in the knowledge that the provenance of the ingredients was so clear.

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The Problem

Unfortunately it took me months, if not years, to discover all of these products. Sure, occasional trips to farmers markets or independent delicatesons were great fun. However, such venues weren’t particularly accessible for someone living in the country given how infrequently they were held or the distance required to visit. Even now, I often discover new products from our endlessly innovative community during these infrequent visits.

The Solution

By a quirk of fate, my experience in business had led me to develop a reasonable understanding of online marketplaces. I figured that if I’d had access to a website that brought together all these great products I’d have discovered them faster and would have been able to buy them more easily. In 2023, I figured, the convenience of home delivery should be perfectly suited to harder to access products made by artisan producers. And of course the unbelievable innovation and creativity of the many artisans across the island could be showcased in an accessible place.

Because the website didn’t exist, I decided to create it. And so Allster was born - a marketplace to help people discover and buy amazing local brands.

Food Was The Gateway

As I began deeper research into Irish food and drink, my eyes were opened quickly by the sheer scale of artisans, crafters and producers in other areas. Whether it was art, craft, textiles, home ware, jewellery or pottery, it was clear that the region was prolific in its output.

With this discovery, it became obvious that this marketplace should cover more than just food.

Guinness Draught Can Map of Ireland

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Getting The Message Out

With any business, you have to be able to tell people that you exist. In fact that challenge is often what holds back many artisan producers from ever becoming bigger than a hobby or cottage industry.

Although the usual options of digital marketing or advertising in the press were appealing, it so happened that something slightly unusual was a possibility.

For much of the time since returning home I had been commuting to London at least a couple of times a month for work. I also happened to live very close to Belfast International Airport where a vacant retail unit had caught my eye.

This was interesting for a couple of reasons. I figured that the potential suppliers I’d come across on my research would be keen to be stocked in the airport given it’s considered a prime retail location. And, the airport attracts a diverse range of visitors. While markets and craft shops are amazing, they tend to only attract a small part of the overall population. An airport, it seemed to me, would be a great place to introduce our brand and the amazing products we hoped to stock to a much bigger audience.

Are You A Retailer?

That was the leading and entirely fair question the airport’s commercial director asked me when I arrived in his office. “Err, not exactly” came the reply.

And what about working with airports - is this something you’ve experienced? A very fair second question. Nope, not a moment!

It wasn’t looking good! But despite the complete absence of relevant experience, it turned out that the airport was guided by its head office to find ways to work with local businesses. They said “yes”.

6 months later, on 28 May 2022, Allster opened for business in the Departures Lounge at Belfast International Airport.

Opening Day, 28 May 2022

April 2023

From that day until February 2024, we dragged ourselves out of bed to bring the amazing work of local businesses to the attention of tourists, business travellers and locals alike. The opening hours were punishing (you can open from 4am - 10pm 7 days a week in the airport!) but it’s worth it to see the happy faces of our costumers and for the knowledge that every penny spent in the airport is one penny kept in the local economy.

In November 2023 we finally launched the marketplace fully and you can find over 15,000 Irish products covering every category you can imagine. In February, the Airport store closed down - follow our Tiktok account for lots of info on the craziest situation we've ever experienced!

Our goal for 2024 is to continue to grow our e-commerce business so that more and more people can discover the amazing products Ireland has to offer and, since we began putting all of our resources into e-commerce, we've been delighted to see that more and more of our customers come from overseas.

How Allster Is Different To Born and Bred, Carrolls & Etsy

We’ve been asked this question so many times in the past 12 months that it’s important to explain. I mean obviously we have some similarities! However, there are two key differences between Allster and born and bred (which is a great shop that you should visit!)

Most importantly of all, we aren’t trying to build our own brand as a maker. Allster doesn’t make any of its own products. When you shop with Allster, you can be absolutely sure that you are directly supporting an Irish business or producer.

Although it would be more profitable for Allster to make tea towels and mugs and all of those lovely things rather than source other people’s products, It would be completely at odds with our mission to help people discover and buy those same amazing local brands.

What’s more, those makers rely on local landmarks, customs, phrases and history for their inspiration. If Allster were to make its own products, we would be naturally drawn to those same sources of inspiration. That’s uncomfortable because it would turn us into competitors with the very people and businesses we wish to support.

 

If you've ever come across Carrolls then you'll know that their vision of Ireland is leprechauns, shamrocks and so on. We believe that there is much more to Ireland than these cliches so, while you'll find the odd example here and there on our site, you're much more likely to find contemporary twists rooted in that heritage.

As for Etsy - well, let's just say that you'd want to make sure what you're buying on there isn't direct from overseas.

So that’s us, that’s our mission and where we came from. If we can get even part of the way to achieving our mission we believe that it will be a great outcome for the Irish economy.

With thanks to all of our team members past and present, our partners and of course our lovely community of suppliers, here’s to the next 12 months.

 Eddie

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