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Consumers are looking for meaning behind the products they buy

Weave me a story

February 14, 2018  By Cathy Bartolic

Storytelling is a valuable skill in today’s society. Showcasing your business or that of a signature farm product with a story is one of the best marketing strategies you can have. Who doesn’t love a great story?

Recently, I discovered the story of Avoca, an Irish family run business that is one of the world’s oldest surviving textile manufacturing companies as well as one of Ireland’s most interesting retail stores.

In 2015 it was sold to U.S. Aramark, but the Pratt family had acquired it in the 1970s and turned it into the well-respected lifestyle brand that it is today.


In 1974, Donald Pratt was the solicitor hired to negotiate the sale of the original Avoca Mill property. On a rainy, cold spring day, he and his wife went out to visit the mill that was originally started in 1723 to weave clothing for the nearby copper mine workers.

The buildings had been neglected and water was leaking through the roof in several places. The whole property was in disrepair and the Pratts were not keen about leaving the warmth of their car to explore the mill. That is until Jim Merry, one of the two remaining employees, enthusiastically described his vision for the mill’s future and convinced them to have a look around. On their drive home, Hilary Pratt said to her husband, “If you buy that property, I will never speak to you again.” She had her hands full with a teaching career and five children and wasn’t interested in adding to her load.

Donald felt the property was over priced. He went back to his client and said he would take it for half the price with all the equipment and textiles included. Much to his surprise, his client shook his hand and said, “SOLD.”

Throughout its history, the mill has had a solid reputation. Two hundred years after it was started, three sisters took it over. They were the first to add colour to the woven textiles. The mill gained a reputation for their amazing colour combinations. Colour became the trademark of Avoca at that stage in its history. They were recognized by Italian fashion designers and were supplying baby blankets to the British Royal family.

The original mill, which is still working, can be visited in the town of Avoca, County Wicklow. The Pratt family, including four of their children, have grown the business to include 11 highly successful stores located all around Ireland. Each store is designed and created differently so it is well worth exploring several of them.

Their business mission is to create joy and have fun. They look for colour and life and happiness, avoiding the average and constantly seeking the unusual and beautiful. They specialize in detail and whimsy. The product tags are designed to bring a smile to your face with things like “Weaving a hug” or “Don’t quit your dream job” or “A piece from the small but interesting world of Avoca.” It is difficult to describe what an Avoca store looks like because there is nothing like them. Retail Week magazine ranked Avoca as one of the world’s 100 most inspirational stores. The judges said it has the feel of a store where each item has been lovingly bought by a single buyer and manages to make something traditional feel contemporary. You can find a video of their story beautifully told by Hilary and Donald on their website at What a heartwarming story to share with anyone who sees the colourful woven Avoca blanket in your home.

What is your story? What will your customers be talking about as they enjoy your products? How are you sharing it with your customers? Is it time to sharpen your storytelling skills? Consumers are looking for meaning behind the products they buy. Make sure yours are not disappointed.

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