By Ian Cooney
It’s Friday evening and Ronan Hughes has just delivered 600 fleeces from his leisure and clothing range to a corporate company in Ballinrobe. Not a bad evening’s work for a 17-year-old who was in school earlier in the day.
Ronan’s entrepreneurial skills have been a rare good news story during the current global pandemic. He set up his own sports merchandising company earlier this year after sponsoring training tops for Ballinrobe Community School, which was quickly followed by sponsoring a set of jerseys for his own club’s minor team at The Neale.
On November 6th, while promoting his range of ‘Hughsey Sports’ merchandise on The Late Late Show, host Ryan Tubridy pulled out a face covering that Ronan had given him in the Montrose corridors beforehand. And so the Handi Mask was born — another string to the young businessman’s bow.
His parents Jenny and Declan, alongside younger brother Kevin, have been hugely supportive of his business acumen. But there’s more to Ronan Hughes than that.
He knows Roscommon well, having lined out for the Mayo minors last season. He was injured for the Green and Red’s rout of the Rossies in Ballina but he started the Connacht final against Galway before coming on at centre-forward against Cork in the All-Ireland semi-final at Croke Park.
His father Declan has first cousins, the Walshs, in Donamon, and Ronan confirms that “we’d be fairly tight with them. We visit them once a year if we can. Darragh has played with Roscommon at underage level and won an intermediate football championship with Oran during the summer.”
As part of his mini company project for Transition Year, Ronan decided to sponsor training jerseys for any student in the school that wanted them.
“From a school of around 800 students, 80 took up the offer. It was a start,” he recalled.
“I saw that there was a hole in the market and, after some research, I was up and running on social media. Then the local club came calling looking for a set of jerseys, so I sponsored them as well. We had won the county final the year before. The old jerseys were handed out, but they never came back!
“Then a few clubs around the place wanted them. I generated loads of publicity, thanks to Liam Horan initially, and I was asked on to The Late Late Show to promote my merchandising,” he continued.
In the meantime, Ronan had been floating a few ideas “over and back” with Seamus Greaney, founder of Universal Sourcing Services International (USSI) — a marketing company that specialises in the sourcing of promotional ideas and gifts for all leading FMCG brands and retail chains direct from the Far East.
“Seamus had seen my story and he was fascinated by it, that I had my own full-working business in the space of three months. So we came up with this idea for the Handi Mask.
“I only got the masks on the Thursday night before the Late Late, and the logo went on them on the Friday morning. I went up to talk about my sports merchandise, and I also ended up taking about my new idea,” revealed Ronan.
Handi Mask relieves that frustration of being outside a shop with no mask. It attaches onto nearly every phone and phone case on the market. Applied through a 3M sticker, it has two pouches that neatly stores one’s face mask, and credit cards.
“Handi Mask has got your back. It would make a great stocking filler for Christmas,” he enthused.
That enthusiasm has served Ronan Hughes well on and off the field. Having set up his own successful business in such a short space of time, the world is very much at his feet.
*Visit www.hughseysports.com to view a range of Ronan’s merchandise, including the Handi Mask.