Now is the time for the entrepreneurs of the future, providing they remain positive, Boylesports Managing Director John Boyle tells Meadhbh Monahan.
A trip to London with his father who trained greyhounds for a bookmaker was John Boyle’s first experience of the business.
“They told me he was a millionaire,” Boyle recalls. “I remember coming home and telling all my friends: ‘I’m going to be a millionaire’.” With an estimated fortune of €45 million, the Armagh native was placed 186th on the Sunday Times rich list in 2011.
Boyle puts his success down to his early determination to grab opportunities. After leaving school at 15, he worked in various jobs and when he was sacked from his bread van driver job at the age of 25 in 1982, he decided to open a bookies in Markethill, County Armagh.
“I had been a bread man and found myself with no job. It’s not a nice place to be. I thought if I ever get an opportunity, I’m just going to grab it and I’m going to be so appreciative and so grateful,” he tells agendaNi.
“I worked there for seven years learning the business,” he recalls. In 1989 he opened his second store in Drogheda and “that has progressed to 176 stores today.”
“As a kid going to the greyhounds, I’d love to do a bet. It was exciting and fun, you always thought you were going to win. That’s how I got into it,” Boyle reflects.
“It’s good fun because I’m interested in most sports, if not all sports. It’s a great way to make a living if you love watching football [and] going to sport. It makes it so much easier to be propelled out of bed in the morning.” He continues: “In business or in life, the main thing is that people are doing something that propels them out of bed. I’ve never said: ‘I don’t want to go to work’.”
Mind technology interests Boyle, who refuses to read newspapers or watch the news. He urges people to stop listening to bad news because “what you focus on grows.” Boyle states: “I have always absolutely and completely believed in myself.”
Despite the economic downturn and high unemployment (currently 14.3 per cent in the Republic and 7.2 per cent in Northern Ireland), he believes that “the opportunity [for business start ups] is there now more so because people are running afraid, because they are listening to the bad news. They are hearing it all and they have no self-belief.”
Anyone who wants to be a “champion” or reach a high standard needs to “have a mind that doesn’t know failure [and should] not [be] hanging out with people that are talking about failure.”
Now is the time for the entrepreneurs of the future, he contends. Boyle’s advice to budding businesses is “it’s the best time” because accommodation is 30-50 per cent cheaper, flexi-leases are an option and “people are willing to give out product for free.”
Located in Dundalk, County Louth, Boylesports now has 176 retail outlets and 1,100 staff. Its three betting channels are the retail stores, online sports, poker and casino betting and a ‘fon-a-bet’ service.
“Everybody is interested in investment, everybody believes they are a professional, everybody has an opinion,” according to Boyle.
Whilst betting has largely been targeted at men, recent trends show more women betting on TV shows such as X Factor, Strictly Come Dancing or soap operas. This has made the industry “more exciting.”
Moving online never worried Boyle because he remained adamant that retail stores are “social clubs.” His point may have been proven in that, last year, Boylesports opened 40 more retail outlets. However, he concedes that this may have been due to Celtic Bookmakers going into liquidation and William Hill exiting the Irish market. Boylesports bought 18 Celtic Bookmaker stores and 15 of William Hill’s.
New online CEO Keith O’Loughlin has reported that Boylesports online is now growing “ten times faster” than retail.
The company plans to enter the Asian market in May. “I believe the Chinese culture is renowned for gambling,” Boyle says. “We will take on betting partners and will provide a service for the Asians.”
On the ethics of gambling, Boyle points out that the industry is heavily regulated. “It’s well-governed and structured and is always looking out for problem gamblers. It’s a requirement now that all our shop managers are trained to deal with problem gamblers, and GamCare online spots potential problem gamblers and directs them where to go if need be.”
When it is put to him that the desperation caused by the economic downturn could have contributed to Boylesports’ ongoing success (as people with financial problems often turn to gambling), Boyle responds: “There are a lot of pros and cons and ups and downs in anything.”
A lot of people “get incredible pleasure” from placing a bet and “surely anyone with an addictive personality is going to have issues until they sort out their own personality.”
He believes that gambling occurs in stages for the majority of people. “Betting isn’t a thing that lasts. Guys 18 to 20, the next thing they are getting married and by 23 to 24 they’ve moved on. I would say it’s a small percentage of people that stays.”
Advertising is “virtually impossible” on RTÉ. However, Sky Sports does allow the advertising of gambling products.
On Ireland’s economic future, the
56-year-old reflects: “I’m 40 years knocking around and I think: ‘My God, we are in the best of times’.”
Asked whether he would add to his one store in Northern Ireland, Boyle says: “It’s very hard to get licences in the North whereas in the South it’s very easy. They cost a lot of money in the North and in the South they are free.” Boyle would “look at any opportunity,” including moving to Northern Ireland. “We’d move anywhere if the move was right and there was something in it.”
A gym enthusiast, Boyle works out before work two to three times a week and finds that it gives him energy. The importance of mind technology in his life is apparent in the relaxation classes he attends weekly with “like-minded people” and his speeches to students in universities, colleges and schools on achieving success through positive thinking.