By: Ciaran Brennan
Photos: Yvonne Cole Dupuis
Based in Ballyfore near Edenderry in Co. Offaly, The Costelloe family have built a globally-successful hide-trading and fallen animal collection business over the last 40 years. John and Michael Jr Costelloe spoke to Ciaran Brennan about the secret to their success, the future of the company and the role of knackery and hide-trading in the sustainability issue.
J&M&Son Exports Ltd began operations from their yard in Ballyfore in 1982 and continue to expand their exports business. The animal collection enterprise was formed by John Costelloe along with his father and has established itself as a mainstay in the midlands’ agricultural scene.
The company primarily trades animal hides which are exported globally. It also collects fallen animals for disposal and provides their service to local farmers and the County Council.
It’s a significant operation which is managed collectively by John Costelloe along with his sons Michael Junior and Eamon.
“We’re an international business,” Michael Jr told The Topic. “We sell hides to Belgium, Portugal, the Netherlands, The Far East, Italy.”
Larger hides that are exported are generally used for upholstery while smaller hides are mainly used in the production of footwear.
John and his father, Michael Senior, started the business together almost four decades ago with John taking over proceedings a number of years ago.
Mick senior sadly passed away in 2017 but the firm’s legacy has been in safe hands for a long time.
“My father’s had it taken over for donkey’s years. Grandad’s been out of the business 20 or 25 years,” said Michael Jr.
It has transformed since the early days when John and his father travelled from their home in England to Ireland where they collected hides for days at a time.
At this time, they worked from a rented yard in Nenagh, county Tipperary trading hides which were sent to mainland Europe for leather production.
In 1982, John and Michael Snr decided they needed a more central location to be able to collect animal hides from around Ireland.
They settled on a yard in Ballyfore outside of Edenderry and the family have operated from there ever since. The company also has a yard in Ballykilleen used “specifically to be able to export factory hides to China because they need special treatment,” said Michael Jr.
The Costelloes said they were grateful to all of those in the community that have helped them in their journey. They gave particular thanks to Noel Murphy who helped them to establish themselves in Kilbeggan, Tyrrellspass and Mullingar.
A number of people helped the business on its road to success including the staff at J&M&Son throughout the years who Michael Jr and John gave thanks to. Brian “Spang” Spence and Máíre Flynn were also given a special mention by the family.
The Costelloes also operate Charlie Lawless Ltd which is based in Portlaoise and decided to keep the “well established” name.
J&M&Son’s success is partially down to the strong reputation they have built up in the industry as well as one simple fact:
“We just provide a good service to be honest,” said Michael Jr.
“If someone has a dead animal and they don’t know who to get rid of it, someone gives them our number. They’ll stick with us then.”
The company gets the vast majority of their hides from animals slaughtered in meat factories. It is “dirty work” according to Michael Jr who said it is imperative that they keep in step with current legislation.
“We’re obviously licensed by the department of agriculture. They have their own rules and regulations that we have to comply with. This includes the conditions the premises have to be in.”
Agriculture was identified as a key industry in the climate change challenge. A number of regulations have been put in place to combat the issue which are impacting traditional agricultural activities.
While it has not directly affected the Costelloes who Michael Jr described as “an ancillary service to agriculture”, the attitude towards animal hides used in clothing has altered the business.
John said that J&M&Son’s service is an important part of having a more sustainable environment.
“The livestock industry needs to dispose of carcasses in a professional, ecological and environmentally friendly manner,” he said.
“It becomes more important now in terms of the environment that everything is disposed of correctly.”
One aspect of ensuring this process is carried out effectively is the traceability of the animal.
This procedure involves the collection of a fallen animal’s passport which must match their ear tag. Farmers are then given a document “so they have proof that the animal has gone through the correct channels for disposal,” explained John.
“Then it gives the Department of Agriculture the wherewithal to certify that the country is following environmental guidelines and providing traceability for all stock.”
“Traceability is vital for the Department of Agriculture,” he added.
The industry has evolved in this sense since John first started collecting hides with his father.
“Years ago there was no traceability. You collected the cow, brought it back, skinned it, sold the hides, cut off the meat for the greyhounds and chucked the rubbish into the bin. Then the bin went off. Done.”
The industry continues to adapt and change and Michael Jr said it is important for J&M&Son to “move with the times”.
“The new process involves a lot of technology,” said John. “The chaps coming behind me are more modernised with the electronic side of stuff, I wouldn’t have a notion.”
“Every generation takes on a new angle or a new part of the progression within the industry.”
John’s wife Monica was responsible for this aspect of the businesses before she passed away in 2015.
“She took care of the paperwork. She liaised with the farmers on difficulties and problems. If problems would arise she would take care of that,” said John.
During the difficult time of Monica’s passing, the family received support from their community including Ballyfore GAA who John said were “very helpful”.
J&M&Son remains very much a family business and this is something Michael Jr is proud of.
“My lad there is 5 years old and he comes with me in the truck sometimes. We were with a farmer one day who said my son was the fourth generation of Costelloe to be in that farm collecting animals.”
“It’s nice to hear that you’ve been providing a good service for so long that there are four generations of Costelloe’s doing it.”
Michael Jr said his kids, five-year old JJ and three-year old Conor, are free to decide their own future but expressed hope that the business will be operating for years to come.
“I want them to do what they want to do. Hopefully the business will still be here. It’s been going for the guts of 40 years and hopefully it’ll go for 40 more if they want to do it.”
While J&M&Son can approach the future with confidence, the industry is something that John feels needs to be reassessed.
“We would like to feel with people becoming more environmentally friendly that they could move away from plastics and synthetic material to go back to leather.”
“Personally I feel people should take stock and look at what they’re actually wearing and using.”
“There’s a natural product which is being discarded,” said John, who thinks people are spending too much money on synthetic materials which are then discarded.
“People need to realise that there’s a natural product that can be and should be utilised. A natural product which there is a very small value on at the moment. We need to get back to using natural materials.”
“It’s a natural product that’s being undervalued,” he concluded.