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John O’Donovan: Kingly is a fast-growing company with a nice family feel to it

John O’Donovan is Kingly’s Business Development Manager for UK and Ireland. His gift for Sales was discovered at a very young age, marking his career path for good. He knows the secret to making clients happy and how to bounce back from a difficult situation. John enjoys the warmth of Mediterranean sunshine, good food and South African wine or a cold beer. He also finds volunteering to be very rewarding. Let’s get to know him better.

Was there a specific moment in your life when you realized that sales and business development were your passion? How did you discover you want to do that for a living?

Yes! After finishing my high school education in South-West Ireland, I was offered to join a work experience program run by the government. I was able to spend 6 months in a TV/ Hi-Fi/ Video retail company in my local town. I had 4 areas of experience – Aerial installation, Workshop repair, Goods in/out and Sales.  At the end of the program, I was told I had a gift for Sales and they offered me a job. That is when I realised where my true calling was.

How did you decide to become a part of Kingly’s team?  Was there anything specific that attracted you to the company?  What do you think makes Kingly special?

Following 9 or so years of retail and field sales experience in Ireland – I moved to the UK to further develop my field sales career. I spent 5 years in the commercial refrigeration industry. Then due to redundancy from that industry, I ended up in the Promotional Products Industry in 1994. Now I can’t seem to leave!

Thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, I lost an amazing job of 7 years in late 2020. In 2021, I tried re-entering the industry, but Covid was still deeply affecting the Promotional Product sector. However, in September 2021, a great industry colleague of mine – Nigel Bailey, was asked by our CEO and Founder, if he could suggest someone based in the UK who could assist Kingly with sales-related activities in the area. I was aware of Rob Armour and Kingly for a few years but had never met him. My wife is South African. As you can well imagine, when I first met Rob on Zoom and he spoke with a South African accent, I was immediately hooked!

I suppose what makes Kingly special is the fact it’s a big small company – a fast-growing company but yet still retaining a really nice family feel to it.

What do you think about the sustainability drive behind the company?

As a trade-only supplier, for many of our promotional product reseller clients in the UK and Ireland, the first thing that comes to their minds is who can produce high-quality socks in the quickest time possible – not necessarily how sustainable are they. However, Kingly would not be where it is today, without the huge investment we have put into the sustainability side of our business. There is no doubt that there is a growing appetite in the end user marketplace for sustainably produced products. In that respect, I think Kingly is well ahead of the game!

How do you find the atmosphere of the company?  What is your opinion on the management?

From my perspective, although 2000 kilometres from Kingly HQ, I see a team of people in Bulgaria, both new and not so new, who are genuinely trying to make a difference for the company as a whole and – very importantly – for our customers too.  I feel privileged to be a part of that team that works tirelessly to deliver a 5-star service.

Of course, we sometimes have to remind ourselves that if Rob Armour was not as driven as he was all those years ago, to start Kingly from scratch, following his own successful sales career in promotional textiles, then this interview would not be happening today. Rob has truly done an amazing Marketing and PR job over the years, traveling extensively throughout Europe and beyond to exhibit at trade shows. Hence, Kingly is often the first name that springs to mind, when especially promotional knitted socks feature in end-user enquiries. Rob’s really long hours and tireless charisma have undoubtedly been a great asset to this company.

What is your opinion on Kingly Version 2.0?

Although around Kingly just a year myself, I have of course witnessed the transition from 1.0 to 2.0 – it’s been both a difficult and exciting transition. It’s been a baptism of fire for several new staff members joining us. It’s been difficult losing some former staff members, with a lot of experience in some cases, who felt unable to move with the company to level 2.0. It is about moving from a small company level to a big company level and is more demanding on all of us to sign up to stricter rules of the game you might say – rules necessary to run the business more professionally and corporately.

Describe the past several months. And be honest.

Difficult for sure! For me, it’s really painful when we don’t deliver a 5-star service on all of our orders. Whilst more than 90% of the time, things run really smoothly – it’s the ones that hit the buffers for some reason that cause us and our customers acute frustration. Although we have a great reputation for bending over backward to put things right, occasionally and understandably, it’s still not enough. 2.0 is also about getting as near to 100% as possible in the customer service arena.  We are very determined to get there… so watch this space as they say!

What are the pressures of the job? What do you find rewarding?

Long hours and constantly trying to communicate back to customers quickly. I always try to put myself in their shoes and I know how much I appreciate it when people respond to me quickly. The most rewarding thing is making new friends almost every day and converting at least some of them to becoming happy Kingly customers!

What kind of qualities do you think you have that enhance the growth of the company?

For me personally, it’s not only putting the customers first but also putting my colleagues first. In my opinion, you can’t have one without the other. It’s not rocket science. Unhappy staff = unhappy customers! I as a salesperson, for decades now, have valued the incredible work that colleagues do behind the scenes and I think it’s crucially important for senior management and external salespeople to never forget where we would be without these people!

Could you identify any good practices that you think should stay in the company? Is there something we could change?

Rob Armour is a quick-thinker, decision maker and “Yes” man, which I happen to believe has definitely contributed to Kingly’s success. However, even Rob knows there are times when a polite “No” can also be the right answer. So I think our largely “Yes” culture, inspired by Rob should cautiously continue.

What I would like to see change… We are currently advertising for a more senior staff member based at our HQ in Sofia – a Production and Operations Manager. I very much hope the right candidate comes forward soon. We have some great departmental managers in the business but even they need a more senior figurehead to report to and be inspired by. Then Rob can continue what he’s best at i.e. working ON the company instead of IN the company. He’s the one who has to take the most difficult decisions and risks for Kingly – thankfully for the rest of us, some of those risks already taken have paid off handsomely.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

Wow – spare time! Not a lot of that just now but hopefully a more established Kingly 2.0 will change that for the better. My wife, daughter and I do, of course, run away from time to time to visit our families in Ireland and South Africa. Sometimes we even sneak off to the Mediterranean for guaranteed sunshine, without our families! So clearly we love overseas travel, good food and even the odd glass or two of South African wine and cold beer!

Also as a family, we’re members of Grace Communion International – both a local and global church that keeps us busy in volunteering roles. Sometimes tough but very rewarding and great fun too. So basically, never a dull moment at Kingly towers in Northampton UK!

Photo: Personal Archive

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