Francis Roche: Why relationships are your most valuable asset

Marathon Group | AIBF
Pictured from left is AIBF CEO Elaine Carroll with Marathon Group CEO Roche.

Relationships are Francis Roche’s most important asset.

The Marathon Group CEO invests the vast majority of his energy into developing and maintaining excellent relationships with his customers and suppliers.

“We are absolutely focused on the relationship first,” he told the All-Ireland Business Foundation. “Business comes after that.”

Marathon Group was started as a coach hire company by Francis Roche & Michael Fitzgerald in August 1995.

Over the years the business has developed into many areas, from domestic coach tours to coach hire for major events before the business eventually emerged as one of Ireland’s leading transport and logistics companies.

In 2005 Francis established Marathon Sports Travel, providing travel packages for the Premier League, Rugby World Cups and Ryder Cups among others.

The business also provided managed transport solutions including pre-planning and logistics for MCD and Festival Republic as well as major concerts and events including Oxygen, Slane, Malahide and Marley Park.

When the pandemic hit and both the events and sports industries ground to a standstill, Francis leveraged the relationships he had built up over the years to pivot his business.

“Covid to me was definitely going to be with us for the long term,” he explained.

“I went through my contacts book and spoke to some of my connections from the sports travel business.”

“They told me they were planning on bringing in deliveries of facemasks from China and asked if we were interested in buying some to sell on.”

“When we looked at the opportunity we felt it was a good fit because we’re project managers, and the transport and logistics aspect ticked all the boxes.”

The Marathon Group team pictured with their All-Star Accreditation Certificate & Medalion.

Francis started a new company called Marathon Safety Solutions which holds a strong position under the Marathon Group umbrella.

The business has gone from strength to strength and continues to see rapid growth every month.

Francis explained that previous relationships with suppliers and customers stood to him in its development.

“Our customers knew that if I said they would be getting a thousand masks in the morning they wouldn’t have to worry, because they knew me, and they knew how I do business,” he said.

“We don’t take shortcuts, and we don’t sell you something that we can’t stand over.”

According to Francis, a good business relationship is built on consistency of delivery where meeting customers needs and expectations come before everything else.

He explained that diligence is the key to building trust.

“It’s about doing what you say you’ll do. It sounds simple, but it’s not because it’s so easy to take shortcuts,” he said.

“When we were working on the safety solutions orders we would send a pack of Haribo jellies in each of the orders. People loved them and we’ve got more reviews on Trustpilot talking about the jellies than about our product.”

“While I was on leave we had a problem with the supply of Haribo jellies and so one of the team picked up some off-brand ones which was grand because it meant we could still provide that service.”

“The first thing I did when I came back from my break was to get back on to Haribo about getting more.”

“The off-brand sweets did the job but they weren’t Haribo and being OK is not what we’re about. We’re about the consistency of delivery.”

Marathon Group has been named All-Star Relationship-Centric Organisation Of The Year by the All-Ireland Business Foundation for a second year running.

Reacting to the announcement Francis said: “We’ve just completed our 26th year in business and we have lasted this long because we truly believe that the relationships we have with our customers are more important than the financials.”

To learn more about Marathon Group, visit their All-Star showcase page here.