Thursday 22 February 2018

Don't forget about the UK when looking for markets

Having started in business in Eighties Ireland, Frank Salmon knows how to hack it in tough times – and he has some advice for struggling companies

Roisin Burke

CMS Distribution has cornered a huge chunk of the data storage market, growing to become the biggest independent player in the Irish and British markets.

The company, founded and led by Frank Salmon, branched out from innovative technology storage solutions and products to launch its own iPad competitors, with a range of affordable tablets.

He's built a company that employs 200 people, including 55 in Kiltimagh, Co Mayo. Last year sales were €164m – up 45 per cent.

For recession-addled Irish firms, his advice is succinct: the answer could be closer than you think. Don't forget to look to the major market provided by our biggest trading partner – right next door.

"There appears to be an inhibitor to many Irish businesses to looking towards the UK market. But if companies looked at it as an extension of the domestic market, the opportunity is a huge one. You can still maintain an Irish base and roots and staffing, but create a trade in the UK.

"All of these emerging markets are wonderful," says Salmon, "but they are markets with a huge amount of complexity to them and cultural differences. On a trip to India I saw this first hand."

"In our own case we could not have a business in Ireland without a UK base. We could not have 55 staff in Kiltimagh without that market. It's our biggest trading partner by along distance.

Building up his fledgling enterprise in the Eighties, Salmon knows what its like to have a door shut in his face.

"CMS celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. When I was starting, over two decades ago, banks wouldn't give you money then either – so things haven't changed that much.

"But I absolutely believe if somebody has a good idea to create something or set up a business, it can be done.

"For young entrepreneurs I would say, once you have defined your plan and decided on a sustainable product or idea and you wrap it up in a business plan, there are always investors out there.

"I wrote to about 20 people, to anyone I thought had money. I finished up raising €120,000 from eight investors when I was 22, and the biggest investor was a Frenchman I met at a bar in Las Vegas.

"If you have a good vision of what you're trying to create, and you can convince the right people, you will get investment. Go to First Tuesday, angel clubs, other entrepreneurs, there are always opportunities to raise funds if you have the right ideas. Don't get caught up in defeatism from banks, just go out and do it."

Salmon is involved in four or five different investments in fledgling firms. "You understand the challenges that they have, and there is a huge goodwill factor from the entrepreneur community to help people get off the ground. Most entrepreneurs don't even charge, they enjoy helping others to achieve the next step on their journey."

"There is a huge emerging market in technology 'appcessories', gadgets that are accessed or controlled by your smart phone or tablet.

"There's really no barrier to the man in his shed to being innovative. One of these days a company will launch and achieve a €1bn valuation within a quarter, there's no limit to innovative stuff."

CMS has a new range of scroll tablets being launched in autumn to time with back- to-school, available in electronics shops. They're priced as low as €69 to €119, but they have functionality that vies with the first generation iPads, but using the Android operating system. Salmon says the user experience is up there with an Apple product.

"Last year we sold 120,000 units across the UK and Ireland and this year we're looking to double that and achieve about two per cent of the market. Data storage is still our core area, we have a passion for seeking out new tech and delivering it to our customers in our pursuit to exceed customer expectations."

Meanwhile, the company is also doing its bit to bring on a new generation of Irish entrepreneurs.

"In partnership with Enterprise Ireland, we brought in 12 graduates to CMS last year. We're currently taking another six graduates on and plan to repeat that every six months."

In conversation with

Roisin Burke

Irish Independent

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