Sunday 18 March 2018

From small beginnings, Padraig has proved he's got the bottle

Padraig McEneaney, CEO of Celtic Pure water, left school at 16 and soon realised the family farm was sitting on top of a liquid goldmine

EAU NATURAL: Sean Gallagher with Celtic Pure proprietor Padraig McEneaney at his business in Corcreagh, Co Monaghan. Photo: Philip Fitzpatrick
EAU NATURAL: Sean Gallagher with Celtic Pure proprietor Padraig McEneaney at his business in Corcreagh, Co Monaghan. Photo: Philip Fitzpatrick
Sean Gallagher

Sean Gallagher

'START small, but think big" – that's the advice of entrepreneur and business owner Padraig McEneaney.

Padraig is CEO of the Celtic Pure water bottling company, a business he set up in 2000 as a part-time venture in the garage of his family home in Co Monaghan.

Today, he operates from a state-of-the-art bottling facility just outside Carrickmacross where he employs 40 staff. This year, he will produce more than 35 million bottles of spring water and will see his turnover top the €5m mark.

Celtic Pure still and sparkling water is sold in a wide variety of stores including Spar, Mace, Gala and Londis as well as in many coffee shops, petrol stations and school and college canteens throughout Ireland and Northern Ireland.

"We also manufacture for stores under their own private labels both here and in the UK," explains Padraig, who now exports 20 per cent of what he produces to the UK.

He takes me on a tour of his modern and highly automated production facility. It really is a case of where nature meets modern technology.

The water which is used comes from a natural spring which has existed on the McEneaney farm for hundreds of years.

Located some 300 metres beneath the drumlin hills of rural Monaghan, the water from this spring passes through nature's own limestone filtration process before being piped into the production facility. Here it's bottled in sizes ranging from 250ml up to five-litre bottles. The company's water cooler division also sells larger 19.5l containers, mostly to corporate offices as well as to factories and gyms.

Padraig left school at the age of 16 to run the family farm. But things didn't turn out just as he had planned.

"It took me about six weeks to realise that there was neither room nor money for both my father and I on the farm," he says.

Instead, he found a job at the local meat factory. Starting out as a general operative, he quickly worked his way up the ladder, eventually becoming the factory's top person for boning meat.

"I was earning great money, but it wasn't something I wanted to do for the rest of my life," says Padraig.

In 1998, he decided it was time to consider working for himself. Looking around for possible ideas, he realised that if he could bottle the natural spring water that he and his family had been enjoying for years, he might be able to turn what he knew to be a simple idea into a thriving business. And that's exactly what he did.

He and his wife, Pauline, began filling the water from the spring into five-litre containers in the garage attached to their home.

"It was actually Pauline who came up with the name Celtic Pure," Padraig tells me.

Every evening, they loaded up Padraig's van with containers of water and he and a friend headed to Navan to sell them door to door.

Padraig knocked on peoples' doors himself. At every opportunity, he extolled the virtues of his new Celtic Pure Spring Water.

"Customers really liked what we were offering, because five-litre containers were difficult for some people to carry home as part of their shopping, and because we had fewer overheads than shops, we were cheaper than normal retail outlets," he explains.

He recalls how the company made a turnover of €250 in his first week of business. It was enough money and enough research to convince him that there was a market for his water.

Encouraged by the response, Padraig asked customers if they would like water delivered to their homes each week in the same way as milk is delivered.

In this way, he gradually built up a loyal customer base as well as a business model that was now generating recurring revenue for his business.

When he officially set up the company in 2000, he did so with an investment of only €10,000.

"I started in a small way at first. That way I was able to reduce the risk if it didn't work out," he admits.

Padraig's evening excursions to Navan began to expand to include other towns and villages throughout the counties of Monaghan, Cavan, Louth and Meath.

"It took time and a lot of shoe leather to build the business," he says. "I decided early on that I was the only person who could make the business happen and that my ultimate success would be down to my ability to push the product and my faith in achieving my bigger vision," he tells me determinedly.

"And maybe there was a certain amount of thickness or stubbornness involved as well," he adds, laughing.

His belief and passion shone through, and word-of-mouth soon spread as customers, delighted with his service and keen to help him succeed, began to suggest to their friends and neighbours that they too should sign up.

Next, he targeted local independent shops and, before long, had added a growing retail element to his direct-delivery business.

He continued to run the business from the family's garage until 2003, when pressure on production led him to invest in a new, purpose-built, 3,000sq ft factory on a greenfield site near his family's farm.

He went to China to buy a small bottling line to enable him to begin automating the bottling, labelling and packing process.

In 2007, he packed his Transit van with packs of bottled water and a few sign-written logos and headed to London to attend the ExCel Food Show.

"I worked hard to develop as many contacts with buyers as I could at the show and it really helped kick-start the export side of the business," he tells me.

Again, under pressure to meet growing demand, he invested €1.5m in expanding the facility as well as enhancing the quality of the company's labelling and branding.

Padraig is keen to acknowledge the support he received from Bord Bia, Enterprise Ireland and his own bank during that period.

He also invested in an expensive and highly specialised blow moulding machine that allowed him manufacture his own plastic bottles.

"In this way, we now had our own source of water, manufactured our own bottles and bottled and packed everything ourselves," he says.

"It put us in full control of the entire process from end to end, which was something unique among our competitors."

But growing the business was not without its challenges.

"Starting a water business from scratch involved a steep learning curve for me in the beginning," Padraig admits. "So too did managing the growth of the company with very limited resources."

However, he is grateful for the support he received and continues to receive from Pauline, his daughter Sinead and his son Cian.

He is grateful too for the loyalty of his dedicated staff over the years.

What about the future, I ask?

"What drives me now is the desire to build Celtic Pure into a top Irish brand, both at home and abroad. My next target is to double the turnover of the business to €10m," he tells me categorically.

Recent investment in the facility means he now has the capacity to target large retail multiples in both Ireland and the UK and has already secured his first substantial order.

Wisely, he is making sure to maintain a spread of customers, both large and small, which he feels will protect him from over-reliance on one or two large customers which could put his business at risk if they were to decide to take their business elsewhere. It's definitely a smart move.

In addition, he wants to extend his product range beyond still and sparkling water and hopes to include flavoured and other value-added drinks in the near future.

Padraig is an inspiring business man. The prospect of a career in farming after school was not an option for him, so he created his own opportunity. He worked hard and gained experience until the desire to start his own business firmly took hold.

He looked around at what resources were available to him, and the very water that he and his family drank every day became the basis on which he would launch and build a successful business.

From the outset, he had a vision of what he wanted to achieve – a vision that perhaps not everyone around him shared nor believed was possible.

But Padraig had more than vision – he had the passion, persistence and focus to keep moving forward, in small steps, in the direction of his dreams.

What a great role model of self-belief for all of us.

Sunday Independent

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