I'm 22 and I want to compete in the sportswear sector
Advice from the former Superquinn supremo for a young business-person who wants to set up a sportswear business and on how you can energise your business.
Question: I am 22 years of age and thinking about setting up my own business, producing Irish-made sports socks. It will cost me €10,000 to buy the equipment and I am wondering if you think there is a gap for these products.
Feargal replies: I think you need to reverse your decision-making process. Any idea needs to be driven by customer demand and from the way that your question is phrased it suggests that you do not know if there is a demand or not. Congratulations on your entrepreneurship at your age, but you have to put a lot of time into research before you decide to launch. Your key question is 'Is there a gap in the market, and is there a market in the gap?'
It seems nobody else is producing socks similar to yours so there could be a gap. However, we do not know who if anyone will buy them so there is uncertainty about whether the market will be big enough for you and whether the fact they will be made in Ireland will differentiate you enough.
Some key questions you might ask: will you be able to produce in a competitive manner? Will your quality be as good or better than rival products? Do customers care whether your product is Irish produced? Are these socks going to be bought by clubs or individuals and what matters most to them about the product - price, quality, Irishness, etc? Identify your probable customer. If it is going to be clubs, then talk with club managers or coaches and put your business proposition to them. Listen to their feedback as the solution may lie within that. If your key customer is going to be individuals, then do random research among amateur and professional sportspeople.
Do not tell them you are the business owner, but rather you are doing research, as they may give you a biased answer otherwise.
It is also worth thinking about how key competitors might react. They may try and price you out of the market to prevent you from starting up. It would probably be a good idea to talk with a distributor who could give you advice. I like your idea a lot and want you to succeed, but just make sure that you have done sufficient research about demand.
Your Local Enterprise Office will be able to give you lots of assistance in making the right decision and provide a business plan.
Question: Now that we're moving out of recession I am trying to breathe new energy into the business and reposition it in the minds of staff and customers. Any ideas?
Feargal replies: I have got an increasing amount of emails from businesses like yours who are looking at re-energising their position in the market now that things have begun to change slightly. It's refreshing to get a sense of new energy being breathed into the marketplace and I would encourage any business who has not yet stood back and taken a long, hard look at their strategy and the energy levels within the company, to do so immediately.
One of the most impressive turnarounds I saw several years ago was when Archie Norman took over Asda. The company didn't have a particularly strong market position and didn't stand out for anything in particular at the time.
I recall meeting Archie at a European Retail Seminar, and he being excited about a new campaign called 'Tell Archie' they had just launched which had really caught the imagination of staff and consumers.
Suddenly everyone felt that here was a CEO who was looking for ideas to make it better. The response was phenomenal and Archie got thousands of suggestions and comments. Many of those ideas went on to become what Asda stand for and ultimately led to significant growth in its market share. It wasn't so much a marketing campaign, but rather a change in mindset within the business. Hopefully you will find that example helpful on your journey.
Send your small business questions to firstname.lastname@example.org