Monday 23 October 2017

Exporters provide sparkle in economy

Ireland's €158.9bn export market is actually growing. Roisin Burke meets the people behind the companies keeping the home fires burning and helping to stoke up the one part of our economy that's doing well

Giving the flagging economy a bit of a vitamin B shot in the arm, exports grew by more than €40bn, or about 9 per cent in July and August alone this year. Growth will be close to 6 per cent for the whole of 2010, the Irish Exporters Association (IEA) forecasts.

While the international pharma and technology giants make up the lion's share of this export surge, home-grown companies contribute 15 per cent or almost €24bn worth of flourishing exports.

We all know the big indigenous export names -- the likes of Glanbia, Kerry and Glen Dimplex, but who are the movers and shakers that are less well-known and thriving, or at least surviving rather well? Here are some that are worth watching.

Glennon Brothers

What do you do when the lifeblood of all your €70m business evaporates before your eyes? Get into exporting, fast.

That's what Entrepreneur of the Year award winners Glennon Brothers did when the property crash wiped out a lot of the Irish market for their timber processing business and they had to almost completely start again.

In a national first, the company, run by Pat and Mike Glennon, won a €1.5m contract to ship home-grown Irish timber to France in February. They persuaded a French timber importer to visit a Glennon plant and sealed a deal. The business grew revenues by more than €3m as a result.

Today the 100 year-old business owns six plants and employs 340 people in Ireland and Britain.

O'Donnell's ArtIsan Crisps

Farming meets posh crisps thanks to seventh generation Tipperary farmer Ed O'Donnell. As well as bagging a home distribution deal with SuperValu and Centra, O'Donnell scored a deal with Tayto maker and international crisp exporter Largo Foods, outsourcing manufacturing using spuds from his family farm and his flavours.

The plan now is to put it up to brands like Kettle and Burts across the water in Britain, where O'Donnell's have tested well with consumers so far.

Ed continues to balance ploughing fields and spraying potatoes with cracking the market abroad.


An Irish rainwear brand for the horsey set, Jomiluti is on the cusp of becoming big in Japan and other markets.

"We've just started supplying six outlets in Britain and we've been to the US to look at expanding over there," says founder Josephine O'Hagan, herself a former event rider. We're testing the markets in Russia and New Zealand."

Big-name fans include champion jockey Kieren Fallon and international event rider Oliver Townend.

O'Hagan started an equestrian supplies business in 1988. She later saw a market niche for high-quality outdoors clothes for horse riders. She developed a new hi-tech fabric called Martex which was waterproof, breathable and flexible and very light -- a complete riding outfit weighing less than 1 kilo. The Jomiluti range was born.

The target annual turnover within the next three to four years is €1.2m.


This Dublin-based company makes iPad-style entertainment consoles for airplanes and fits in-flight movie and sound systems for the likes of Boeing and Bombardier. Airlines around the world are also customers, including Quantas, Jetstar and Tiger Airways.

Since starting out in 2005, the company has become a world leader for hi-tech in-flight systems that can be either hand-held gizmos that passengers can rent out on board or systems built into a plane seat.

Shannon Coiled Springs

Like Glennon Brothers, this Limerick-based company hasn't been afraid to reinvent itself in the face of adversity.

The firm's "Armageddon", as owner John Walsh describes it, came in the weeks just before September 2008 when key customer American telecoms giant AT&T relocated business from Louisiana to Indonesia.

"We lost €1.6m a year in terms of orders," recalls Walsh.

"We are literally reinventing ourselves. We're ramping up to cater for the type of business we see coming down the line in the future."

Medical devices that Shannon makes are used in everything from keyhole surgery to tracheotomies to hip operations.

"Our new business is micro-coiling for medical uses. Some of the springs we make are so small they're barely visible to the human eye, less than the thickness of a strand of hair."

A new 2,000sq ft 'clean room', or sterile manufacturing unit, has been installed at the company's Limerick base.

"We're small now compared to where we're heading in the medium term, but every quarter we're picking up another customer. This will be a multi-million area for us in the next five years."

The firm's current clients include Stryker, a leading surgical device supplier in the US.


Best known as the makers of Slendertone, the electronic muscle-toning pads, Galway- based BMR also makes muscle building products for weightlifters and athletes and for pain management medical uses.

"Some 98 per cent of our revenues are from exports," says chief executive Trish Smith.

It's in an expansion phase on the export front, promoting Slendertone into Korea, Japan and Hong Kong, and its medical muscle stimulator therapy Neurotech products are popular in the US, Britain and Germany.

"We're rebuilding our business in the US," says Smith. "We walked away in 2002 when we sold the rights to Slendertone there but we've bought them back. We've also just opened an office for Neurotech in Minneapolis."

Total revenues to date this year are €56m, Smith says.

Dornan Engineering

Ireland is now in the world's top 10 of service exporters, up from 11th in last year's World Trade Organisation global services rankings.

Services in the form of everything from computer to financial count for more than €71bn each year, up by almost 7 per cent this year to date. The IEA expects Irish service exports to exceed manufacturing over the next two years.

Headquartered at Little Island, Co Cork, Dornan Engineering is part of this rise. Its turnover rose by 30 per cent to date in 2010 to €65m and it has opened new offices in London, Manchester, Dusseldorf, Antwerp and Stockholm.

It is a contractor working on the largest gas-fired power station in Britain and has €12m worth of projects in and around London.

Dornan provides services to clients in Scandinavia and Europe and employs 720 staff, mostly in Ireland.

The Emerald Group

Emerald brings festive cheer to Europe in the form of its Christmas trees.

The Wexford company is the main supplier of Christmas trees to garden centres all over Europe from tree plantations throughout Ireland. It has 1.5 million trees planted with growers over 750 acres.

This Christmas, Emerald will supply in excess of 200,000 trees to the European market.

Sunday Independent

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