Business Irish

Saturday 24 February 2018

Inventor's burning ambition, with some divine intervention, turned ash into cash

Grate IDEA: Inventor, publican and businessman Kevin Walker.
Grate IDEA: Inventor, publican and businessman Kevin Walker.

Tom Prendeville

Several years ago when business opportunities in Ireland became almost extinct, Clare inventor, publican and businessman Kevin Walker found himself on the wrong side of the balance sheet with a brace of loss-leading properties which were no longer worth the candle.

Clean out of commercial ideas he sought divine help and was astonished when two opportunities suddenly presented themselves out of the blue: an internet undertaking business and a patented steel plate that prevents fire grates from disintegrating and losing valuable heat.

Bunratty-based Kevin Walker takes up the unusual story: "I had a pub in Sixmilebridge and it was thriving. But I could see the writing on the wall and sold it when the smoking ban came in. Afterwards I dabbled in a bit of property and got burnt. Anyhow –one day, about three years ago, I was looking in the fridge at the ice cubes, and I said, 'God please give me a good business idea.'"

He wasn't let down and within days his request was answered: "Two days after the fridge incident, someone rang me out of the blue asking how they would go about bringing cremated ashes back home from abroad. I don't know why they rang me – but they did," explains Kevin.

Kevin helped the caller, and out of that encounter was born. The unusual internet funeral service – possibly the only one of its kind in the world – transports ashes back to Ireland where they can be buried in any location from remote lakes to mountain tops. A big success, the company now has a full-time office in New York and Ireland.

Shipping human ashes is a difficult business with a myriad of bureaucratic customs and excise clearance obstacles to be overcome. "I know how to do all the paperwork and whatever the customer needs, I will provide it. The ashes can be interred anywhere; afterwards I provide the family with photographs of the location and a certificate with exact GPS coordinates – down to a foot – so they will always be able to locate the precise spot."

Out of his interest in ashes grew another idea: a patented hot plate for open fires and solid fuel cookers that stops the grates burning out and can save 20 per cent on energy bills.

"Polish and smokeless coal is very severe on fire grates because it burns at a very high temperature. About 99 per cent of the fire grates come from China and are made from brittle pig iron, which means they don't last any time and fall apart after about 18 months."

When a fire grate falls apart the burning coals and embers fall through the broken slots and smoulder away in the ash, resulting in a huge loss of heat.

However, the Olympic Grate Saver, which is a steel plate with a patented vent design, overcomes the problem by vastly prolonging the working life of the original grate.

"I got the idea from welding bits and pieces of iron on my own grate. A unit will pay for itself in two weeks and retails for €12. They are selling like hot cakes and I have sold over 3,000 units so far."

Far from being a niche product the market is potentially huge. "There are over half a million households with an open fire and it is increasing all the time.

"People who never had an open fire before are now opening up old fireplaces because they cannot afford gas or oil or electrical heating. There is also a massive market in the UK,'' Kevin says.

His latest patented product was inspired by the widespread power blackouts during the winter just gone; a fire grate that enables you to cook on the open fire. The novel grate has a plate and a swing crane that allows you to boil a kettle or fry an egg.

Olde world in design, it could make all the difference between being miserable and comfortable in a blackout.

Sunday Indo Business

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