Monday 11 December 2017

Small firms are beating the odds with smart survival plans

Local Business Heroes In this, the third and final day of the Irish Independent's series saluting the Irish small businesses surviving in the teeth of the worst economic recession, Siobhan Creaton details our real winners

Amid all of the doom and gloom, there are many businesses thriving or at least "tipping away", as bookshop owner Brenda Woulfe says. They are realistic about the future and have spent the last couple of years trimming their costs so they will be ready for better times, whenever they might come.

They have all managed to avoid getting their businesses involved in property investments. And now that the banks are crippled and won't or can't lend money, they are in a strong position to survive.

Their philosophy was to stick to the business they knew best and were good at.

Gareth Connolly of Connolly's Red Mills, said in some ways the whole property boom passed the 103-year-old company by. Colm O'Connell of the O'Connell Group says it is one of the rare Irish companies that has no bank loans and it is more worried about the state of the banks. Chasing the "quick buck" is not their way, he says.

Pat Cooney of the Gleeson Group says it is difficult for businesses to plan for the future because of the fragile state of the Irish economy and the huge pressure that consumers here are under. Even in the 1970s and 1980s, he said, businesses worked on the basis that they would grow every year but that was impossible to predict now.

It is interesting to see how family businesses are creating employment in local communities. Companies like O'Haras bakery and Clifford Electrical are constantly reinvesting in their business and taking a long-term view on how to compete against the big multinational brands.

And then there are the social entrepreneurs who are also creating jobs and providing invaluable services to communities, like John Grant, who established Western Alzheimers 21 years ago. He is facing huge challenges as the demands for its respite services are constantly growing, while it relies mostly on fund-raising to provide respite care.

And it is heartening to see there are still entrepreneurs who are brave enough to start up new ventures.

Anne Butterly has created a business from inventing an eco-friendly disposable towel, Easydry, that she is selling around the world, while farmer Andrew Byrne is now running a company producing briquettes from Elephant Grass, established by 30 Wexford farmers to compensate for the loss of the sugar factories.

They are all upbeat and focussing on what they can achieve in the future. They would all like to see a functioning banking system and concrete government efforts to get the economy growing again.

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