Sunday 22 July 2018

My Big Idea: German mum who keeps the nation's buggies in good nick

‘I grew it without taking out any loans. One of my priorities is that I refuse to be in debt to a bank,’ says Annina Lebeau
‘I grew it without taking out any loans. One of my priorities is that I refuse to be in debt to a bank,’ says Annina Lebeau
Sarah McCabe

Sarah McCabe

Annina Lebeau (44), is the founder of The Pram Doctor, a buggy valeting and repair service based in Co Wexford.

"I am in business since 2012. I am based in rural Wexford but the service is available all over the country, north and south.

I am a former architect with 20 years experience. I'm originally from Germany, near Frankfurt. I moved to Ireland in 2001 to work for an Irish building group which was importing German products and then went to work for an Irish architect firm.

Then the recession hit and employment in the construction sector disappeared. It was very tough - I was on the job hunt for two years, with a mortgage to pay and two small children.

Another parent of small kids was the source of inspiration for my business. I nearly choked when I heard she had paid €1,900 for a buggy, which of course went on to break down.

I am very mechanically-minded and am always tinkering around with something, be it a mountain bike or a motorbike, so I was easily able to fix it.

Buggies break very easily -these days they are not made to last. There are huge differences in quality between older models and new brands.

I had a grandfather from Galway bring me a 75-year-old pram this week and it still had its original tyres. But you get some buggies newly bought where the tyres won't even last four months. People end up just throwing them in a skip, which is wasteful and hard on the environment. For most buggies that break, a small repair will get it going again, or it can be used for spare parts. To cut a long story short, I decided to launch a buggy-servicing business, with the help of a Back To Work enterprise allowance.

Once I got started it took off like a rocket. I repaired 12 buggies in the first year and 300 in the following year. I'm should do my 1,000th soon.

It's not just about repairs and restorations of vintage models, which I do too. Cleaning and valeting are also important.

In my former life I spent a lot of time measuring attics and invariably you end up covered in dust. And where do people store buggies? The attic. They don't want to throw away something they have spent hundreds or even thousands on, so they keep it for the next child, but because building regulations in Ireland don't demand enough suitable storage space, the buggy ends up in the attic or the shed.

It comes out covered in all manner of dust and mould. I think it is really important that parents get the buggy cleaned before the next child uses it. So I offer that service - it will be cleaned and dried in the fresh Wexford air.

Customers can drop their buggy in themselves for a 20pc discount. Otherwise I use national courier DPD to pick up and deliver. They are fantastic.

There are some manufacturers that I would definitely recommend - Silvercrosss and Bugaboo among them. I am totally independent and not paid by any brand so parents can trust what I'm saying. I am playing with the idea of offering a buggy-testing service to parenting magazines at the moment.

The scariest part has been taking on employees, becoming responsible for other people's incomes. My first team member was an intern who came through JobBridge and now there are four people working on the business full-time as well as one part-time person.

Juggling everything at once, while raising my five and six-year-old, is also challenging. It's a lot of work - weekends, nights, you name it. But it allows me to better manage time with my children as the business is run from my home.

I grew it without taking out any loans. One of my priorities is that I refuse to be in debt to a bank."

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