Sense of adventure lets couple build winning team in outdoors sector
Focus on school pupils and families hits the target for Louth-based outdoors firm, writes John Cradden
Most of us love to get outdoors, whether it involves simply exploring or some kind of team-based activity. So it's no surprise to witness the emergence of a whole new industry sector devoted to organising events designed to tap into our sense of adventure.
The fast-growing popularity of adventuring has been driven by a growing desire to improve physical and mental health, particularly in encouraging our children to be more active and avoid increasingly sedentary lifestyles - but not forgetting adults too.
While Nikki and David Reddy both love the great outdoors, the last few years have been an adventure in so many other ways.
Together they run Celtic Adventures, a firm that organises outdoor activities all over the country. It has also recently opened a new, purpose-built centre in Clogherhead, Co Louth. Celtic Adventures organises everything from archery to canoeing to climbing, and caters for individuals, families and schools, as well as offering corporate team-building events for firms.
"Running the company can be challenging at times but it is also so rewarding," says Nikki. "We constantly meet new people, we get to spend a lot of our working time outdoors having fun with people. We have a great work-life balance and get to spend so much quality time with our kids.
"It's also an exciting area to work in, as adventure tourism and recreation activities are one of the fastest-growing sectors of the economy."
The National Tourism Development body estimates the value of the sector to Ireland's economy at more than €850m and growing.
Last year, Ireland was chosen to host the Adventure Travel Trade Association's Global Summit, reflecting how this country, long recognised for its friendly people and varied culture, is now increasingly seen as a destination with a huge variety of natural assets capable of delivering unique adventure experiences.
Celtic Adventures doesn't compete directly with firms that organise now well-known events such as The Beast of Ballyhoura, the Moonlight Challenge, Emerald Enduro Series, Race2Glory, Tough Mudder and Gaelforce West.
"They are more the big yearly or quarterly events," says Nikki. "We're probably unique as in we are an adventure centre, but we also do mobile events and provide activities to festivals, schools and companies. We are definitely more school and family-orientated."
But, like most of the bigger players in this broad sector, they started out just a handful of years ago when David, who had run a construction firm that succumbed to the financial crash in 2009, set up Celtic Canoes in 2012. It was a bid to exploit what he saw as a gap in the market for canoe river trips in the north east.
He set up initially as a sole trader, secured a small loan and some help from the Local Enterprise Office's Start Your Own Business Programme, and bought 10 canoes, a trailer and insurance.
"We realised very early on that to grow we had to diversify our activity range, so we then started to offer archery, summer camps and team-building. In our second year, we started offering school tours, then got a loan to expand and purchased a mobile climbing wall and an archery tag franchise. We continued each year to add new activities and services."
So, as the business grew, Nikki, who used to work full-time in social care, took a more active role. "David would be great at the event management, operations, researching new activities and developing new programs. My strengths would be around the admin, marketing and future planning side," she says.
The firm now employs 12 people, which rises to about 30 during seasonal peak times.
Indeed, one of the biggest challenges early on for Celtic Adventures was dealing with the inherent seasonality of tourism-related trades. "The first couple of years the business would stop dead in October until close to Easter," says Nikki. Their solution to this was to focus more on the schools trade by developing an initiative called "Active Body, Active Mind" as a way to fill up the winter months. This offers a range of once-off activity days or weekly programmes to schools to promote activity, student well-being and inclusion on site at the school.
"Active Body, Active Mind came about from the changes to curriculum both at primary and secondary level, with the new curricula centred around the well-being of the student," says Nikki.
"From talking to teachers we realised there was a gap for more practical hands-on learning, so we developed programmes such as archaeological digs, bush craft courses, problem-solving tasks and physical activities to meet their needs in this regard."
While the company has proved a big hit with schools and families, thanks mainly to a strong word-of-mouth reputation, it is also working on building team-building and corporate packages side, having run several such events and family fun days for companies like PWC, PayPal, Prometric Ireland, Kepak and Xerox.
"Team-building is a great way for businesses to promote team co-operation and bonding which in turn leads to a healthier, happier, and more productive workforce," says Nikki. "Teams will take part in activities designed to promote leadership, team awareness, management skills, time keeping, effective communication and fair play."
So far, it's clear that their approach is working. According to Nikki, turnover in 2017 was double that of the previous year, thanks in part to the new premises in Clogherhead.
"Opening a centre was always part of the plan from day one. We had let other premises short-term but they were never quite right, so in August 2016 we secured our base in Clogherhead and haven't looked back. It's a fantastic location with a wonderful supportive community. Having Clogherhead has a huge positive impact on our turnover."
Nikki has also just picked up an award for Best Established Business in the Louth finals of Ireland's Best Young Entrepreneur competition and a place in the 2018 national final, which is due to be held later this month.
If running Celtic Adventures wasn't enough to be getting on with, Nikki and David have five children ranging in ages from seven months to 15 years.
"Managing the business with five kids has its ups and downs. Three of them are under four, so there's plenty of moments."
The oldest two are pitching in with loading vans, cleaning equipment and showing a lot of interest. "They have a real sense of ownership, they are really involved and hopefully in the future they will take it even further."
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