Wealth of experience in business can open a lot of new doors
Problem solver for small businesses: Feargal Quinn answers your questions
Q I am running a wholesale fashion business that involves supplying and distributing clothing to independent retailers around the country. The business has collapsed over the last six years and despite my best efforts I can't move the business beyond a break-even position. The outcome seems evident, but I really don't know what I am going to do with my time. I can afford to retire but need to keep myself busy.
A Unfortunately, certain business sectors have succumbed to the recession and no matter what level of experience the business owner has, the market has decided to abandon the particular product category or product range and there is nothing that can be done about it.
You have made a good living over the years out of this business and can class what you have achieved as a success. However, it now seems to me that it is time to move on. There is little point in you putting lots of energy into something you are not going to be able to take any money from, so based on what you have told me, I would say let go now.
What you do with your time is a whole other matter. You are an experienced business person with significant skills and knowledge. Have you considered becoming a mentor for your local enterprise board and sharing that experience with other earlier stage businesses?
Would you have an interest in working for a voluntary organisation as your skills could probably assist them?
Are there some personal objectives that you have not had the time to achieve in the past?
There is a huge amount that you have to offer others and it would be a shame if you didn't have the opportunity to share some of those skills and experiences.
You are fortunate in that you have the financial comfort to move away from your current business and you will also find that taking on new projects will be energising and rejuvenating.
Good luck with your decision and I have no doubt that many others will benefit from the fantastic knowledge you will be bringing to them.
Q I am a medium-sized pig farmer and all of my stock currently goes to the big production factories, which is very much a commodity area. We are thinking of adding some value, especially around the Christmas market. Do you have any advice?
A There are lots of interesting examples around the country in the pork sector of farmers starting to specialise in smaller numbers of rare breed pigs which offer a more traditional taste and help differentiate the product from the mainstream, high-volume ones. The taste of these products can be fantastic and the appearance is also more of a traditional look. That has resulted in the appropriate farmers and producers receiving a premium for these products.
I am not sure if you have the ability to process the meat yourself, but I am sure you can find someone to do that on a contract basis for you. Also, you could think about doing your own cured ham, either direct from the farm or through a small number of select high-end retailers. Turkeys and hams at Christmas are a critical part of the Christmas celebration, and given the opportunity, many people would love to buy directly from the farmer, and some already do.
I was talking with someone in January this year who had bought an amazing turkey directly from the farmer. When they received it, it was beautifully wrapped with a red bow, a recipe leaflet attached with different tips on it and a little packet of seasoning to help with the stuffing. That is a great example of turning a commodity product into something that has much more value than something more main-stream.
You will also find inspiration by doing some research online and talking to the likes of Bord Bia. The only caution I would throw in is to say that, if you choose a consumer-direct route to market, you have to become an expert at marketing and promoting the product.
These projects are never easy and you will need lots of determination, but stick at it!