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Garden Rooms owner John Sherry: When teenagers have their friends over, the parents need the space


John Sherry, managing director of Garden Rooms, in front of one of their units. Photo: Dave Conachy

John Sherry, managing director of Garden Rooms, in front of one of their units. Photo: Dave Conachy

John Sherry, managing director of Garden Rooms, in front of one of their units. Photo: Dave Conachy

I'm up at 6.30am. I'm not a morning person, but being a parent, I've become one. I live with my wife and soulmate, Ruth, and our three children. I'm the first up in the house. I have a bowl of porridge and a cup of Lyons tea. We take it in turns getting the breakfast and the lunches for school ready.

We're in the middle of house renovations, so I've been project-managing that between 7.30am and 8am when the builders arrive. I try to coordinate with them and get them set up for the day. You're trying to make lifetime decisions every 15 minutes. In a way, it reminds me of what we do in my business - Garden Rooms - in that you're selling trust. You've got somebody in the privacy of your own home and you've got to be comfortable with them. You've got one chance to do it, and you want to do it properly.

I arrive into work at 8.30am. For the first hour, I set goals for the day and the week. I like to write everything down. Then I sit down with my team and we discuss what projects we have coming up, and any meetings with potential customers. Garden Rooms are architecturally designed rooms that you put in the garden. They are heavily insulated, so they are as warm and cosy as the house. It's a two-week turnaround, and the big plus is that they are exempt from planning permission. Also, you're allowed put a toilet and wash-hand basin in it, so you don't have to traipse back into the house. Years ago, I used to do log cabins, but this design is very different. It looks like it is part of the garden, and catches as much natural light as possible. The prices range from €18,000 to €28,000.

Sixty pc of our business is for home offices. So many people who work from home are working from the kitchen table. I have a friend who jokes about his working life in the family home. If he's asked more than four times, 'Can you just help me with this?' within the family, then it's not a day's work. The beauty about a garden room is that it's at home, yet it's separate from the home. It's a peaceful space where you can focus on the task at hand, without getting sucked into family life. Then you can shut the door at the end of the day and walk away from it. You can get the distance from work.

A lot of people use them as hobby rooms - for making model boats or painting. Some people let their teenage kids and their friends use it. They will come home with six friends and, if you have an open-plan house, often you'll find the parents are up in the bedroom with a laptop on their lap, watching Netflix, wondering, 'How did this happen?' It's actually the parents who need the space, when the teenagers have their friends over. During my day I might visit a project that we're just completing, or sometimes I'm invited back to see the touches that a person has done with their Garden Room. Meeting people is my passion.

I set up the business in 2003. I always wanted to be in charge of my own destiny. As a kid, I used to pick periwinkles and sell them. Nobody would hire me until I was 12, but I could just start this myself. Later on, I did accountancy because I thought it was the thing to do, but it wasn't for me. I wanted to be around people, so I switched to marketing. I always wanted to set up my own business, but I just didn't know where to put my energy. Then I noticed that people started to work from home. I started to sell units for office furniture. I went on to sell log cabins, and then I came up with the concept of a cube with glass - which was Garden Rooms. Business was flying until 2006, but then people didn't have access to finance and the business stopped completely. Luckily, my wife had some savings, and we lived off them. But with your back to the wall, it's amazing how creative you can become.

Even though the country was on its knees, I couldn't believe how much people were still spending on their children. They didn't want them to know there was a recession. They'd put off buying shoes for themselves, but their children wouldn't do without. So I set up Garden Play, which sells things like swings, slides and trampolines.

In my mind, it was a temporary thing, but it's still 30pc of our business. In the last two years, I changed the design of the garden room and it's going very well.

When business was bad, I took up exercise. My head was like a wasps' nest, and I couldn't switch off. I started to swim, and it helped me to defuse and get that moment of mindfulness. Swimming puts you in the present. My brain relaxed, and I was able to plan for the future a lot better. It gave me an outlet to relax and to help with the stresses of running a business with no market, and the stresses of family life at that time. Being a parent brings its own anxieties and tiredness; it's all-consuming.

When I come home from work at 6pm, the day is only really starting. The important thing for me is checking in with Ruth and the kids. Then I bring them to their various activities, which include ballet, basketball and boxing. After they go to bed at 8.30pm, I get ready to do my training. I run, and I also swim 6km a week, which will be over two evenings, between 9pm and 10pm. I come home and have my dinner and catch up with my wife. I'm in bed by 11.30pm. Sometimes I tell Ruth that I'm stressed and then, 30 seconds later, she hears me snoring my head off. The exercise must be working.

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Garden Rooms, tel: (01) 8110-646, or see gardenrooms.ie

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