Wednesday 26 June 2019

Overcoming Brexit: How this small business turned a crisis into an opportunity

Peter Morrow, owner of Skylark Electric Attic Stairs
Peter Morrow, owner of Skylark Electric Attic Stairs

When Brexit was passed in the summer of 2016, Skylark owner Peter Morrow knew that his electric attic stairs business – 90pc of which was based in the UK - was in trouble.

All of a sudden, the uncertainty created by Britain’s decision to leave the European Union could decimate his livelihood. However, having enlisted the help of his Local Enterprise Office in Galway, Peter’s business is thriving once again after he was given the tools to bring his business to both the United States and Australia.

That, coupled with the assistance he received from his Local Enterprise Office to maintain business in the UK, means he now has a thriving company once again.

Breda Fox is the Head of Enterprise with the Local Enterprise Office in Galway, and she pointed out the myriad of ways Ireland’s growing companies can get help from any one of the 31 Local Enterprise Offices around the country. They can expand their businesses, learn new practices, keep up with changes in technology and social media, receive mentoring and access financial supports.

“Every year, we are ‘Making It Happen’ for thousands of small businesses all over the country,” Breda says. “We’re a first stop shop for people looking to start or grow an existing business. We do a lot of work in pre-start-up and we help people start up, grow and develop sustainable businesses.”

Breda explains how her office has helped dozens of start-ups to overcome challenges and build momentum, and that their ultimate goal is always to create employment by making businesses – whether they are based in technology, food, engineering, media or any other sector - more efficient and profitable.

“The majority of employment in Ireland is created by these businesses. We currently have over 40,000 jobs across the country supported by Local Enterprise Office client companies. The Local Enterprise Office in local authorities can signpost them for further supports, help them in market research or help them with online marketing platforms.”

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The Local Enterprise Offices’ “Lean For Micro” business initiative, which focuses on ironing out the kinks for growing business owners and helping them to prevent waste and maximise revenue, have been key to the success of businesses like Skylark Electric Attic Stairs.

Eighteen enterprises, including Skylark, have taken part in the Galway-run Lean for Micro programmes so far, with overall savings of €1.8m - or €100,000 per business.

Skylark have not looked back since that June morning in 2016 when it appeared like their business would be wiped out. Moreover, their recent decision to bring their electric attic stairs to Australia did not come without a stumbling block as the company faced additional costs in exporting wood Down Under.

“What we were able to do was put them in touch with people who could help them and remove those barriers to entry,” Breda adds.

Most, if not all, business owners who walk through the doors of their Local Enterprise Office will be looking for funding as well as expertise. While they end up coming away with an awful lot more than just euros and cents, Breda says there is funding there for those who need it.

“If they’re operating in manufacturing, or new product development, we can help companies with access to funding. Whether it’s buying new equipment, hiring employees, attending overseas trade shows, developing websites and online trading portals, we can help people with the financial side of their business.”

The organisation can also help start-up companies  access micro-finance loans of up to €25,000 through Microfinance Ireland. Breda adds that it’s the Local Enterprise Office’s ability to provide expertise and strong business advice that proves far more important than any financial assistance it can provide.

She stresses the importance of the Lean For Micro business initiatives, and setting time aside to take part.

“The challenge for clients at times is the initial commitment to do the programme; they are ‘time poor’ and reluctant to spend any time away from the day-to-day,” says Breda. “The reality is they don’t have the time not to.

“In Peter’s case, he thought he needed to invest in new equipment in 2016 to meet US demand but after the Lean intervention, the business was transformed and productivity doubled with no additional investment. An example is a packing process that originally took two men 90 minutes was reduced to one man and 10 minutes. He’s our best advocate of the programme now because he has experienced the real impact of it on his business.”

Skylark is not the only business that has felt the benefit of going to their Local Enterprise Office.

“Another client, Clean Cut Meals, do prepared meals for people and they were able to shave off 90 hours’ production costs by using Lean For Micro techniques. It helps businesses become a lot more robust and gives them the ability to grow and develop new products and markets.”

Breda feels that the role Enterprise Ireland play in funding businesses across the country is crucial for the Irish economy, such as Agile Innovation Funding, “under which we can help existing profitable businesses to develop new products up to €150,000. These are available for more mature and growing clients on the portfolio.”

While business owners, particularly those starting up, may feel daunted by the various challenges coming their way, Breda is adamant that - as in the case of Skylark - there’s very little they haven’t seen or that they can’t help with.

“There’s no issue that’s really new for a client to overcome – it’s just new to them. We can help clients access mentors or connect them with other businesses who have overcome the same problem.”

If you’d like to grow your small business, talk to your Local Enterprise Office or visit the website. Together, you can make it happen.

Local Enterprise Offices receive funding from the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation through Enterprise Ireland. Supported by the Government of Ireland.

Sponsored by: Skylark

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