Leading retail technology innovation from Claremorris

There are not too many indigenous companies operating in the West of Ireland who can count the dotcom bubble of the 1990s and the global financial crisis in 2007 among the challenges they have overcome during almost 40 years in existence – but retail technology firm CBE can do just that.

Indeed, CBE’s consistent success in the ever-changing world of retail payments technology suggests that this business situated at the heart of the Atlantic Economic Corridor is well placed to thrive for another 40 years.

Based inis one of Europe’s leading innovators in retail technology, serving the supermarket, convenience, forecourt and hospitality sectors. It has a staff of almost 150 people, having started out with just three in 1980.

“In the early days we were just buying third-party software from UK suppliers,” says Sean Kenna, chief executive of CBE. “But it didn’t fit all customer requirements, so we decided to set up our own software development company in 1995.”

CBE is now a one-stop shop for anything to do with retail technology. Every day, shoppers throughout the UK and Ireland routinely use their products when making purchases at cash registers, self-checkouts or card readers in local shops, supermarkets, restaurants, bars, hotels and a host of other outlets.

“We take on all the various areas around the technology of a retail unit – development of the software, supply of the hardware, project management, training, on-field support, consultancy and ongoing software support. We like to come in at the start and offer a complete partnership approach.”

The company employs 146 people between its offices in Ireland and the UK, with 70 percent of them based in head office in Claremorris. Recruitment of additional sales staff and software developers should see staff numbers rise to 150 soon.

Sean joined CBE as a sales rep in 1980 and was its managing director for 15 years before becoming CEO in late 2016 – after company founder and chairman Gerry Concannon stepped back from the role.

Claremorris was initially selected as the location for CBE because it was well positioned for a company aiming to drive sales across Connacht, but the town has continued to serve CBE well even after its business horizons took on global dimensions.

The opening of Knock Airport in 1985 – as well as its ongoing expansion ever since – was a major boon for the company as it built its UK operations and motorway access to Dublin has also been a benefit.

“Then, Claremorris was one of the first towns to get high-speed fibreoptic which meant we could expand our support hub here and not have to move to a bigger centre,” Sean says. “We have over 30,000 terminals that we support every day, so we need very fast communications infrastructure.”

During the dotcom era it could be difficult to attract staff as software developers were drawn to the cities, and it took tenacity to negotiate the financial crisis. A determination to retain staff through that difficult time paid dividends. “When the recovery came around, we didn’t have to recruit or retrain. We had some very high calibre people ready to hit the ground running,” Sean says.

Fast forward to 2020 and CBE is well established in its main markets of the UK and Ireland. It also has a nationwide contract with KFC in Denmark and is increasing its reach through consultancy services in Europe and Asia.

CBE is currently recruiting as it develops large projects with companies in the global oil industry and Sean is confident that its ongoing success and attractive and affordable location will draw in high-quality candidates as people increasingly look West to combine challenging careers with a better quality of life.

Claremorris was an ideal location for CBE when their commercial ambitions were limited to Connacht – it still is as they continue to expand around the world.

Leading Retail Technology Innovation From Claremorris

There are not too many indigenous companies operating in the West of Ireland who can count the dotcom bubble of the 1990s and the global financial crisis in 2007 among the challenges they have overcome during almost 40 years in existence – but retail technology firm CBE can do just that.

Indeed, CBE’s consistent success in the ever-changing world of retail payments technology suggests that this business situated at the heart of the Atlantic Economic Corridor is well placed to thrive for another 40 years.

Based in Claremorris, Co Mayo, CBE is one of Europe’s leading innovators in retail technology, serving the supermarket, convenience, forecourt and hospitality sectors. It has a staff of almost 150 people, having started out with just three in 1980.

“In the early days we were just buying third-party software from UK suppliers,” says Sean Kenna, chief executive of CBE. “But it didn’t fit all customer requirements, so we decided to set up our own software development company in 1995.”

CBE is now a one-stop shop for anything to do with retail technology. Every day, shoppers throughout the UK and Ireland routinely use their products when making purchases at cash registers, self-checkouts or card readers in local shops, supermarkets, restaurants, bars, hotels and a host of other outlets.

“We take on all the various areas around the technology of a retail unit – development of the software, supply of the hardware, project management, training, on-field support, consultancy and ongoing software support. We like to come in at the start and offer a complete partnership approach.”

The company employs 146 people between its offices in Ireland and the UK, with 70 percent of them based in head office in Claremorris. Recruitment of additional sales staff and software developers should see staff numbers rise to 150 soon.

Sean joined CBE as a sales rep in 1980 and was its managing director for 15 years before becoming CEO in late 2016 – after company founder and chairman Gerry Concannon stepped back from the role.

Claremorris was initially selected as the location for CBE because it was well positioned for a company aiming to drive sales across Connacht, but the town has continued to serve CBE well even after its business horizons took on global dimensions.

The opening of Knock Airport in 1985 – as well as its ongoing expansion ever since – was a major boon for the company as it built its UK operations and motorway access to Dublin has also been a benefit.

“Then, Claremorris was one of the first towns to get high-speed fibreoptic which meant we could expand our support hub here and not have to move to a bigger centre,” Sean says. “We have over 30,000 terminals that we support every day, so we need very fast communications infrastructure.”

During the dotcom era it could be difficult to attract staff as software developers were drawn to the cities, and it took tenacity to negotiate the financial crisis.  A determination to retain staff through that difficult time paid dividends. “When the recovery came around, we didn’t have to recruit or retrain. We had some very high calibre people ready to hit the ground running,” Sean says.

Fast forward to 2019 and CBE is well established in its main markets of the UK and Ireland. It also has a nationwide contract with KFC in Denmark and is increasing its reach through consultancy services in Europe and Asia.

CBE is currently recruiting as it develops large projects with companies in the global oil industry and Sean is confident that its ongoing success and attractive and affordable location will draw in high-quality candidates as people increasingly look West to combine challenging careers with a better quality of life.

Claremorris was an ideal location for CBE when their commercial ambitions were limited to Connacht – it still is as they continue to expand around the world.

 

achill sea salt

The O’Malley Family: Achill Island Sea Salt

Achill Island Sea Salt was founded by the O’Malley family in July 2013. 

Their process remains simple, they collect the water from the Atlantic waters that surround Achill Island and using a combination of modern and traditional techniques they slowly evaporate the seawater until the sea salt flakes are formed. These flakes are then carefully harvested and dried. This slow method of production allows for the creation of pure white sea salt that is soft and flaky and known for its quality and unique taste. Read more

Tommy Griffith

Tommy Griffith – PEL Waste Reduction Equipment

Based in Balla Co. Mayo, Tommy Griffith is the founder and CEO of PEL Waste Reduction Equipment. In the past decade, PEL has lead the way in designing innovative waste handling solutions used by customers throughout the world.

Tommy attributes much of his innovation and dedication to his background growing up on a family farm in county Mayo. As with business no two days on a farm are the same, each day brings new challenges and Tommy learned how to navigate constantly evolving environments from an early age.

Tell us About Your Business.

I started PEL Waste Reduction Equipment back in 2005. We manufacture and supply equipment that reduce waste disposal costs for hotels, pubs, restaurants and any other commercial businesses that produce waste, by as much as 80%. Our Product range includes glass bottle crushers, bin compaction systems and balers for cardboard and plastic.

PEL have won a number of prestigious awards including ‘Best New Innovation’ for the Baby Jaws bottle crusher at Gulfood 2014 – the world’s largest food and hospitality trade show. PEL was also a finalist in the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year in 2009.

Why are you located in the West of Ireland?

The West of Ireland is an excellent place to locate a business. It offers a fantastic quality of life unrivaled in much of the world. It also provides high quality personnel and has direct access to the UK via Ireland West Airport in Knock.

When did you start your business and what inspired you to do this?

I started PEL Waste Reduction Equipment in 2005. I wanted to enter a market that had the potential for growth and that I could bring to a global market. So I knew that if I could develop products for reducing waste I could expand globally.

What were your start-up costs?

I used my own capital and got support from the Local Enterprise office. At the beginning I did not give credit to customers so I would have positive cash flow, while negotiating strong credit terms with our suppliers.

Where is your market? How have you targeted international markets?

PEL’s Main customers are in the hospitality sector. Every hotel, pub and restaurant in the world are potential customers.

We distribute our products through two different channels

  1. Direct to customers: in Ireland from our manufacturing facility in Mayo, in the UK from our office in London and in the USA from our base in Cleveland, Ohio.
  2. We use distributors in other countries like Finland, France and Australia.

How long did it take you to get your business off the ground?

It takes time to build a business and a strong brand. It’s in the last 3 years that PEL has established itself as a global brand and we now have offices in both the UK and the USA along with distributors and agents internationally. We also expect to see strong growth and expansion over the next 24 months.

How did you learn and acquire the skills you use to make your business successful?

My skills are primarily built from experience and learning from other entrepreneurs who are always willing to share knowledge.

How do you continue to grow and learn?

In business you learn every day as you face and overcome new challenges. Business is simple as long as you keep it that way.

How do you promote your business?

There are a number of different ways I promote PEL. The main three would be networking, referrals and trade shows like Gulfood.

If you had to do it all over again, what, if anything, would you do differently?

If I had to do it all over again, of course there are things I would do differently. I’ve learnt so much from the entire process, that if I were to do it all over it’d be a lot easier the second time around – you can’t buy experience!

What do you love about being your own boss? What are the drawbacks?
I love being independent and creating my own destiny but as the boss I have a responsibility to my staff and customers and that’s probably the biggest challenge I face being my own boss.

What should happen in the West of Ireland to encourage further entrepreneurship?

Continued investment in both infrastructure and education create the best possible environment in which to start a business and I believe that’s the best tool to encourage further entrepreneurship.

What advice would you give to anyone thinking about life in the West?

Go for it! It’s probably the best place in the world to live and raise a family.

More about PEL Recycling at pelmfg.com

 

Go Explore Hostel

upstart-goexplore02-200pxGo Explore Hostel & Sailor’s Bar / Restaurant is an award-winning business and one of Ireland’s most unique hostels and bars on beautiful Clare Island near Westport, Co Mayo.

A finalist in the recent Small Firms Association (SFA) National Small Business Awards 2014, we spoke with owner Carl O’Grady about setting up and running a tourism business in the West of Ireland.

Go Explore Hostel

1. Tell us about your business

“Go Explore Hostel & Sailor’s Bar / Restaurant” is an award winning business with a 42 bed hostel, full bar and restaurant specialising in seafood.

 We target the activity market through our joint venture with Clare Island Ferry Co and Adventure West called Clare Island Adventures, where we sell bundle offers to the corporate market, Hens & Stags, Schools & Universities and Sports Teams training camps.

We also have packages for the education market providing base camp facilities to Universities who come to the island to continue or indeed just study the work of the Royal Irish Academy in the Clare Island Survey.

We are also looking to build on the Islands list of events which now include the Clare Island 10K charity run, the Festival of the Pirate Queen which includes the Women’s Wellness weekend and Adventure Race, the Snas ar do Bhlas Festival (Irish Festival), Sailing Race, Walking Festival, adventure based Singles Weekend, the Regatta, the Lobster Festival, Feile Cheoil, Robert Llyod Praeger Festival, Film Festival and more. Growth forecasts are very positive for the sector with such initiatives as the Wild Atlantic Way.

2. What were you doing (careerwise) when you decided to create your own business?

I was a Quantity Surveyor for Davis Langdon (AECOM) working in Dublin.

3. When did you start your business and what inspired you to do this?

Clare Island was my inspiration for my new venture. One of the country’s truly most beautiful and unique hidden gems, it has so much to offer from a tourism perspective. From its stunning beauty of dramatic mega cliffs to the north to rolling hills to the south. It has a thriving community working together to build a future for the island.

With all of this in mind I believed that I could build a business on the island that could sell the very best of what the island had to offer and also make a sustainable living.

I left my job in Dublin in October 2011 and began construction work in January 2012 to develop it into the now Go Explore Hostel & Sailor’s Bar / Restaurant. We opened for business in June 2012.

4. What were your start-up costs? How did you get the money, and what did you use it for?

Start up costs was circa €500,000. I applied for and was granted Leader Funding of €150,000. I applied for and was granted an AIB loan under their new business start up facility. We invested a certain amount ourselves.

Go Explore Hostel

5. What was the biggest obstacle?

The initial business plan was a very stressful process as I was working in Dublin while doing it. Sentiment at the time (2009 / 2010) said that no bank would give me the money to do this project.

With this in mind my business plan needed to be bullet proof. I worked countless hours on a marketing strategy to identify realistic projected revenues which indicated a sustainable level of expenditure for the project.

From here it was a very long and challenging process dealing with banks, LEADER, procurement, construction, logistics, planning and marketing to bring the project to life. With that said I believe my biggest obstacle is still in front of me. Building a business is not about brick and mortar. It’s about profitability which is driven through systems built on experience. It’s about customer satisfaction, sales and marketing. I am in the middle of this process.

6. Who supported you?

My family supported me every step of the way, good times and bad. Enterprise Ireland supported me in developing the initial Marketing Strategy. The Leader program through Comhar na nOileán Teo supported me with funding. AIB Westport supported me with funding.

7. How long did it take you to get everything your business off the ground?

I developed the concept in 2009. I started the business plan in October 2010 and applied for funding in February 2011. I received funding and planning approval in November 2011. I started construction in January 2012 and opened for business June 2012.

8. What do you love most about being your own boss? What are the drawbacks?

I love building things from inception to completion. I love the challenge of making things work. I look forward to making this project work and then moving onto the next one.

It gets me up early every morning and sends me to bed late at night. One of the main drawbacks is that it can be a lonely process when you are doing it alone.

9. Where do you work from and do you have employees?

In the off-season I work from my office at my home in Doughmakeon with my wife who is a school teacher in Kiellen National School. During the busy season I work on Clare Island at Go Explore Hostel & Sailor’s Bar / Restaurant.

During the busy season we employee anything from 8 to 12 people. We have 2 employees year round.

10. Do you have entrepreneurial role models?

  • Richard Branson (Virgin)
  • Bobby Kerr (Insomnia)

11.    How did you learn and acquire the skills you use to make your business successful? How do you continue to grow and learn?

From a young age I worked for my parents in the old Bay View Hotel and with the Clare Island Ferry Company. I learned how to work with people to get the best out of any given situation and I learned many parts of the tourism trade.

I traveled the world and learned new ways of looking at life. I worked for Davislangdon (AECOM) QS Firm in Dublin where I learned the QS trade and most importantly I learned how to manage money.

I received a diploma in Hotel & Catering Management from GMIT. I received a First Class Honors Degree in Quantity Surveying from LIT. I continue to grow and learn by attaching myself to other people that are driven to succeed. I attend as many courses in marketing, social media etc as possible.

Clare Island

12. If you had it to do over again, what, if anything, would you do differently?

I never look back. Every single experience both good and bad has made me into the person that I now am.

13. What is your best selling item/service?

At the moment our best selling item / service is food and beverage.

14.    Are you a LookWester (previously living outside the Western Region) and if so why did you decide to move home or relocate to the West?

I lived in Dublin and moved home to Mayo in 2011. I moved home to be close to my family & roots and for a better life experience.

15.    What advice would you give to anybody Looking West?

Do it………

www.goexplorehostel.ie :: www.clareislandadventures.ie

Electric Escapes

Electric Escapes

upstart-electric-escapes-01The next in our series of Upstarts case studies is Paul Harmon founder of Electric Escapes, an electric bicycle tour start-up company, based in Westport, Co Mayo.

Originally from East London, Paul is an experienced traveller with stints working as a Sales Manger in Dubai, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, two round the world trips, five years in Dublin in the construction industry finally settling in Westport, County Mayo.

What is Electric Escapes?

Electric Escapes gives bike tours around the beautiful Westport, Newport and Croagh Patrick region. In small intimate groups Electric Escapes aims to immerse you in the culture and natural beauty of the West, to become part of its everyday life, observe details that other tourists miss behind the wheel of a car and awaken your senses to the natural diversity of the landscape. Every Electric Escape trip is a memory made.

Electric Escapes features in The Guardian’s Top 10 Outdoor Activities in Ireland with its Kalkhoff Electric bike winning the Best Electric Bike from the Electric bike buyers guide.

What were you doing when you decided to set-up Electric Escapes?

I was made redundant from a construction company along with many others. I was getting over the shock and coming to terms with life without a job.

Radfahrer auf dem Great Western Greenway - einer ehemaliger Bahntrasse

When did you start your business and what inspired you to do this?

Two years ago. I literally looked out and saw Croagh Patrick and thought “that’s why I moved here in the first place”. For the wildness, beauty and freedom the West gives you.  I looked internally at things I am passionate about; environment, travel, technology and my family. I then looked externally at what the European markets were up to; particularly the Germans, I figured they would be first out of the recession and my research led me to electric bikes and tourism.

What were your start-up costs? How did you get the money, and what did you use it for?

My start up costs were approx €25k. I got €15k redundancy and match-funded that with Leader funding. It was a daunting process, but I got good practical advice from Leader and soon found friends in other businesses to help. The funding took four months to come through. It was a terrifying time. When I got the call to say the money was cleared I didn’t know weather to laugh or cry. I then bought the bikes and all of the equipment needed.

What was the biggest obstacle?

The biggest obstacle was making the time to get the ideas into a practical business plan. Life was not going to stop for me to plan a business. The kids, family, home, bills still to pay and general living all took their precious minutes away from being able to plan a business. Things got started but…rarely finished.

Who supported you?

My family supported me and were amazing. Would you tell your wife you just spent all your redundancy money on electric bikes? Anyone with an eight and six-year-old will tell you that they are your best market research and sales team around. Every board room should have the honesty directness and humour of children ( some would say their executives are kids!). The local businesses and the people of Westport were fantastic. Fáilte Ireland, Leader and AIB have also been great with fantastic courses on everything I needed help with.

How long did it take you to get everything your business off the ground?

I think you never believe your business is off the ground. The pace of your own business gives little time to look back. It’s always the next stage the next project.  Getting off the ground happens naturally when the right mix of forward motion mixes with the right processes. One day you look down and wooaah! You realise you’re airborn. This is not to say it occurs accidentally.

What do you love most about being your own boss? What are the drawbacks?

Being my own boss means I can immediately see the consequences of decisions made. No committee meetings! This gives me freedom and amazing satisfaction, in overcoming the fear of taking risks. I enjoy the spontaneity, agility and variety needed in everyday business. I love it when people tell me or I read on Tripadvisor that they have had a fantastic time with Electric Escapes or have cycled to France on a Kalkhoff . The drawback is, according to my eight and six year old marketing and sales managers is that I talk about and do nothing else!

Where do you work from and do you have employees?

I initially looked for an “office” or premises to work from, I thought it was the thing to do but rents were horrendous.  After surviving season one without one and coming to terms with the “cloud” I realised my log cabin was ideal to work from and I didn’t need a “premises”.

We employ local guides, mix with other companies for other activities, kayaking, photography etc .  We also have six shops selling the bikes throughout Ireland. Being from the wrong generation for Facebook, I also employ someone to help with the social media stuff & marketing.

Do you have entrepreneurial role models?

Role model?  No traditional celebrity or guru for me. People that have inspired me have been those that have gone against established truth, rules or unbelievable odds in their lives. I won’t embarrass them, they’re not your famous business or celebrity people, they are people I have met who are normal people doing extraordinary things.

How did you learn and acquire the skills you use to make your business successful? How do you continue to grow and learn?

Born in east London and ending up being Sales Manager for Unilever in Dubai via Saudi, Yemen two round the world trips, Digifone start up to O2 in Dublin, 5 years in construction during “Tiger years” and finally the West gave me a broad business education. Being trained well in the corporate world helped but try launching Lux shampoo in a country where you can’t show hair, or finding your way out of Bolivian rainforest when your guide vanishes. These things can’t be taught on a course. Though having started the business I have been on every course available for every weakness I have. There is so much help out there if you just look.

If you had it to do over again, what, if anything, would you do differently?

I’d have followed my gut feeling further, trusted my instincts more and stopped more often to enjoy the fun of the start up experience. You can only be a start up once and it’s fantastic fun.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

What is your best selling item/service?

Our best selling product is the Kalkhoff Electric bike, voted the best in the world, combining German design and Japanese technology its life changing, just ask our customers.

Our best tour is the Bangor Trial, combining good food, fantastic scenery, culture and the ease of a Kalkhoff electric bike. Check out Tripadvisor for what our customers say about us.

Are you a LookWester (previously living outside the Western Region) and if so why did you decide to move home or relocate to the West?

I worked a while in Dublin, Baggot Street, corporate world, but I had an unexplainable pull to the West.  Everyone here is an entrepreneur. The energy to create a living out of nothing is incredible. Living on that surviving edge is vital and energising.  It’s a far cry from Hackney too. Like many in the West I followed a woman and my heart here and now my kids, born here, are speaking Irish & playing the feadóg.

What advice would you give to anybody Looking West?

Just go West!! I have been given talks on regions, groups and people collaborating and joining together. It’s happening here and now!  The kayaking guys are talking to photographers, who are talking to chefs, to mountaineers, to crafts people and combining it all! It’s amazing how awake the West is! Don’t come here to retire or get away, come here to live and fulfil your potential. Ever wondered, “what if?” well come here and find out!

Image Captions:
Top Right: Paul Harman of Electric Escapes. 

Cherry Blossom Bakery

upstart-cherry-blossom-bakery01Up next in our series of Upstarts case studies is Simon Stenson founder of Cherry Blossom Bakery which produces quality artisan breads and confectionery made with natural ingredients in Castlebar, Co Mayo

After working in the construction industry for a number of years Simon returned home to Mayo from Dublin, after finding himself made redundant and decided to move into a totally new arena, inspired by his love of healthy foods and a successful past in hospitality.

Recently Simon celebrated a huge success after appearing on the RTÉ show Dragon’s Den, where he was given a €200,000 investment from dragon Sean O’Sullivan.

What were you doing (careerwise) when you decided to create your own business?

I was involved in the construction industry for many years and with the demise of that I spent 2 years unemployed.

When did you start your business and what inspired you to do this?

Cherry Blossom opened on the 1st of December 2010 after a three month course in Ballymaloe Cookery School. I spotted a gap in the market for freshly made, healthy artisan breads.

What were your start-up costs? How did you get the money, and what did you use it for?

We received a grant for €18,000 from Leader, €37,000 of personal funds and this went primarily on equipment and the fit of commercial kitchen in my father’s closed down pub, just outside Castlebar, in a small village called Ballyvary.

What was the biggest obstacle?

Our biggest obstacle was securing finance as banks were very unwilling to lend to startup businesses. Another obstacle was getting our brand recognised in an already crowded marketplace.

upstart-cherry-blossom-bakery02

Simon Stenson with Taoiseach Enda Kenny

Who supported you?

I had the support of my whole family and friends and also businesswise the Kavanagh Group of supermarkets were very good to us.

How long did it take you to get everything your business off the ground?

Everything happened reasonably quickly and we were up and on our feet in approx. 4 months

What do you love most about being your own boss? What are the drawbacks?

The creativity of the job and the sense of satisfaction and accomplishment of creating employment locally.  As the business grows so does the responsibility and the amount time needed to
investment.

Where do you work from and do you have employees?

Our Bakery is based in the Retail Business Park, Breaffy Road, Castlebar, Co Mayo. At present we are employing 11

Do you have entrepreneurial role models?

Michael O’Leary, Warren Buffet, Margaret Heffernan and Sean O’Sullivan.

How did you learn and acquire the skills you use to make your business successful? How do you continue to grow and learn?

I took a 3 month cookery course in Ballymaloe and really it has all stemmed from there also having previously owned my own business I used my experience from this to make this business venture successful. Always testing new products and we are continuously making new contacts and getting advice about growing the business.

If you had it to do over again, what, if anything, would you do differently?

There is not much I would change if I had to do it again.

What is your best selling item/service?

Cherry Blossom Crusty Spelt Loaf

Are you a LookWester and if so why did you decide to move home or relocate to the West?

I previously lived in Dublin City and had to move west again due to the decline in the construction industry.

What advice would you give to anybody Looking West?

Try it before you buy it!!! Get out there and meet the people you never know what’s around the corner. I wouldn’t live anywhere else.