Spotlight on S & S Office Interiors
Alan Spain, S & S Office Interiors Ltd.
Alan Spain set up S & S Office Interiors in 2008 in a challenging business climate and at the height of the recession. Alan’s background is in sales, from office consumables and stationery to office furniture and he certainly always had the ambition to one day run his own company, and this month celebrates 10 years in business as S & S Office Interiors.
Personally for Alan the timing was right and through a combination of persistent networking, industry knowledge and hard work the company not only survived but flourished from a one-person company, operating from a single office in a shared building, to a 7 person team with a showroom and a warehouse, a turnover of almost €2 million and a reputation for being a trusted advisor and a provider of high quality office furniture.
In 2016 Alan completed a business management course with Pfizer and IBM which gave him the framework to put a 3-year business plan in place, setting some ambitious goals. Coming into year 3 of the plan the company is tracking well but there is still work to do. “There’s always room for improvement,” says Alan “It's important to not only set goals but to continuously check in on how your tracking towards them, and when goals are reached, set your next set of even bigger goals”.
2017 has been S & S Office Interiors most successful year to date, seeing the company securing a €1 million project with an international aviation company. Also taking on a new range, Winsted Command & Control Room furniture which has opened up a whole new market of potential clients and increasing their presence in the 24-hour furniture market. So what’s the secret to this success? According to Alan “Hard work always brings its own rewards. Don’t be afraid to go after the big jobs. Some smaller sized companies may be afraid of taking on projects that seem to be too big, but by building relationships with trusted contractors and having strong project management the sky is the limit”.
What’s next for S&S Office Interiors? 2018 is proving to be another successful year, seeing S & S branch out into the office stationery business. “We want to be a one-stop shop for all of our customer’s office needs. From flooring, partitioning, desks & chairs to the paper in the printer, S & S will be able to provide it all with the same dedication to meeting customer’s needs and expectations that they have come to rely on S & S for” says Alan. 2018 also sees the launch of a new website, with Alan firmly believing that your online presence has to be kept up to date and current “Your website is your shop-front to the world”.
Spotlight on Bright Sky Digital
Catherine Crean, Bright Sky Digital
Catherine and her co-founder and husband are new players in the Fingal Web Design and Development space. What makes this company different? Well, quite a few things actually. Think lean, think efficiency, think cloud based services.
Bright Sky Digital specialise in connecting their clients website, social media and digital marketing together. They will assure you that having a complete online presence allows customers to find you, do business with you and come back to you again and again.
‘We are putting together websites and services using a variety of mobile first and cloud based tools’ says Catherine. ‘We are predominantly using the Squarespace platform to design and develop websites for our clients. We know people don’t have a lot of time. We use industry standard tools to quickly create beautiful websites that perform really well. Not only do we love the Squarespace platform so much that we use it for our own site, but we recommend it to all our clients. Using a platform that is design-driven, user friendly and performance focussed gives us more time to talk to our clients about what they need, provide great customer service and support them as their business grows’.
These two returning emigrants have a vast amount of experience in the business and technology landscape. Catherine completed her BBS Degree in DCU, while Patrick studied for his B. Comm in UCD. Both completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Web Development in DIT in Dublin. Catherine continued on to complete an MSc in Multimedia in the University of Sussex. With the UK market also in need of technical graduates, they settled first in the trendy, upbeat city of Brighton and then moved to the faster pace of the London IT market. Patrick spent over 5 years working with Channel 4 on their websites, while Catherine built up an Ad Technology team for US Online giant, Yahoo! Family life became a priority and in 2012 they returned to Irish shores after a fruitful ten-year stretch in the UK.
The idea of Bright Sky Digital came about in 2015 as they juggled family life around their careers. Keeping their fingers on the digital pulse and being their own boss pushed them to go out alone. Using their corporate experience to help small and medium sized businesses to get online is the cornerstone of the ethos of the company. ‘We want to help small businesses take advantage of their potential online customer base. Approximately 20% of Irish businesses are not online’ says Catherine, ‘we want to make it easy for these companies to get a web presence and have a toolkit that they can understand and manage’.
Catherine explains how there are so many customers they have spoken to who don’t know how to update or access their websites. ‘SME’s don’t have the budget for IT departments and they can’t be experts in everything. However, it’s important to keep your site and your social media presence current. We can coach these companies through what they need and how to keep things simple but effective. We can manage client’s sites and online presence making sure they can attract local and international customers while focussing on their core businesses.
You can contact Bright Sky Digital Media on 01-5498332 or book an appointment through their website to discuss your companies needs: https://brightskydigital.com/
Spotlight on The Emmaus Centre
Michael Burns, The Emmaus Centre
The Emmaus Centre joined the chamber in 2017 and although it has been in business for over 40 years, many members previously may not have known the centre or what it was about. Michael Burns, Head of Business Development, joined as part of a new senior management team in October 2016.
“The Centre started out life as a training college for a religious order and then became a refugee centre in the 1970s during the Vietnam war, before then becoming a spiritual retreat centre. At our core, the spiritual retreat element is still very important to us, but we’ve added so much more over the years. Today we offer a fantastic residential conferencing and meetings centre as our main day to day service. We run workshops for individuals and for groups and corporates and you can book some of these online on our website or by coming and talking to us directly about your requirements”.
Like any business, the Emmaus Centre faces numerous challenges and have set about building a product fit for the 21st century to compete and to remain relevant for its clients. “One of the biggest challenges we had, when we came on board, was to simply build awareness, said Burns. “I found that awareness of our capabilities and services was really low, even in the immediate vicinity. Lots of people said that they often wondered what went on there, but often felt it looked very private and they might not be allowed in! Others thought it was still just a religious centre. Joining the Chamber has been an important part of building the local awareness among the business community here in the Fingal chamber area. It gives us a platform to speak directly to the local business community and an opportunity to build awareness and hopefully encourage them to drop in to see what it is we do”.
Given a large number of hotels in the Dublin area and particularly around the airport, you’d imagine that business can be very competitive, something Michael is acutely aware of. “We offer everything the typical hotel meeting or conference or training can offer, but we offer it in a very different atmosphere. There is a real sense of peace and tranquillity here. You won’t be rushed in and out of your room because the next customer is waiting. You won’t be run over by all the other guests milling around and competing for space. It is very private and relaxed. The centre is set in its own woodland estate with beautiful walks, free onsite car parking at the door, free high speed WiFi throughout, HD projectors or large screen TV displays in all meeting rooms, 65 ensuite bedrooms, 12 meeting rooms and a main conference centre holding over 200 guests , 2 dining rooms and 2 coffee lounges. Ultimately the peaceful feeling that was built into the DNA of the place still pervades. If you genuinely want a creative space to get away from it all and yet still be only 10 minutes from the airport, then Emmaus is somewhere you will want to check out. Our biggest problem is getting people to come here because they are not aware, but ironically once they come here and we give them a tour and chat to them about their requirements, we find an incredibly high sales conversion rate because most people really like what they see and even more importantly how they feel when they take the time to come here. So, my advice is to come and judge for yourself. We love to show visitors around and you’ll find the team here make a huge contribution to make you feel welcome and to give you an experience that is not the same as your average hotel for example. It’s a very different thing but you need to experience it for yourself so that’s why I always take great care to try and personally show potential customers around and make sure they experience the special feeling you get when you come here. It really is perfect for corporate conferences, meetings or training events. It’s much easier to get your people to concentrate on the reasons why you brought them here than if you had used a hotel venue for example. It’s very conducive to reflection and quality time, a truly creative space. Many people also come here just as individuals, not as part of a group, on one of our personal development programmes or public workshops, which can be booked through our website. We have also assembled a team of some of Ireland’s best business workshop facilitators, dealing with areas as diverse as executive leadership courses to mindfulness and stress management in the workplace. Creating a healthy and productive workplace with a real sense of mission is what we are all about.
Last year the centre saw growth of 19% and this year we are on target to grow again by another 20%. The word is getting out there. New first-time business is growing and equally importantly the frequency of repeat business is also significantly going up. Of course, there is always an open invitation to the members of the Chamber to drop in for a coffee and a tour and we’d love to see them anytime and hear all about their exciting plans for the future too.
Spotlight on Malone Group
Stephen Malone, Malone Group
Having worked in various engineering roles early in his career throughout the 1990s, mechanical engineer Stephen Malone decided in 1998 to go it alone. At that stage, he was employed by a US firm, which had shelved major investment plans in Ireland in light of the Asian financial crisis. However, buoyed by the insight he had already gained into how the engineering community operated, and with no major family commitments to hold him back, Malone set up Malone Group in 1999.
“Others I had worked with and went to college with weren't surprised,” Malone says of setting up his own company. “Thinking back to growing up I would have always had an idea that I would work for myself some day but it didn't go any further than that.”
Headquartered in Blanchardstown, Malone Group is an engineering and safety, project delivery business, which has grown into an industry-leading company managing projects throughout Europe and Canada.
When asked for some advice on running a business in the current environment, Malone highlights a reluctance ‘to think big’ as the most significant barrier to success. “That's my mantra and I think in the SME community that's what we need to do. We need to think bigger,” he says. “People in the early stages of business need to decide whether they want a ‘lifestyle company’ or they want something a little bit more than that. There are too many SMEs that just think of Ireland as their marketplace. Having seen how other countries operate, I think the Irish SME sector has an awful lot to offer and we just need to think bigger.”
Another key piece of advice Malone offers start-up founders is not to take on everything themselves. He advises entrepreneurs to identify what aspects of the business they excel at and where their weak points are. Whatever you’re not good at, Malone says, that's what you outsource.
“I think too many people, myself included, try to do everything themselves and it is a limitation to growth,” he says. “There are things that we are all naturally good at and there are other things that we're not good at. It's important to be honest with yourself and have a degree of self-awareness.”
Malone warns that taking on too much equates to unnecessary stress on a company. “There are a lot of owner/managers that need to be in control of everything and that is restrictive in terms of growth and you have to get the right skills around you,” he advises. “If you're paying somebody for advice, listen to the advice, but certainly outsource things like IT, outsource things like payroll, outsource the day-to-day stuff that gets in the way of doing what you need to do to scale a business.”
Malone Group had a strong year in 2017, following on from heavy investment within the company including a move to replace all its internal systems with one ERP (enterprise resource planning). It culminated in a Best Business Practice Excellence Award win at the Fingal Dublin Business Excellence & CSR Awards. “That's down to the team I have around me,” says Malone modestly. “I am the figurehead of the company but I have a lot of talented people who work here.”
Last year also saw Malone Group scale further through the acquisition of two new businesses – a recruitment firm and a process and ordination company. “In terms of the goals we set ourselves, in pursuit of our five-year strategy plan, we succeeded in our objectives for 2017,” says Malone. The company is currently assessing a suitable entry point into North America, which Malone hopes to launch at some stage.