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Weekend Read: ‘Give a lot of time to doing the small things right’

Laois Chamber CEO Bernie Everard and president Martin Crowley

A focus on quality and service should be the priority of entrepreneurs at all times, according to a Laois-based businessman who sold his multi-million turnover business he set up from a spare bedroom in his home.

Martin Crowley, originally from Dunmanway in West Cork but now living in Emo, established a meat distribution business, Wilbay Ltd, from a spare room in his house in Portlaoise in the late 1990s.

After graduating from UCD in the early 1990s, he initially worked in the meat industry in Wexford and Roscrea before striking out on his own to wholesale meat and sell to butchers and supermarkets across the country.

As the business grew, he moved to a warehouse just off Junction 15 on the motorwar near Emo, and the annual turnover eventually grew to over €30 million.

He sold the business for an undisclosed fee in 2016 to the Monaghan-based Arthur Mallon Foods. Currently he is involved in a number of other ventures as well as being the first president of the re-formed Laois Chamber Commerce.

Speaking about his business success on an upcoming LaoisToday Podcast, he advised business owners to focus on building a quality product or service, and to prioritise their level of service. As well as that he said it’s vital to manage your costs from an early stage.

“Managing within your means is the crucial thing,” he said in a wide-ranging interview that explored his own upbringing, education and how family tragedy has shaped his outlook on life.

“Don’t go extravagant starting off,” he added.

“You have to manage and make sure you’ve enough money coming in and that you don’t over spend yourself.

“I was watching some of the webinars when lockdown was on and talking about looking at this cost and that cost. Some businesses hadn’t looked at them in the last five or six years. And there was a sense of that coming in. We were getting careless again.

“I would have been a firm believer – our financial year was always 31st of December. January would have been a crucial month, looking at everything. I’d be in a horrible mood for the month of January. You’d have to look at your costs ruthlesslyand make sure you were setting up for the year.”

And he said that in the short term, making money isn’t the most important thing.

“Don’t be worried about your margin all the time. Don’t be upset if you’re not making a few quid. That will come. Service and quality. You won’t be removed too fast by a competitor if (you focus on that).

“Quality is taken for granted nowadays. If you don’t have a quality service or product, you’re at nothing.

“It’s the way you deliver that service or product – if you don’t do that right, your competition will laugh at you.

“If you do that right, we’re a nation that don’t like too much change and we generally stay with the fella that you can rely on.

“That is what I would really preach to businesses – give a lot of time to doing the small things right. Don’t be settling for 90% efficiencies. You must be in the high 90s. You’re playing a league where you need to be at Grade A all the time.”

In relation to his role as Laois Chamber president (his term is due to end at this week’s AGM), he said the timing suited him to get involved as he was no longer heavily involved in his own business.

“When it came up, I certainly had time on my hands and was delighted to give whatever experience I had – whether valuable or not – I was delighted to give my experience back.

“And I’d have to compliment the board of Ciaran Finane, David Walsh-Kemmis, Paul Muldowney, Alison Browne and Conor McGarry.

“A lot have intense jobs or are owners of their business and when you’d be sitting in a meeting with them and you’d see the effort they were putting in to get this off the ground it shamed me into doing it. It was great getting involved.

“While myself and Bernie (Everard, CEO) are more the front of it, these guys are brilliant behind the scene and the support they have given is unbelievable.”

He was also full of praise for the work Laois County Council are doing in attracting business to Laois.

“John Mulholland (CEO of Laois County Council) has been key to it. In fairness he has opened doors to business.

“I was talking at Greenfield Global opening and they went to 26 site visits and Laois County Council was what swung it for them.

“We criticise them and we knock them but I’d have to say working with them the guys in there are doing their level best to bring business to Laois.

“Laois Chamber is an add on effect to that. It’s trying to bring the whole thing together. We are working tohether. That’s where the power will be. No matter who comes to the county.

“If it’s the Chamber, or LEO or Laois County Council, we’re all singing off the one hymn sheet. If you’rereputable and can show potential, our doors are open.”

The full Podcast interview with Martin Crowley will be available to download next week. 

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