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Featured Business: Cronin Movers
Name: Tim Cronin, Managing Director, Cronin Movers – specialist moving, relocation, project management and focused logistics company
Working on the continent as a truck driver in the 1980s, Tim Cronin filled a scrapbook with ideas taken from the specialist moving and relocation companies he visited on his travels.
By 1986, with six years’ experience and savings behind him, he started Cronin Movers with one truck, one helper and a pager, working out of a lock-up unit on Hanover Quay in Dublin.
Now based in Damastown Industrial Estate on the M50, where Tim built a state of the art logistics and storage centre in 2000, Cronin Movers Group specialises in moving, relocation, project management and logistics. It also signed an agreement in 2009 to open Interdean Relocation Services Ireland (now part of The Santa Fe Group).
At its height, the company grew to 80 employees – or 120 if you include agency staff. Since the property and financial crash, moving activity has decreased in Ireland and the company employs a smaller team of 40 people and a regular team of skilled part-timers.
Initially, Tim started out doing a local office or house move one week, and the next week could involve doing a move to London, Paris or Switzerland as he advertised himself as a service partner in Ireland to the very companies he had visited as a truck driver.
The diversity of projects over the years includes moving the Adelaide Meath and Children’s Hospital out to the new Tallaght Hospital – the largest single commercial move ever paid for by the state to a removals contractor – and some major commercial projects for international organisations with operations in Ireland.
Interview with Tim Cronin
What was the inspiration for setting up your business?
I left school at 15 and travelled and worked in various jobs. Opening a stall in the old Dandelion Market in Stephen’s Green was my very first business venture. What I really wanted to do was drive trucks around Europe. I’d hitchhiked around Europe and decided I was mad for the road and the freedom that went with it. At 19, I was lucky enough to meet a guy who had an international moving company and he took a chance on me – it was almost impossible at the time to get a job at that age as a truck driver. He helped me get my licence and gave me my first real job as a European truck driver. On my travels I got to visit some of the top moving companies in Europe – in cities like Paris, Geneva, Zurich and Rome – and saw how well moving services can be performed. From there, that’s where I got the inspiration – take all the ideas I’d see on my travels, take the best of them and start up a moving company in Ireland. I started a scrapbook. At the time there were no iPhones or smart phones with cameras. There used to be long delays at borders. Plus there was driving bans for trucks at weekends – which there still is, you can’t drive on Sundays. I’d take my scrapbook and start doodling and drawing sketches and logos.
How did you initially fund your business?
I’d saved my money for six years with AIB on Foster Place. After looking at my first business plan, the manager there at the time offered to match every Irish punt I’d saved with one by the bank by way of a loan to start my business. I bought my first truck in 1986, got a pager on my belt, got a serviced secretarial service to answer calls and rented a lock-up unit down in Hanover Quay in Dublin and started my business.
Have you diversified your offering from your original focus or set up other businesses?
Absolutely, yes. The problem with the traditional removals and storage business is seasonality. Most of the moving happens in the summer months because that’s when most home sales happen, children are off school and families can take holidays. We first diversified into moving art, antiques and exhibitions and then commercial relocation, office moving, technical logistics and heavy lift services. Basically we’ll move anything that is heavy, awkward or fragile and valuable, that a general haulier won’t want to touch. We needed more sustainable revenue stream business, and the combination of these services gave us that.
What have been the highlights to date?
I have been involved in many interesting moves over the years. One I really enjoyed was the relocation of the Francis Bacon studio from Kensington in London to the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Modern Art in Dublin. The project was brilliant and difficult. The studio was extensively photographed first, taken apart piece by piece (including the original walls), clamped and preserved for transport by a team of conservators. We did all the slinging, lifting down, transport and placement in the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin where the same team of really skilled conservators and technicians rebuilt the studio exactly as Bacon had left it in London right before he died. I’m terribly proud of that project. It was only a small one for us in comparison to the thousands of moves we have carried out over the years, but something I was lucky enough to have been involved with. The studio is as it was the day that Francis Bacon last walked into it. The conservators took literally thousands of photographs and every single piece was measured and catalogued. Francis Bacon used the walls as his palette and so they had to be so painstakingly preserved and protected so nothing could be lost or damaged in transit.
What’s your favourite part of being a business owner/entrepreneur?
The excitement, challenge and – of course – the reward. Moving has been very good to me, I’ve a good lifestyle from it. It’s never anything less than a challenge. It’s certainly not for the meek or faint-hearted – the very nature of moving things, there’s risk involved and it’s a challenge I like to meet.
How do you achieve a work-life balance?
I’ve a range of interests. I love walking, cycling, I am involved in an inner city boxing club, which I have been for years. I also love the sea, so I would do a lot of boating. I also travel extensively – we’re lucky because we have industry events that happen every year in every part of the world. It’s good fun to go and see what’s new in the moving and relocation industry.
Are you inspired by any business figures, people or success stories?
I’m really impressed by Denis O’Brien, not just for his business and entrepreneurial achievements but he also does a lot of good charity work quietly. Others that impress me are Richard Branson of Virgin and Mary Lawlor in Frontline Defenders, who introduced me many years ago to the whole concept and importance of human rights – I admire her determined and unending work to defend those who defend human rights globally. I also hugely admire Fr Peter McVerry for his tireless work for the homeless.
What tools do you utilise that benefit your customers or that make running your business easier or more profitable?
We have a state-of-the-art move management and tracking software, so all our vehicles, assets and customer assets can be tracked on our software real-time anywhere in the world.
Do you feel you know what your customers really want? How do you stay updated with this information?
I never stop learning. I also judge service by the service I receive. Anytime, anywhere, whether at home or abroad, I’m always on the lookout for great service delivery; I’m actually fascinated by it – I feel I was born for the service business and I cannot stand for us to give poor or mediocre service. We train everyone at our company to imagine themselves in the customer’s position and then get that empathy. It’s a unique empathy you need to have or else you need to get the hell out of the service industry and admit it’s not for you.
What has been the biggest challenge your business has faced?
In the service industry, the biggest challenge for me is consistency – to be able to build and retain a consistency of service. In our industry you’re only as good as your last move or service you deliver. It’s very much a business of communication, manual skill and care. Every single movement we carry out for any customer, we constantly communicate during the move with the customer. On completion, we have an independent company make a call to ask a simple question: “Were you completely happy with the service you received and would you be happy to recommend us to others?” If we find an unhappy customer or that something hasn’t been delivered according to our SLA [service level agreement], we dive on it and address the problem and leave the customer with an agreed solution.
What do you think the biggest challenge to businesses in Ireland is at the moment?
The labour laws are heavily biased against the employer. Government have drastically reduced their redundancy payment contribution from 60% to 0%. If there’s a downturn in business it’s going to cost too much to make that person or people redundant – so you don’t take the risk. It’s really short-sighted and anti-employment; they said it was aimed at the larger foreign direct investment companies – which is rubbish as they could have had a two tier system – one for FDI companies that have received IDA funding and enjoyed the low rates of corporate tax, and one for SMEs like ourselves who have never received any help. I also believe that the very high rate of VAT on services only serves to drive the black economy. We are constantly being asked by consumers can we do work for cash; we say we can’t and then they go elsewhere. I think far more VAT would be collected at a much lower rate and this in turn would help stamp out the black economy. Ask most tradesmen to price a job and the first question they invariably ask is: “Are you paying cash or do I need to raise an invoice and put VAT on top?” I rest my case.
What part of running a business comes to you naturally?
People – serving people. I have always been happiest when I’ve been delivering service. I love a challenge – I love when somebody says “I know this is impossible but can we get that statue out through that skylight?” We’ll find a way.
What has been the best reward in running your own business?
To feel I made a success of a venture that I dreamt up and started – I was a disaster at school and this has driven me to succeed in business. I suppose the reward is the thrill of being independent and being literally the master of my own destiny. If I fail, it’s on my head. If I win, it’s my reward. I love business. I really get a kick out of business, the cut and thrust, the day-to-day thrill of it all.
What was the main catalyst for growth?
It was a whole series of events, which included a fair degree of luck but, as the old maxim goes, the harder I sold the luckier I got. We were awarded a contract to do all the logistics and distribution in Ireland for Xerox and that was a great help in boosting the logistics side of our business. Also, getting into all the international moving and relocation trade associations – some of which it takes time to get into.– and developing the worldwide connections in the global relocation and moving fraternity, and becoming known as the best service partner for them in Ireland.
How did you scale/grow your business?
We recently signed an agreement with one of the largest relocation companies in the world to become Interdean Relocation Ireland. They’re a fantastic organisation and one of the largest corporate players in international relocation. They’re owned by the Santa Fe Group. We’re still Cronin Movers for all commercial moving and logistics, but we have opened Interdean Ireland as a dedicated international relocation service in Ireland.
What obstacles to growth have you faced in the past?
The size of the market in Ireland; it’s such a hands-on managed business that it’s really like running a good hotel: it depends on you being there and being passionate about delivering great service every time.
How do you get ideas to further your business?
I read a lot of business journals, Entrepreneur magazine – I love publications like that, Harvard Business Review plus travelling to all the global moving and relocation meetings where the global players in our industry get together, and asking others what they’re doing and watching for new opportunities. One thing I’ve learned is I’d far rather do what I know really well than spread myself too thin. I stick to what I know and do that well.
What motivates you to stay running a business?
I still get a great kick out of it – I’m too young to retire.
What’s your vision for the future?
To stay focused on the core services – what we deliver really well – and to win more customers in each of those sectors. When I hear that people haven’t used our services and may have used the services of our competitors, I know that the only reason they’re doing that is because we haven’t properly explained our services to them. That’s a challenge – to impart to somebody how you’re better than the rest. We’re constantly looking for ways to articulate that.
Do you have a mentor; do you find this has positively impacted on your success?
Yes, over the years I have had. Experience is a great thing. I’m a great man for asking for advice if I’m stuck. I’ve no hesitation to ask somebody who I respect for some advice. But really pick your mentors with care – an expert in one area is not necessarily an expert in another. Also a very important thing to do is go with your gut; anytime I didn’t, I ended up regretting it.
What would be your advice to businesses starting out?
Before you set up a business, get a job working for the best in a similar or related business and gain experience, tell them you’ll work for nothing if need be and learn the business – if you’re good at it, money will find you. Put your savings into your start-up; that way I think you’ll be twice as likely to make it succeed and I think investors will like that too. Also surround yourself with the right people – hire experience and go with your gut. I believe the single most important attribute for anybody in business is the ability to sell – if you can’t sell – hire someone who can.
What’s your favourite motivational business quote?
I’ll tell you the one I hate the most: turnover is vanity, profit is sanity. We know it.
Coincidentally, I heard one I really liked earlier today: “It’s possible to train a happy person – it’s impossible to train an unhappy person – therefore, hire happy people.”
What, if anything, would you do differently?
Probably loads, maybe nothing, it’s been a hell of a journey.
Phone: +353 1 809 7000
Interviewed by: Web Content Partners
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