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Featured Business: M&T Plant Hire
Name: Thomas Murray, Managing Director, M&T Plant Hire – a waste water management/disposal company
Employees: 25 full-time employees, 2 part-time employees
Life Stage: Established
When Tom Murray set up a business 33 years ago with a tractor and tanker to empty septic tanks, he knew he had hit on a niche market.
He also knew that it was a growing business. Little did he know, however, that 33 years later his company would employ 26 people and have invested €2.5m in a state of the art, award-winning compost facility just three miles from his home-place.
In 2012, Tom’s company M&T Plant Hire opened a new state of the art composting facility and started entering awards. It won the Small Firms Association (SFA) Environmental Sustainability Award and was also recognised locally with a Wexford Green Business Award, judged by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
While most of M&T Plant Hire’s private clients are close to home – in the County Wexford area – the composting facility has composting coming from Laois, Wicklow, Kilkenny, Wexford and Waterford County Councils.
Simply put, composting involves the taking in of septic tanks, desludging them, taking the water out of them, treating it and sending it back out as compost. Water is used to clean underground gulleys, and the remaining compost is turned into mulch, which can be used in landscaping.
A lot of Local Authority work may require the company to unblock a sewer line and repair it. So Tom has also diversified into civil engineering, ensuring all bases are covered – a far cry from the one-man outfit he started with.
Interview with David Burke, Sales Executive (on behalf of Tom Murray, founder of M&T Plant Hire)
What was the inspiration for setting up your business?
It was to look at something that was a niche market, where there was a service required by a customer and that service was going to be continually required. Nobody else was doing it at the time. Tom had the foresight to see this and make it bigger.
How did you initially fund your business?
As a sole trader setting up, Tom was self-financed. He got a small loan from AIB and that catapulted him to where he is.
Have you diversified your offering from your original focus or set up other businesses?
Absolutely. Having set up as a one-man emptying septic tanks operation, M&T now has a civil engineering crew where we repair footpaths, walls, etc – whatever has to be done on the engineering end of it. There’s also a CCTV crew and a confined spaces crew. The CCTV crew is a camera crew and they survey underground lines and identify any cracks/problems evident in the pipes and drains. The civil engineering division also carry no dig repairs where roads or footpaths are not required to be dug out. The CCTV crew also does drain cleaning – you’ve got to clean them first, and then they survey them. The confined spaces crew is a very specialised crew; they go into septic tanks to clean them out or the inside of a huge treatment plant for the likes of councils. To cap it all off, we have the new composting facility. It’s the biggest investment Tom has put in – over €2m. Tom also has a garden machinery company too – M&T Garden Machinery.
What have been the highlights to date?
I think the highlight to date would be the opening of the new composting facility – because of the sheer scale of it (2,400 sq metres).
What’s your favourite part of being a business owner/entrepreneur?
Tom [the founder of the business], being an adventurous fellow, for someone back then, 33 years ago, seeing an opportunity like that, you’ve got to have a bit of adventure in you. I think he’s a great guy for going with his gut feeling – if it sounds too good, it’s too good to be true.
How do you achieve a work-life balance?
Tom works hard and he plays hard. Socialising is a big part of his activity – that’s where a lot of work has come from. He treats everybody with great respect and dignity. He’s gotten an awful lot of work on the basis of that.
Are you inspired by any business figures or success stories?
I think Tom is a very private person and he does his own thing. He has a great saying – if he’s not fishing, he’s mending nets. That would be held forth with the people that he would meet in key areas and he would put himself into positions with people he would mingle with. He’s a great, firm believer in talking to the butcher and not the block, and talking to the right person.
What tools do you utilise that benefit your customers or that make running your business easier or more profitable?
We’re kind of changing the whole time. Training and staff development is a large part of our business. We have recently implemented a customer policy manual. We try to keep up to date with most of the ingredients that influence our business. Believe it or believe it not, for septic tank emptying, Facebook is unbelievable. We use speed dial for our workers if they’re driving – it’s only a small thing rather than dialing a long number, just pressing 1. It’s not innovative but it’s an absolute godsend when guys are under pressure.
Do you feel you know what your customers really want? How do you stay updated with this information?
You’re constantly looking at the market. Our method for keeping in contact with our customers is very simplistic. It’s not like you’re selling a pound of ham and the ham is nice, so in two day’s time I’m back for another pound. You empty a septic tank; you might not see them again for two years. Your work is the best advertising you can have. What we do is basic stuff, you leave your sticker on top of the tank with a 24 hours a day, 7 days a week call out service. The other method we use quite effectively is group texting.
What has been the biggest challenge your business has faced?
Cashflow. We have to work on new business and minding old business and getting money in. If you can get the money in that you’re owed, fine. If you don’t, it’s a struggle because it’s a vicious circle.
What do you think the biggest challenge to businesses in Ireland is at the moment?
Cashflow. It may not be for all businesses, but I think for a lot of them it’s going to be in the top two.
What part of running a business comes to you naturally?
For Tom, it’s 33 years of experience. It’s never suited anybody more – been there, done that, worn the t-shirt. He’s a man who is not easily fazed; he’s very level, balanced, no rash decisions. He’s a great communicator but very shy as well.
What has been the best reward in running your own business?
To be honest with you, three substantial highlights and rewards came this year. 1) Nominated for the final of the Green Awards in Ireland. 2) Winning the SFA Environmental Sustainability Award. 3) In connection with Wexford Chamber of Commerce, we won the Wexford Green Business Award.
What was the main catalyst for growth?
As Tom went along, the main catalyst was expansion. He had set out with a tractor and tanker. He was working with that for three or four years and then went to England, saw a small little drain cleaner and brought this back: he could empty a septic tank, wash and clean out gulleys, empty gulleys and unblock drains whereas he couldn’t do that with a tractor and tanker. That was the parting of the waters: I can now offer other services.
How did you scale/grow your business?
It was blood, sweat and fear. It was early hours and long days.
What obstacles to growth have you faced in the past?
We tend to look forward as opposed to backwards. For all our faults and failings, whatever we’ve done in the past, you can’t change them. Whatever you’re going to do in the future, you’ve an opportunity to change that. The obstacles are only coming to us, the ones that are back there I can’t do anything about.
How do you get ideas to further your business?
Using two ears and one mouth, you listen twice as much as you talk. It’s amazing the good ideas that have come up while socialising and thinking “That’s a good idea, I could implement that in our business.”
What motivates you to stay running a business?
I think probably the little boy in the man’s body: always looking for adventure. Success breeds success, the one thing you’ve got to differentiate between is the drive for success and the green-eyed monster. Greed is an awful thing. To try and push your business into an area that is not right for the business because you think it is and you won’t listen to people, that’s why I think Tom is very good with the two ears and the one mouth.
What’s your vision for the future?
The vision for the future is to copper fasten our position as the south east’s number 1 provider of certified emptying of septic tanks. I say certified because we have full traceability.
Do you have a mentor; do you find this has positively impacted on your success?
Tom wouldn’t have that many mentors but he’d have an awful lot of friends that he would rely on for their advice or input. He has a great way of drawing information and analysing it himself. If you don’t have brains, you can buy brains and then you use those brains.
What’s the best business advice you’ve received?
The best bit of advice I’ve had is your work is your best form of advertising. When we go and do a septic tank, we want to make sure everybody is happy. We always remember that a clap on the back is only six inches away from a kick in the behind. Don’t rest on your laurels.
What would be your advice to businesses starting out?
Know yourself, know your limitations and know your customers.
What’s your favourite motivational business quote?
Books are a mighty bloodless substitute for life – by that I mean the experience of working by rolling up the sleeves rather than reading about it in a book. That came from my Leaving Cert days – Robert Louis Stevenson.
What, if anything, would you do differently?
Start small and stay small! We’re not going to do that because we have cornered a certain element of the market and we have our reputation going forward.
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