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Featured Business: Eco Drop
Name: Garry Regan, founder of Garry’s Cycles and Garden Machinery, and Eco Drop
Since: 2008 – Garry’s Cycles and Garden Machinery; 2014 – Eco Drop
Eco Drop is a small wastewater company, employing eight people. Based in county Galway, the company recently became AIB’s 10,000th customer to receive loan approval within 48 hours, receiving funding under the SBCI-backed loan fund.
Garry Regan, founder of Eco Drop, spent 16 years living and working in America before returning to Ireland to work in construction in early 2007. With the downturn in construction in mid-2008, Garry set up his first business, Garry’s Cycles and Garden Machinery. In early 2014, Garry spotted a need for the maintenance and repair of wastewater treatment plants and septic tanks, and so established Eco Drop.
Interview with Garry Regan
What was the inspiration for setting up your business?
To be honest, the reason for establishing my first company was for employment. I came back to Ireland in 2007 after spending 16 years in America. I worked in construction and when that slowed down I decided to open my first business, Garry’s Cycles and Garden Machinery. My second business, Eco Drop, was developed because I saw that there was a clear need for a company that could provide a quality service in the area of wastewater treatment and maintenance.
How did you initially fund your business?
I was self-funded at the beginning.
Have you diversified your offering from your original focus or set up other businesses?
I started out with Garry’s Cycles and Garden Machinery in Barna and, as the business became established, we expanded and now we have three shops. Last year, John Coyne came on board. He brought extensive experience in servicing septic tanks to the business, and we decided together that there was a gap in the market there and so we established Eco Drop.
What have been the highlights to date?
Recently we won a couple of big contracts for the wastewater treatment plants. For larger organisations to have confidence in our services, it validates that we are doing things properly and, when you win big contracts, there is always a sense of achievement.
What’s the bravest step you’ve made in relation to your business?
Actually setting up the business and making the initial investment, deciding that you’re going to hire staff. It’s a huge step to decide you are actually going to do it. However, once you get good staff that’s half the battle. If you surround yourself with good staff you can move forward with confidence.
What’s your favourite part of being a business owner/entrepreneur?
Customer satisfaction is a big one. When someone has a problem and you’re able to sort it out for them and they’re happy at the end of it, that’s great. I love getting referrals; it shows that you’re doing things right when people are willing to recommend you to other people. This goes back to getting the right staff, they’re key to everything in the business.
How do you achieve a work-life balance?
Being a small business owner, I work long hours. If the phone rings, you have to answer it because you don’t want to turn business away.
I like to spend time with my kids or get out for a spin on the motorbike. If I can get four or five hours, I’ll go out around Connemara or down towards the Cliffs of Moher.
Are you inspired by any business figures or success stories?
There’s not really any one person who inspires me but I love seeing a well-run business. The people who do the basics very well always impress me. It’s the small things such as when you call them, the first thing they do is call you back.
What tools or technologies do you use that benefit your customers or business?
There’s a lot; all our vans are fully kitted out with a lot of technology, and obviously in our line of work there are loads of tools that we use regularly. Our vans are all equipped with a workshop in the back of them. CCTV is probably the biggest technology we use; it lets us see exactly what’s going on inside a pipe. It was a big investment to get it set-up but, in terms of letting us diagnose and repair our customers’ problems, it has been well worth it.
Do you feel you know what your customers really want? How do you stay updated with this information?
Yes we do. Customer service is the number one focus for us. As a small business, your reputation is everything. We can usually diagnose a problem over the phone if we’re given the facts. By asking the right questions, we can find out exactly what’s going on. We don’t want to waste the customer’s time, we’re usually able to tell them what the problem is and provide a cost of repair over the phone before we call out.
What has been the biggest challenge your business has faced?
Like every business, it’s hard to keep everything going. The overheads are high, between the initial investments in capital, PRSI, wages etc. It’s a lot of expense up front when you’re starting out, so it is a risk. I think incentives for employers is an area that the government could help more with, to make it less expensive for SMEs to employ people. I want to employ more people but most of our work is contract based so it is difficult to make those hires when you don’t know how many contracts you might have in six to 12 months.
What part of running a business comes to you naturally?
Customer service. Making customers feel comfortable. If I was to sell a cheaper, lower standard of product, I could probably sell more of it in the short term but there’s no point in doing that. The customer is putting their trust in you and you want to give them the best quality in terms of service and product. If the customer isn’t happy, it is detrimental to the business. I believe in selling products that I can stand over and, when I give a warranty on something, there are no exceptions. As an SME, my reputation counts for so much.
How did you scale/grow your business?
This is something that every SME must think about. I have grown my businesses primarily through advertising and putting my businesses out there. I always find the best thing to do is meet face to face with the person you want to do business with, even if it’s a competitor. Again it’s about the customer. If I can’t help them, I’d rather refer them to someone else so they will get the service or product that they need to resolve their problem.
How do you get ideas to further your business?
I take a big interest in other markets and activity in my line of business in other countries. I mainly look to America; I spent years living and working there so I have an interest anyway but it is interesting to keep up to date on any new technologies that they are adopting.
What motivates you to stay running a business?
I like to stay busy. I like to see my customers happy, and it’s great to be able to create some employment.
What’s your vision for the future?
In 10-15 years, I’d like my business to be running exactly as I want it, to have some security. Everything happening now, with AIB’s support, is a step to that. Again, a large part of that is down to staff; they need to be part of the business and share the vision for the future.
I’ve just bought a new premises so that’s the next big step for the business. It’s the first unit that we’ll own rather than renting. I’ll be able to house both my businesses under one roof, which is exciting.
What’s the best business advice you’ve received?
The best business advice I’ve received is – “Don’t half do something. If you’re going to do it, do it right.” This is so true when you’re in business.
What would be your advice to businesses starting out?
Start small but professional and, once you have the basics right, then begin expanding and scaling up.
What, if anything, would you do differently?
I’d try to avoid renting, if it’s at all possible. In the past I’ve had to take on rent increases that affected my business. We had to move a couple of times; you can lose out on business because of relocating. When you build up a business in a location and are then forced to move, some people will think you’ve shut down.
What difference did 48-hour loan approval from AIB make to your business?
48-hour approval from AIB helped me line up the next step for my business. When I knew my loan was approved I could move on with my plans. It took the uncertainty out of the situation, rather than thinking about “What if I don’t get this?” It helped me get my business up to speed faster. The faith AIB put in me with this loan helped my confidence in moving my business to the next level.
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