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Featured Business: Buggabandz
Name: Lisa Flanagan, co-founder and director of Natural Concepts and the Buggabandz brand (a wrist/ankle band that protects against mosquitoes).
Unsightly and uncomfortable mosquito bites are something that can really eat into the enjoyment of a holiday. But thanks to a new Irish brand of anti-mosquito fashion bands – Buggabandz – mosquito bites could be the least of holidaymakers’ worries.
Set up by Lisa Flanagan, Buggabandz are also useful on home soil for those who spend time in the great outdoors gardening, farming, or playing sports such as golf.
Brand/product designer Lisa Flanagan, who has 13 years’ experience working on a range of prestigious brands such as Jameson, Absolut and Bewleys, felt it was time to create a brand for herself.
Still working full-time, she is proof it is possible to launch a business without leaving your job, and that, with a lot of hard work, commitment and passion, your dreams are possible.
Ideal for those looking for a natural alternative to mosquito repellents containing chemicals such as DEET, Buggabandz are made from Geraniol and natural plant extracts, which are suitable for children over three years of age. Geraniol is a natural essential oil that diffuses an aroma mosquitoes do not like.
The vision for Buggabandz doesn’t stop with the current bands. Lisa aims to grow it into a global brand with a range of products she is currently working on and which she hopes to launch at next year's ISPY travel retail awards.
Lisa has a great relationship with the Asian manufacturer of Buggabandz, conducting daily Skype calls. She sends final artwork in PDF format to the printing facility and packaging warehouse, where the files are transformed into the end product and shipped by air or sea.
Available in pharmacies nationwide as well as Dunnes Stores and Superquinn, the product can also be purchased in-flight from international airlines such as Thomson and Aer Lingus.
Interview with Lisa Flanagan
What was the inspiration for setting up your business?
I was travelling through Bali and got bitten alive by mosquitoes, wasps and cockroaches; I got destroyed by bites. I came across a similar product over there and wanted to launch my own brand of it here in Ireland. Because it’s a fairly new concept, I thought it would do well.
What have been the highlights to date?
Creating a brand that everybody loves; whether it’s consumers or distributors. It’s a fun, eye-catching brand and a product that helps change people’s lives – it works.
We’ve had great feedback from people trying it out all over the world, bringing it on holidays. Hearing how it helped them is rewarding at the end of the day.
How did you initially fund your business?
I’m working full-time as a Creative Director for Irish Distillers, so my wages help me fund the business. Then there’s help from family – little loans here and there that I pay back.
Have you diversified your offering from your original focus or set up other businesses?
We started off with pharmaceutical; we signed with a distributor in Ireland, which has over 1,000 pharmacies, and we realised that it’s a huge market globally. But we also identified another market that was crucial to its growth – the travel retail industry, which is huge. Targeting a consumer while they’re on the plane en route to their destination is key.
What’s your favourite part of being a business owner/entrepreneur?
I love having control over my brand and its destiny. I love creating products that other people believe in and that are making a difference to people’s lives.
How do you achieve a work-life balance?
I’m a very busy girl and have no life (kidding)! I work full-time to fund Buggabandz. I think when you’re a born entrepreneur, you like the buzz of working hard. When I go home I have an hour to eat my dinner, then there I am again – researching and coming up with ideas. It’s in my blood, so I enjoy it. I like working hard. I don’t have a family, so I’m at the stage of my life when I can devote all of my time to it.
Are you inspired by any business figures or success stories?
I like the way Innocent smoothies started at a farmer's market, had their own ingredients and started very small – no huge overheads, no loans – and now they’re a multinational brand. I think Cully & Sully are good as well. They started small and grew.
What tools do you utilise that benefit your customers or that make running your business easier or more profitable?
We found Twitter really good as a communications tool. Trade shows are also good for targeting the consumer – for example, holiday shows, Bloom, the Irish Ploughing Championships – anything outdoors, because the bands are associated with outdoor activities such as gardening and farming. Believe it or not, there is a mosquito problem in Ireland; it’s getting bigger and it’s seasonal, and is a particular problem in some areas such as Malahide.
Do you feel you know what your customers really want? How do you stay updated with this information?
I think there’s a great buzz at the moment around organic produce, and consumers choosing the natural alternative. I think more consumers want this from their products. They’re paying a little bit extra to get a product derived from natural ingredients instead of toxins and chemicals, because they want to live longer, and have their family’s best interest at heart.
What has been the biggest challenge your business has faced?
Probably funding. We’ve got the brand and we’re ready to go, but we have no way to get it out there and advertise it. Advertising is huge money; we don’t have a massive advertising spend, we’re using social media. I entered two competitions to try and get a free advertising campaign for the year. I’m trying to enter competitions because it’s so costly to get it on a billboard, or a Dart card, or a 48 sheet. That was my dream, but unfortunately I can’t fund that at the moment.
What do you think the biggest challenge to businesses in Ireland is at the moment?
Generally people are finding it hard to get loans. Obviously there are procedures in place and you have to have a good business plan. Consumers are also afraid to spend. If people aren’t spending, your brand is suffering. Confidence in spending is key.
What part of running a business comes to you naturally?
I’m a people person; I like getting out there and talking to people. I love being the face of the brand in Ireland, hosting trade shows and various other events. I’m the innovator, the creator. I’m not very good with the accounting side and figures, so that’s where my business partner comes in. I think a perfect business partnership comprises people with different skillsets so that the skills you are lacking you can learn from your partner, and vice versa. He’s great at negotiating final deals, and working with margins, pricing and duty. I’d be very innovative, visionary, and have a lot more time to be creative. That’s why we have a good balance.
What has been the best reward in running your own business?
Probably seeing our product on pharmacy counters and getting it on board Thomson Airways and Aer Lingus last summer – what an achievement. Also, having a demand for a brand that people love, and the reaction from satisfied consumers who have used the product.
What was the main catalyst for growth?
Consumer spending – trying out the product and trusting in the product. If they’ve tried it one summer, they’ll try it again; it’s a trusted brand.
How did you scale/grow your business?
We started out with one band in a pack. Our competitors had two, so we decided to have two for better value. Our new range is aimed at exclusive travel retail, so the brand is evolving. We will have new products by the end of 2013. We have some very interesting products up our sleeve!
How do you get ideas to further your business?
I love to keep on top of the latest trends by following various websites, what’s in fashion and what’s not – sites like Pinterest and the Cool Hunter, and publications like Wallpaper magazine.
What motivates you to stay running a business?
The feedback about the brand is extremely positive, and the fact that it’s a fairly new concept means we are educating the consumer about it. It's a new trend in natural mosquito repellents and something that makes a difference to people’s lives.
What’s your vision for the future?
We see the brand being global by the end of 2013. We are in the process of exporting to many European countries over the next few months and hope to nail Australia for next summer. Maybe another two or three airlines would be nice too. The sky’s the limit.
What obstacles to growth have you faced in the past?
Probably funding, and money for advertising. You’ve got a great brand, you’ve got a good product, but you need to make people aware of it and the only way to do that is through advertising – it is essential for brand awareness.
Do you have a mentor; do you find this has positively impacted on your success?
I’ve always been coming up with ideas, and this is the one I hope will succeed; so I met with Brendan Hickey of Fingal Enterprise Board, and he helped me with ideas. There’s entrepreneurship in the family. My uncle, Martin Butler, brought the segways into Ireland. He gave me great advice; so he’s been a mentor.
What’s the best business advice you’ve received?
Just to keep challenging myself, learning every day. Don’t stop learning, because if you’re not learning you’re not growing and it’s hard to succeed in a business long term without growth and adding to your product range.
What’s your favourite motivational business quote?
Richard Branson: “You don’t learn to walk by following rules, you learn by doing and by falling over.” It’s like everybody learns from their mistakes and if you followed one set of rules you’d get nowhere.
What would be your advice to businesses starting out?
If you have an idea: 1) Market research it; see if there’s anybody else doing it. If there’s no market for it, let it go. 2) Write an amazing, solid business plan. 3) Have savings behind you, then go and visit the bank and ask for support.
What, if anything, would you do differently?
Last year we had no quality assurance personnel in the Far East responsible for overseeing the quality of all the products that came off the factory floor, so there were slight hiccups at the start. It is probably the most cost-effective procedure you can invest in, as they carry out inspections and apply quality assurance solutions at your manufacturing site. We now have that facility and things are moving smoothly.
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