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Featured Business: Celtic Pure
Name: Padraig McEneaney, CEO of Celtic Pure, a bottled water company
If you can describe water as liquid gold, the McEneaney family had been sitting on a goldmine for generations.
It wasn’t until Padraig McEneaney went into full-time farming and decided he needed a second source of income that the potential of the farm’s water source was fully realised.
Padraig and his wife Pauline founded Celtic Pure in 2000 and have been growing and developing the company ever since – serving retail, own brand and the food service sectors in both Ireland and the UK.
In March 2013 Celtic Pure won Best Food Company at the SFA National Small Business Awards 2013 and has steadily been increasing visibility in the retail market, with the aim of becoming one of the top three bottled waters in Ireland. The product has been flying off shelves – during the heatwave in 2013 the company saw a 40% increase in demand for Celtic Pure water.
The McEneaney family has been farming in south Monaghan for generations on the same land where the Celtic Pure bottling plant now has three bored wells. This water source had been used on the farm, domestically and for animals, as well as supplying the local school and church before the arrival of mains water.
Padraig left school early to run the farm and had been working in the local meat factories. He started full-time farming and realised he needed another enterprise to supplement his farming income, which led to the idea of a bottling plant.
The McEneaney family plays an important part in the business. Pauline had an integral role in the early days, but kept on her own job where she still works. Padraig’s daughter works in the company office on her summer holidays and his son looks after the farm in his spare time.
What was the inspiration for setting up your business?
I always knew we had a very good quality source of water here. It’s been used by the McEneaney family for the past 300 to 400 years. From that, the idea had grown that we’d set up a water bottling company and we came up with the name Celtic Pure. From that, we started bottling water.
How did you initially fund your business?
We started very small. We had a small investment when we started first. We were using AIB as our bank and they supported us. We grew and built a factory unit and we got more funding from AIB. We kept reinvesting the profits into the business.
Have you diversified your offering from your original focus or set up other businesses?
We’ve taken the business now to a stage where we manufacture all our own bottles onsite. We will produce around 35 million bottles this year through the plant. We’ve grown considerably since the early days. We still continue farming as well.
What have been the highlights to date?
There have been many highs and lows. One of the highlights was running the company through the biggest economic crisis in the country – the recession – and being able to make sure we had a thriving company. It’s a good achievement considering the investment we did in 2007. We’ve won a few awards, which were highs as well: in March 2013 we won Best Food Company with the Small Firms Association. We’ve won quality awards in the UK as well.
What’s your favourite part of being a business owner/entrepreneur?
When you go into a strange area or a strange town and you walk into a shop and you see your own product in it, that gives you a lift; or you’re walking somewhere and see someone drinking Celtic Pure, that’s an achievement. The job satisfaction we have, the staff and anyone involved in the development of the company, that would have to give anyone satisfaction.
How do you achieve a work-life balance?
From early on, growing up on a farm there was no such thing as an 8 to 5 job; some days were longer than others. I probably took on that ethic too and work too long. I wouldn’t be shy of a hard day’s work. Hopefully as the company grows I’ll get some of the rewards of the hard work.
Are you inspired by any business figures or success stories?
Nowadays you could be looking up to someone and they could be in NAMA tomorrow. Michael O’Leary is one you’d have to look at as a great businessman, the model of Ryanair is great – even though I wouldn’t be a great lover of their service, you’d have to admire them as a company.
What tools do you utilise that benefit your customers or that make running your business easier or more profitable?
We try to run a very lean, competitive business here because, in the current climate, costs and trying to produce a competitive product are very important. The danger is not to get too competitive and lose your margin. We’re trying to produce a quality product at an affordable price.
Do you feel you know what your customers really want? How do you stay updated with this information?
I talk to my customers on a daily basis and then we get Bord Bia market reports on trends and updated research from the UK.
What has been the biggest challenge your business has faced?
Managing the growth of the company is one of the biggest challenges, because you bring a company from €1 million turnover to €2 million, to €3 million, to €5 million. It’s managing cashflow, managing growth, managing stock. That would have been one of the biggest challenges I found.
What do you think the biggest challenge to businesses in Ireland is at the moment?
I would say staying competitive in terms of energy costs and also legislation – there’s an awful lot of red tape. A lot of legislation brought in in the Celtic Tiger years is coming back to bite us now when we’re trying to be competitive. It’s important we stay competitive and we don’t lose the run of ourselves.
What part of running a business comes to you naturally?
Production. I enjoy being out on the factory floor. I enjoy dealing with operatives, getting it as efficient as possible. I like the sales end too. I would cover a number of key accounts myself. I enjoy meeting people and have a high success rate myself – when you’re the owner and you get in front of a buyer, nobody can sell the company as well as the person that has grown the business.
What has been the best reward in running your own business?
The best reward would have to be seeing the company grow over the past five or six years. We’re starting to establish Celtic Pure as a major brand in Ireland. It’s our goal to get it up there in the top three bottled water brands in Ireland.
What was the main catalyst for growth?
The investment in machinery in 2008; and, once we were able to manufacture our own bottles, the rebranding of our labels. That would have been key to our success.
What obstacles to growth have you faced in the past?
The biggest obstacle was in 2008/2009: getting credit with suppliers and big companies in the UK because of the negative vibes they were getting from businesses in Ireland that were struggling. That was the biggest hurdle. That’s eased a bit now because people are starting to have faith in any business that is in existence and going well at the minute – that business has probably weathered that storm and is in the next stage of growth.
How do you get ideas to further your business?
We’re enrolling in an R&D project with Enterprise Ireland, so we’re hoping to develop new products through that in the next two years.
What motivates you to stay running a business?
It’s the pride of being your own boss and running your own business; being in among the staff every day. It’s all those things put together that gives me the drive to continue as CEO of the company.
What’s your vision for the future?
I would hope that one of my two kids would come into the company as the years go on. They’ve both worked part-time in the company in various jobs over the years and are both now nearly qualified in college. We would hope at least one of them would come back into the company in the next three to four years.
Do you have a mentor; do you find this has positively impacted on your success?
No, I haven’t used any mentors. I’ve gone on workshops with the likes of Bord Bia, Monaghan County Enterprise Board and Plato – all of those organisations that help companies develop their business. I would have learned a lot of invaluable information through that.
What would be your advice to businesses starting out?
They have to be prepared to work very hard. They have to be able to manage the growth and the cashflow of the company. They have to keep very lean production. If it’s production manufacturing, then they’ll have to go automated and they have to spend the money on the machinery. After that, know your growth margin.
What, if anything, would you do differently?
I don’t honestly think there’s a lot I would have done differently. I don’t think there is. I haven’t made a lot of bad mistakes to do with the company. I believe the direction we went in was the right one to go.
Phone: +353 42 9691820
Interviewed by: Web Content Partners
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