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Featured Business: Bryan Lynch Finest Salads
Name: Bryan Lynch, Managing Director, Bryan Lynch Finest Salads, manufacturers of fresh deli and pre-packed salads, sandwich fillers and flavoured mayonnaises
From his very first job peeling spuds as a teenager, Bryan Lynch has worked in the food sector. Food is his passion and, since the mid-1990s, he’s been running food-related businesses.
Before Bryan Lynch Finest Salads was incorporated in 2002, Bryan started his own café in Carrickmacross, County Monaghan in 1998 and was preparing the salads at night.
The move into his successful business started out very simply – because he had a cheffing background, his brother, a supermarket manager, asked him to supply coleslaw.
Working full-time, he would make it at the kitchen sink when he came home at night or on days off. Around 1998/99 the business moved into a converted garage before a final move to purpose-built premises in Ardee, County Louth in 2005.
In 2007 Bryan sold the café to focus on the more successful side of his business. He’s been concentrating solely on salads since.
This has paid off – while the company has had to cut staff in recent years, it is now focused on steady expansion. As well as expanding the product range, the company is moving into own brand items and has products listed with key Irish multiples.
In September 2013 Bryan Lynch Finest Salads was runner up for the fourth year in a row in the Food Products & Producers category at the EIQA (Excellence Ireland Quality Association) National Quality and Excellence awards.
Interview with Bryan Lynch
What was the inspiration for setting up your business?
I am a chef by trade and my brother was managing a supermarket. He asked me to make coleslaw salad. From there, it went from one customer to another, to another.
How did you initially fund your business?
It was a small loan from AIB in 1998. Angela and I built our house and converted the garage for making the salads. The business was making good money producing the salads, so it built up its own fund to help things along.
Have you diversified your offering from your original focus or set up other businesses?
At the time we had two restaurants and the salad business going and it wasn’t making sense; so we went back to the one that was making money. Initially, we were making two products – coleslaw and potato salad. When we moved into the unit in 2005, we started making extra products to help the business diversify.
What have been the highlights to date?
We do everything right and we try and do our best. I try to enter into some national awards and, by winning awards, it shows people that we are doing the thing right. For the last four years running, we have been shortlisted as one of the top five companies in Ireland under the hygiene EIQA mark. They come out to our premises and audit you every year, unannounced, so you have to make sure you’re on top of your game.
What’s your favourite part of being a business owner/entrepreneur?
I don’t like the word entrepreneur – people think you’re a step above the mark. The credit we get for the work we do is one of my favourite parts of it. Employing people, being involved in local projects and local charities – it’s nice to be able to throw back.
How do you achieve a work-life balance?
Very simple: start early, finish early. I start early in the mornings. I try and finish at 5.30/6 o’clock every evening, no matter what happens, because I have three small kids and they need to be going to football and soccer and swimming. If it’s not done by 6 o’clock, it won’t be done before morning.
Are you inspired by any business figures or success stories?
Self-made people give me good inspiration; people who had nothing and have done it for themselves. Michael O’Leary, Sean Quinn – they’re the kind of people I like. Whether you like Sean Quinn or hate him is your own opinion; I think he did very well for a fella who had little or no education and money to do anything and then all of a sudden he had an empire … things have changed now, fair enough.
What tools do you utilise that benefit your customers or that make running your business easier or more profitable?
We use a lot of software and accounts packaging to see where we’re going, whether we’re making money or not. We’ve rebranded everything this year, which was a big plus for us. We have our own uniqueness as well. We have certain products that nobody else is putting out there in the market.
Do you feel you know what your customers really want? How do you stay updated with this information?
I do. I’m in contact with customers on a daily or weekly basis. We listen to them; we see what they want and what their story is. Coming from a catering and cheffing background, I have a good creative mind and flair, and tastes to get new ideas.
What has been the biggest challenge your business has faced?
The boom and the bust. The boom was great. The bust wasn’t. After 2010 everything went pear-shaped completely. We had to adjust the whole business to suit that. We had to make some serious decisions to keep the business viable. We did what we had to do immediately; we didn’t think twice about it. We acted straight away. It wasn’t good at the time – we had to lose a few jobs and a couple of vans. It wasn’t nice to do. Then we had 30 staff, but I had to keep 20 staff still going if I could at all. It was better off letting 10 go than letting 30 go.
What do you think the biggest challenge to businesses in Ireland is at the moment?
Fuel costs, energy costs, labour costs – costs across the board. We’re putting on an extension here and the county council is looking for €5,500 just to put on a little extension. Before we put a stake in the ground to build this unit [in 2005] the county council got €55,000 off me. Louth County Council will have got €60,000 off me and I have nothing to show for it. It’s hard to swallow.
What part of running a business comes to you naturally?
Product development and sales. The best man to sell your own stuff is the man himself that makes it. They’re the two areas that would be like water off a duck’s back for me.
What has been the best reward in running your own business?
Brand recognition for us is a great reward. We are selling some of our products nationwide at present, and that gives us massive drive.
What was the main catalyst for growth?
The staff we have here. We don’t have a turnover of staff. The very first person I employed 13 years ago is still here with me today. They know what I want and expect and I know what they can do and expect of them. We’ve a very good understanding of where the business needs to go. We talk to them on a daily and weekly basis. We’re not big chiefs here, sitting up in the office, telling the staff nothing and cracking the whip; you have to tell them what you’re at and encourage them.
What obstacles to growth have you faced in the past?
We always had a problem getting listed with the multiple supermarkets. We did a lot of business with the stores directly; we just couldn’t break that trend to get into them. We’ve overcome that now; we’re listed with Dunnes Stores, Musgrave’s (Centra and SuperValu) and BWG (Spar, Mace, Eurospar).
How do you get ideas to further your business?
I keep looking about and listening to people. I try and see something different in the market; see something somebody else is not doing and have a good look at that. Look, listen and think. Since I started out peeling my first spuds, I’ve done nothing else but food. My passion would be for food, full stop.
What motivates you to stay running a business?
Angela and the kids; they’d always be behind you. The success of customer feedback and the increase in volume sales tell me that we are gaining more and more new customers week on week.
What’s your vision for the future?
We’re doing an extension here. We’re going to do own brand as well for an Irish company. I’d like to be known as a national brand, we’re just not yet. It’s generally overall expansion on a consistent basis.
Do you have a mentor; do you find this has positively impacted on your success?
My mentor is Angela; she’s there every day. We did the AIB course with ActionCOACH over a two-day period and that was a great help. Previously, people I worked for were very good to learn from and they would still give advice.
What’s the best business advice you’ve received?
If you’re going to do it, do it right; if you’re not going to, don’t do it. Don’t take short cuts. Quality will always stand out from the rest. There’s no such thing as a free lunch.
What would be your advice to businesses starting out?
I would say always be looking at the competition and see what’s happening in their area and see what differentiates you from them, e.g. the packaging or the product. Find a niche and see that you’re not all making the same kind of stuff. Look out there and see what’s happening.
What’s your favourite motivational business quote?
We set the standards, others follow. Cream rises to the top. The next person you see could be the next customer.
What, if anything, would you do differently?
I would rebuild the building again. It’s too small at the minute. Eight years ago I didn’t expect to be putting on an extension now. Inside I’m grand, but I’m tight enough for space on the outside. You can never have enough space.
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