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Featured Business: Keohane Seafoods
Name: Colman Keohane, Managing Director, Keohane Seafoods
Combine a family tradition of business, an existing seafood business, an accountancy graduate and a job offer from Kerry Group, and what do you get? A young entrepreneur and co-founder of the company that won the Overall SFA National Small Business Award 2014.
Colman Keohane, who runs Keohane Seafoods with his father Michael and brother Brian, luckily decided to turn down the offer of a job with Kerry Group on finishing college in 2002. Instead, aged 23, he opened his own business – Keohane’s of Bantry – which led to his setting up an innovative seafood retail product business in 2010.
“I opened up a retail business, I expanded to a wholesale business, we opened up a restaurant. I was always looking to get beyond where I was. For a number of years I was looking to a different concept to where the population was.”
His father Michael has been in the seafood business for 30 years and ran Bantry Bay Seafoods, with his sons working alongside him from a young age.
When Michael retired from his business in 2007, he and his sons came together to develop a microwaveable meal solution for seafood whereby a consumer can cook a piece of seafood straight from the shelf without having to touch it or pierce the packaging. As well as being easy to handle, the packing process removes all the oxygen, which extends the shelf life of the seafood by a few days.
The Keohane's set about researching, developing and marketing “added-value microwaveable products” in 2010. Keohane Seafoods was listed by SuperValu and Dunnes Stores in 2011. A finalist in the AIB Enterprise of the Year award category of the Business & Finance Awards 2013, the company also made it to the final of the Cork Chamber Cork Company of the Year Awards 2013 and was nominated in three categories for the SFA National Small Business Awards 2014: Food & Drink, Innovation, and Exporter of the Year. It won the Food & Drink Award as well as the overall award.
Colman now rents out his previous business while his sister Anne Marie has full control of the restaurant (The Fish Kitchen in Bantry). His brother Brian runs the factory; Colman and Michael, marketing and product development. The planning and growth of the business is very much a three-way discussion, he says.
Interview with Colman Keohane
What was the inspiration for setting up your business?
In 2010 myself and my father got together and came up with an innovative concept; we set about that year researching, developing and marketing it. What we developed is a meal solution for seafood where a person can cook a species of seafood off the shelf; you just put it in the microwave, there are sauces and butters included and no touching or piercing of the product is required. That was a brand new idea we brought to SuperValu.
How did you initially fund your business?
We initially funded it ourselves, we got a grant from SECAD (South East Cork Area Development) and we hire-purchased* machinery with AIB.
Have you diversified your offering from your original focus or set up other businesses?
The microwaveable idea we came up with is still very much part of our business. We diversified in that we have come up with further innovative packaging techniques. Our concepts are the same; we look at what’s missing, what we can add to the retail industry: from packaging technology to where the customer’s problems really are, for example the fact that bones aren’t acceptable any more. We’ve just gone into Tesco UK with a microwaveable-from-frozen product.
What have been the highlights to date?
The growth over three or four years. It’s pretty good. Between listings, and the way we’ve managed the growth of our business, I’m pretty happy with the way it’s all gone.
What’s your favourite part of being a business owner/entrepreneur?
Seeing your idea, your concepts being brought into being, and other people believing what you thought, what your ideas were. That’s a pretty nice slap on the back.
How do you achieve a work-life balance?
Work-life balance has been pretty crazy. I got married four years ago. We had three kids since. I’ve a patient wife. At the beginning it was a seven day a week job. At the moment it’s five to six days, it’s just about enjoying that day. I’ve three young girls and every minute I don’t work I’m with them, that’s a good feeling also.
Are you inspired by any business figures or success stories?
My parents, my father would be an inspiration to me to be honest. We had a good foundation. I would always look at the achievements in my own family and what they have done: the business links. We come from a very business-minded family, there are generations before me I would look up to.
What tools do you utilise that benefit your customers or that make running your business easier or more profitable?
A lot of our technology is within our packaging: our concept removes all the oxygen out of the pack. A product that would have had six days’ shelf life before now has eight days, and that’s all 100% natural by removing the oxygen from the pack. The oxygen creates the bacteria that causes the food to go off, so when you remove that you slow down the deterioration of food.
Do you feel you know what your customers really want? How do you stay updated with this information?
We’ve a team here – people in marketing, people in R&D. We’re out doing store visits ourselves every day, every week. We do consumer panels twice a year to get the feedback and understanding. I’ve a very strong belief in the need to change. I think the problem is that people sit and think all is rosy. You need to be updating yourself all of the time.
What has been the biggest challenge your business has faced?
The way we’ve grown – we grew very rapidly. Looking back, we managed that quite well. It was a big challenge to control cashflow and grow in a stable environment in terms of your production. You need to have a good team around you so everything goes smoothly for your customer and they don’t feel any bump along the road as you grow. Growing was a challenge but we got over it.
What do you think the biggest challenge to businesses in Ireland is at the moment?
Getting into the mindset of customers and changing that mindset. Courage – go with your thoughts and get beyond this recession.
What part of running a business comes to you naturally?
We’ve been working for our father for the past 10-15 years. Most of that has been on factory floors and I suppose that’s natural to us. Marketing, finances, they come a little bit second.
What has been the best reward in running your own business?
Seeing your products being bought from the shelves, and consumers coming back to buy them again.
What was the main catalyst for growth?
We came up with a product that the market needed, and the growth was a result of that – and the hard work, the drive, the marketing. We had a product we believed in. That product was a catalyst for growth.
How did you scale/grow your business?
We began with 3,000 square feet. We now have 20,000. Having the right people around you; we have a good team here, everyone knows their role and is capable of filling a role.
What obstacles to growth have you faced in the past?
The scaling up was an obstacle in a way. Competitors are out there trying to eat into your business, we understand that, we try and keep on top of that. Finances were an obstacle. They were all obstacles but we came up with solutions, we managed them all well.
How do you get ideas to further your business?
We’re a family; we talk too much about seafood. Travel is a great way to get ideas for your business. Brainstorming – there’s not a day in the week we don’t think of the next thing or something different. We’re constantly trying to further ourselves in that way.
What motivates you to stay running a business?
It’s that pride in your product, it’s your family, it’s your mindset.
What’s your vision for the future?
To have a large international seafood company out of Ireland.
Do you have a mentor; do you find this has positively impacted on your success?
We dealt with mentors through Enterprise Ireland but most of it has come from ourselves, my father being a massive part of that.
What’s the best business advice you’ve received?
My grandfather used to say that the working day is a happy day.
What would be your advice to businesses starting out?
It’s not easy. It’s quite hard and challenging. Believing in what you’re doing has really helped us here. We’re selling something we’re 100% behind. When starting your own business you need to know your figures; no matter what people think, it all comes back to figures.
What, if anything, would you do differently?
We’ve been fortunate the way things have turned out for us. There’s probably lots of small things but, on the scale of it, it’s gone quite well for us so I wouldn’t change any small thing.
Phone: +353 21 4322059
Interviewed by: Web Content Partners
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