Featured Business: Dualtron Ltd
Name: Dave Byrne, Managing Director and founder of Dualtron
Remember the euro changeover? It had a huge impact on consumers and businesses, especially Dualtron, a provider of cash handling equipment. The challenge facing the company was how to manage the introduction of over 10,000 pieces of new equipment on the same day to nearly every town and village in Ireland.
A tough but necessary challenge, the successful execution of this massive logistical exercise resulted in many new customers and support contracts.
The business opportunity that was originally spotted by Dualtron was offering to supply local technical support for banknote sorting machines. In 1991 this was not available in the Republic.
Prior to establishing Dualtron, Dave’s background was as a technical buyer with Aer Lingus and as a manager in sales and marketing with Pitney Bowes and Irish Time Systems.
Within six months, bank customers started buying other new cash handling equipment from Dualtron and the company grew from there. Its policy was to always have one more engineer than it needed, and to always try to live up to the slogan “You Can Count on Dualtron.”
It’s not just the cash handling system business that Dualtron is involved with – it also supplies cashless payment systems to companies with staff restaurants.
This is in part thanks to the team’s willingness to help solve customer problems. Three years in, recalls Dave, an engineer was servicing a coin sorter at a hospital when he was asked would he look at something else outside his remit. When he managed to fix this device, the hospital introduced Dualtron to the supplier from the UK. From there it made the move into cashless catering systems.
Dualtron now manufactures its own foreign exchange rate boards powered by its own software.
The speed of evolution has accelerated, and Dualtron is ready for the next stage with the help of a six-month innovation process carried out with InterTrade Ireland. It has helped the company develop a system for generating and prioritising lots of new ideas. The company expects to launch some of these new products this year.
Dualtron was a finalist at the 2012 and 2015 SFA National Small Business Awards.
Interview with Dave Byrne
What was the inspiration for setting up your business?
At the time that the business was created we were looking for new challenges. We were seeking ways to leverage our expertise and sales and marketing experience. We wanted to create a new business, provide future wealth and employment, and see if we could come up with something from scratch. I had experience of money counting and sorting machines from a previous employer. It was a very small part of that business but something we saw potential in.
How did you initially fund your business?
A combination of a small amount of savings, plus money borrowed from family and personal loans from a bank provided the initial seed capital.
Have you diversified your offering from your original focus or set up other businesses?
Yes, as we began to deal more and more with banks, large retailers, fast food restaurants and bars, they said: “You’re doing a good job on the note sorters, what else can you do?” We were asked to go and get other cash office-type equipment. We were always very good at finding solutions, and we were able to bring back different offerings to our customers. We gradually broadened out our market offering to the point we sell quite a broad range of money handling equipment. As previously mentioned, we have built a sizeable portfolio of cashless catering system customers and the most recent trend is for a cloud-based system with top-ups from smartphones. Customers can run loyalty programmes and do full business modeling on our latest systems.
What have been the highlights to date?
Looking back, one of the biggest highlights was the introduction of the euro. At that time we had a number of banks and retailers using our systems. It affected every single one of them on the same day at the same time. About 18 months to two years beforehand we went around to our major customers and educated them as to what was going to happen. There’s a quote “Time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted.” Going out early, finding out the customer’s state of readiness and telling them what we could do to help meant we were in pole position when tenders came up for this kind of equipment. We were very lucky that some of the main banks and larger retailers all ordered euro equipment from us all for delivery on the same day. It was a major project management task.
Out of that, not only did we secure many sales but we gained ongoing service business as well and it helped us gain a reputation for successfully handling large rollouts reliably and on time.
What’s the bravest step you’ve made in relation to your business?
The first step is sometimes the hardest. I always find that once you get going, things get easier. It was a big plunge going from being a manager of a large company for many years to suddenly being completely master of your own destiny without a safety net. It was worth the risk. It was a great thing to do, I’ve no regrets whatsoever.
What’s your favourite part of being a business owner/entrepreneur?
I love seeing people we hire succeed. I get as much of a kick seeing them do well as if it were me. I consider being a business owner akin to being on a journey. It’s not routine. You get to play many roles – you’re salesman, fixer, delivery boy, head coach; you pick the team and you call the rules and you manage things. You get experience of all sorts of things. You get to see some plans work perfectly and you get to see others that fail. An old friend of the company, Cormac Mulhall, used to say: “Every day is a school day.” You really don’t stop learning.
How do you achieve a work-life balance?
I work very hard during the week, but when I’m not working I cycle and I’m a member of a gym. To unwind I read every day – I could read anything and everything. Family time is very important to me. I love to watch rugby – I’m a fan of Clontarf and Leinster and am very much interested in other sports like soccer and golf.
Are you inspired by any business figures or success stories?
The two people who always come to mind are Fergal Quinn and Michael O’Leary. Different success stories and different scales but great in their own fields, they are people that would make you proud to be Irish. They are people I would look up to for their successes.
What tools or technologies do you use that benefit your customers or business?
We use the latest technology for things like our cloud-based technical support management system, TRACE (Track and Record All Customer Events). We can allocate the call to the nearest service engineer via mobile phone. We also have a CRM package called “Sugar” for sales and marketing. Between those two we can manage anything that comes up with our customers. It helps us manage our day-to-day business and reports as well as run campaigns and promotions.
Do you feel you know what your customers really want? How do you stay updated with this information?
We put a lot of focus on it; we try to meet our customers face to face on a regular basis. With the biggest customers, we have formal service-level agreements and meet them every quarter to discuss how we are doing. Apart from that, there is regular contact by phone and email. If we find something new we would bring it to our customers or take them to another site. We run trade shows and promotions from time to time. We invite our customers in and try to spend as much time as possible with them to find out what sort of problems they might have that we might be able to solve. We work with our suppliers to provide reliable solutions for them and also to keep abreast of what is happening in other countries that would benefit our customers.
What has been the biggest challenge your business has faced?
The euro introduction. Having to supply over 1,000 sites with about 10,000 pieces of equipment, having them all working and having the people fully trained was a huge event. We had to give a weekly plan to every site from about eight weeks. At the very same time all the cashless systems had to have their note and coin reading equipment changed for the same day.
What part of running a business comes to you naturally?
My background is sales and marketing so that part comes the easiest. I describe myself as a people person so I hope I’m a good communicator. I encourage my staff to exceed customer expectations by finding out exactly what they want and when they want it and then working to deliver that. You can’t please people if you don’t know in advance what will please them. We always hire the best people we can and train them as much as we can. In my experience, hiring right is the most important thing in business and we have been very good at this to date.
How did you scale/grow your business?
It grew organically. We grew the recurring revenue year on year and increased the customer base. We had a good formula, which seemed to work, and we kept doing what the customers wanted. We brought in new products and found or developed new technologies to upgrade or replace what was going out of date. We just kept on servicing the customers we had as best we could. We don’t take anything for granted and hope we are as keen today as we were when we started. Some of our customers are our best salespeople; we’ve got a lot of business from referrals and introductions from other companies.
How do you get ideas to further your business?
We talk to our customers and try to provide solutions that can help them with their business. We sometimes do that by combining different technologies. We put hardware and software combinations together that no one else does, and sometimes we create our own solution and sometimes we improve on an existing product by adding value to it. Our new innovation process builds on our history of following up ideas, which come up through the staff and management. If we think they’re good ones, we talk to customers and suppliers. Every year we attend trade shows and exhibitions in Europe and Asia to keep abreast of new technologies. We work closely with local universities and state agencies. We also set aside a budget every year for research and development activities.
What motivates you to stay running a business?
I find it energising; I still get a buzz out of it. I’m still as enthusiastic about it as I was when I started. The staff who work with me still have that enthusiasm as well. Suppliers and customers, and people who visit the company, say to me that there is definitely something about the atmosphere in the company, there’s a spark about it. That’s really what motivates me – working in a creative, enthusiastic, can-do environment.
What’s your vision for the future?
We have a five-year plan, which will take us up to 2020. It’s naturally called “2020 Vision”. The two key goals are: to double our turnover and be the go-to solutions providing company for banking, hospitality and retail. Managing the speed of change in the business is the biggest challenge. There’s so many new high technology developments, so what’s new today might be out of date in two years’ time. That’s why we invest in R&D and training. We will continue to develop our management team and invest in new product development to ensure we stay ahead of our competitors. Companies that deliver real value to customers will thrive.
What’s the best business advice you’ve received?
“Hire the best people you can, and invest in their training and development.” This has been a strength of our company right from the start and continues to today.
And what my dad taught me, “Don’t put off tomorrow what you can do today.”
What would be your advice to businesses starting out?
My advice is have a clear purpose to what you do. Get as close to your customers as possible and hire the best people you can possibly hire. You have a much greater chance of success if you hire enthusiastic, qualified and positive people.
What’s your favourite motivational business quote?
“To be successful you have to have your heart in your business and you have to have your business in your heart.” – Thomas Watson.
“Begin with an end in mind.” – Steven Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People.
What, if anything, would you do differently?
I don’t have any regrets; I’ve always tried to make the best decisions I could along the way. I don’t tend to be someone who thinks about what I could have done differently. Even if something doesn’t go exactly to plan, you always learn something from each experience.
Phone: +353 1 823 7150
Interviewed by: Web Content Partners
Please be aware that all of the views expressed in this Blog are purely the personal views of the authors and commentators (including those working for AIB as members of the AIB website team or in any other capacity) and are based on their personal experiences and knowledge at the time of writing.
Some of the links above bring you to external websites. Your use of an external website is subject to the terms of that site.
Allied Irish Banks, p.l.c. is regulated by the Central Bank of Ireland. Copyright Allied Irish Banks, p.l.c. 1995.