The importance of supporting local business, and buying Irish, was emphasised at the annual Clonmel Chamber enterprise conference.
Speakers including Brian Purcell of The Apprentice and local businessman Ed O’Donnell spoke about their experiences in the world of business, alongside leading business and political figures.
Speakers also emphasised the importance of buying Irish products and spending money in local businesses.
Attendees at the conference, who included students from the local secondary schools as well as Chamber members and people who travelled to South Tipp from 18 different counties, heard business advice from some of Ireland’s leading entrepreneurial figures.
Brian Purcell, famous as Bill Cullen’s right hand man on The Apprentice, started the morning with some straight talking business advice. He said success is about finding a way to make yourself a little bit different. But he also said Ireland should stick to what it’s good at.
“For this country it’s not about multinationals, the way forward for our country is SMEs, food and agribusiness, things we are good at. Why can’t we do more of it? The Yanks and the English will leave us in the morning if the 12.5% goes,” he said. “What are we good at? The Yanks like The Quiet Man, let’s not change it, not change into a cafe society.”
He went on to say business is about taking a chance and he said he had to mention Kilsheelan farmer Ed O’Donnell. “This man is turning his enterprise around and making crisps. The Irish can take risks, we are entrepreneurs - Ed is a farmer, he grows potatoes, he makes crisps. It’s simple.”
The conference heard from Ed. His business is only 16 months old but already has 1.9% of the market share for kettle crisps in Ireland.
Ed studied engineering and agriculture in England, coming back to the family farm in 2007. People were still leaving farming, he said, but he firmly believed there was something he could do. He set on the idea of crisps in order to generate new product for the farm.
Ed availed of the support of the County Enterprise Board, who assisted him with research in the USA, and he attended a course in the University of Ohio. O’Donnells crisps have now been launched in the UK and are starting to be sold in The Netherlands.
Ed’s advice is that it is hugely importance to have a point of difference. He also said quality is important. Quality packaging will get that first buy but quality product will lead to the second buy.
Speaking to the young business students in the room Ed said: “If you have an idea go for it. Don’t give a damn about anyone else. Keep it to yourself and plough on.”
A strong message from the Enterprise Conference was to support local products. Chamber President, Tina Mulhearne, urged people to think about what they purchase. Everyone spending just E4 extra on Irish goods each week could lead to the creation of 6,000 jobs, she said.
Her advice for companies is to make their packaging clear that a product is Irish, to make it easier for a consumer to make the choice.
To lead by example the Chamber will invite Tipperary businesses and products to contribute to a basket they are putting together to promote in the run up to Christmas
Another voice of support for buying Irish was Bord Gais CEO John Mullins.
Mr Mullins also spoke about the extensive expansion of the company under his leadership, including a development that will be starting soon in Cahir. He suggested that Irish SMEs should form cooperatives to support each other.
Irish and European Political consultant and political commentator, Andrea Pappin, stressed a message of looking forward with a positive attitude. She said Irish people need to stop focusing on the negative in every situation, the ‘Angela’s Ashes mindset.’ There is a lot we can do, there is no one answer to getting out of this recession. “I think we need to start experimenting - if a county wasn’t to be the the Las Vegas of Ireland why not?” she asked, also suggesting that the job of mayor and county manager should be the one role.
Jerry Kennelly of Tweak.com told the conference that face to face contact is important in business, and he advised companies to get to know their competition.
His advice was echoed by founder of 11890 Nicola Byrne. “The only way to do business is face to face. People who are successful in business are people who know each other,” she said.
She stressed support for Irish jobs and products. “You are not powerless, you have money in your pocket. Support local business. They working mean more of us working.”
Fianna Fail leader Michael Martin TD said Ireland does not celebrate its exporters enough. Enterprise Ireland supported companies have been growing since 2003.
Minister Phil Hogan, Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, said Ireland has a reason to be confident. We have a new generation of entrepreneurs and strong exports. Ireland, he said, is the most entrepreneurial country in the world, with 8.6% compared to 7.7% in the USA.
The conference was also addressed by John Whelan of the Irish Exporters Association; Mayor of Clonmel Darren Ryan who said he believes the future of the town is bright; Michael Keating of Metron Nanotech, winner of the business start up competition launched at last year’s Enterprise Conference; and Alan Meehan of Abbott, the largest private sector employer in area.