We want to give our members here in Northern Ireland a platform for telling us all about their experiences as an SME in NI and their reasons for being a member of the FSB. No better week to start the ball rolling that during our #ThinkSelfEmployed campaign launch week. This month we speak to Niall Greenan who runs SmartBunker based in Castlewellan…he tells us about his journey
My original idea was designed to try to help my Mother who suffers from arthritis to fill a coal bucket from her storage bunker. When the bunker was full it was difficult to shovel out coal due to the weight from above. When it was empty it was difficult to gather coals which were scattered at the back of the bunker. People ask what was your light bulb moment, It was a lampshade turned upside down a road cone fixed to the underside of the lamp shade placed inside a steel frame with a handle and a spring attached, I then filled the lamp shade with coal pulled the handle and filled the bucket to the required amount needed. The Smart Bunker with the delivery of my first prototype the benefits soon became obvious as the coal was easy to store, was kept dry and was straightforward to dispense. Upon speaking to close family members about his simple yet revolutionary idea, additional uses became apparent including storage and dispensing of produce such as animal feed, salt & grit, compost and wood pellets or any free flowing produce.
Why did you join FSB?
It says what it does on the tin, the information that is provided plus they are only a phone call away on advice, I have used a lot starting out there is so many things you need to know and this is the reason for me joining just call and they will call you back within the hour. Also on their website loads of information and upcoming events and tips. Plus you could be picked out and showcase your company.
Have you used any FSB services so far and how has this experience been/helped your business?
What is the single greatest challenge for any SME at the minute?
Yes a lot of times from IP to vat, I just call the fsb office they connect you to right person and explain the issues – job done.
What are the opportunities and positives for SMEs at the minute?
Like everyone else – Brexit. But I manufacture 80% in South of Ireland and 20% North and it takes 2 hour drive to collect and 2 hours back to place in storage to then ship out. If a border is put in place this will take a lot of time to cross and for all business time is so important for us; with nobody knowing what will happen…we will have to just wait to see.
On the positive for me – Greenans Products ltd The Smart Bunker is an innovative, upright storage bunker which has a lever design. It releases stored product through a shutter-control at the bottom of the container into a receiving bucket below.
The bunker is filled at the top, which is set at a comfortable lift & fill height for the delivery person. On discharge, the contents are released at the bottom by use of the control lever. This allows precise, easy control of the exact amount of product released. The oldest material used first (“FIFO” stock-system). This is a very important feature when storing perishable goods, such as animal feed. The Smart Bunker is 1 product that solves the problem in 4 markets to date with more to come.
FSB key campaign issues at the minute include: Brexit, Small Business Rates Relief, GDPR, Prompt Payment, local Bank Branch Closures, Broadband. Which is most important to you and your business at present and why?
Great to see fsb pushing all these topics but without this Brexit being sorted out we are all playing the waiting game to see what the outcomes is going to be.
Because of Brexit looking to accessing investment to scale up to the next stage seems to be put on hold as where will be best UK or Europe everyone is waiting.
Your words of advice to anyone starting a small business
My Office hours are 9AM till 1145PM 6 days a week!
My light bulb moment was a lamp shade turned upside down a road cone fixed to the underside of the lamp shade placed inside a steel frame with a handle and a spring attached, I then filled the lamp shade with coal placed the bucket under the cone pulled the handle and filled the bucket. SmartBunkerTM was born.
Sounds simple right?…. Wrong! This was only the start of it!
Going back to school – learning to turn on a computer to testing prototypes, marketing trade shows to meeting after meeting improving your product testing. From the material being used to ensure feed was safe to stacking design to keep shipping cost down, how it worked and having a product that was strong and robust with the best of quality – also health and safety testing of course.
From every nut and bolt – Everything has to be right. If a part supplied by manufacturer fails the customer will not blame them, it’s your product that will get the blame not your supplier and you have to be on your game at all times.
Even being on Dragon’s Den in 2013 when I thought I knew my invention – I soon learned there is always a lot more work to be done. There is a lot of time goes into starting your own business you will not have time to watch TV or go watch the football – you need every minute put into your business because nobody going to come in and say to you “go home early” take the rest of the day off” – this is YOUR business.