When it comes to building a successful business, inspiration can come from anywhere.
Want further proof?
Look no further than the line-up of supporters and entrants for this year’s Business Eye First Trust Bank Small Business Awards.
From Gareth Loye, who was inspired to craft an ambitious future for a family business in the engineering and construction sector, to Gareth Irvine, who got the idea to develop a brand-new product with a dash of local flavour, we take a look at two local businesses who epitomise the best of Northern Irish enterprise.
Named Northern Ireland’s Small Business of the Year at last year’s ceremony, Gareth Loye, CEO of M&M Contractors & Mascott Construction, approaches his business with a laser focus.
“We come to work every day to build a business and we look at every opportunity to see what it might do or generate for the business,” he explains. “I joined the business about eight years ago. Since then, we went from a company that had a smaller turnover as a sole trader operation to now having a turnover of around £19 million this year.”
With its headquarters in Belfast, the company provides turnkey utilities infrastructure to clients both here and across the globe, with additional offices in Bristol, Dublin and the North of England.
“Originally, I went to university and did a degree in construction engineering and management. I realised at the time that I never wanted to work for anyone else,” he explains. Joining the business as project supervisor, Gareth went on to become head of operations before taking over the role of chief executive from his father, who is now one of the company’s directors.
Looking to the Future
With recent projects including the award-winning Project Express – which saw the company create a best-in-class fast data connection between North America and Europe - Gareth has set his sights on an even brighter future for the company.
“Our vision for the next five years is to amalgamate and grow the company across Great Britain and Ireland,” Gareth says.
“I always come here every day to do more and want to do more. But what I’ve enjoyed is looking at where we started in a timber portacabin to where we are now in a class A office space,” he explains. “Some of the people who were there with me then are here now and the companies we used to work with indirectly, we now work with directly.”
Northern Irish Business
Winners at last year’s Business Eye First Trust Bank Small Business Awards, Gareth says the sector is a close-knit one.
“The good thing about Northern Ireland is that we have a strong small business sector,” he explains. “My advice would be to engage with people at the awards and take time to talk to people and get their take. For instance, if you have a HR problem, they might have experienced one as well and have a solution which could help you.”
“To be successful, we need to be one big team and work together. And at the Small Business Awards, it really gives you the chance to see everyone and see how their business is getting on.”
While the business has now expanded its workforce to become a medium to large enterprise, Gareth says the win boosted the company. “We were very lucky and very appreciative to win last year. It helps to win business and find new clients,” he explains.
As for advice for any aspiring entrepreneurs, he notes that having a good relationship with your financial partner is key. “Your bank are a good soundcheck on how you’re doing,” Gareth explains. “They are financially astute and they can help you perform. If you have a good relationship with them, you can have an honest conversation with them if you need help. We’ve been lucky in working with First Trust Bank that we have that relationship with them.”
A Dash of Local Flavour
One of the small business owners currently in the running for the Start-Up of the Year Award at the upcoming ceremony on June 15th, Gareth Irvine of Copeland Spirits shares similar ambitions for global expansion.
With his brand of delicious ginfusion drinks – named for the set of islands off the coast in Bangor – now available in over 143 listings across Northern Ireland and Scotland, Gareth has big plans.
“We’ve just signed up with Master of Malt in London, who are going to bolster the new market development in the UK,” he explains. “After that, we want to move into markets that have a big gin drinking culture like Spain.”
Launched just last year, Gareth first began to look for funding for the business while completing his degree. Prompted to start experimenting with different gin flavours by his uncle who distils his own whiskey, Gareth crowd-sourced funding for the brand from the local community in Bangor.
Now a hit with consumers across Northern Ireland, he reveals how the gin gets its distinctive colour.
“We source the fruit used from across Co. Down,” Gareth says. “We have a number of farmers within our supply chain that are based only a few miles away from our premises and it’s great to support them.”
He adds: “Small businesses are fundamental to Northern Ireland. There’s a number even where we are here in Saintfield. We’re all small businesses and we’re a great community.”
Countdown to the Awards
With a fully-fledged business now in operation, Gareth is gearing up for an exciting first year.
“We’ve just entered the Business Eye First Trust Bank Small Business Awards with Copeland Spirits,” he notes.
“It would be tremendous to win the Start-Up of the Year Award, not only for the team but also for our suppliers to really get behind the brand and show the growth of it across the period.”
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