Tell us what your business does?We produce and supply a variety of personalised sporting gifts in a wide range of sports including Soccer, Golf, Rugby We personalised magazine covers, newspapers with customers name, number of choice.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
30 years ago I had idea of setting up a Soccer Supporters Shop in Dublin, the thinking behind the idea, was that we as Irish people are very unique in how we support soccer, we have such a variety of clubs supported in Ireland that bringing merchandise together under one roof was something that would make official merchandise more easily available to Irish soccer fans that support Premiership clubs. After being made redundant in 2010 and no sign of other work , the idea resurfaced, only this time online was a better option, so we set out to find unique products that sports fans would both buy and enjoy. Having samples made up at a cost of 80.00e, then selling from the samples we quickly realised there was a market for the products and over a short period of time we managed to turn the 80.00 into 2,000.00e. realising the potential these products had , www.totalgiftz.com was born and launched in march 2012.
Have you always wanted to run your own business?
Yes, for 30 years I had this always in the back of my mind, looking back now, maybe it’s a good thing it didn’t happen, premises, shop fitting holding stock all would have been well beyond my means, with internet and online shopping becoming so popular now, maybe now my timing is just right and totalgiftz will benefit.
What planning did you do before you started up?
Before we decided to start the business, we first tested the market, gathering information on who would buy our products, what would they pay for them, why they would buy them, for who and at what price. Selling from the original samples which we paid 80e for, we quickly noticed women were the ones who were buying the most, they were buying them for husbands, boyfriends and children for different occasions, birthdays, fathers day, Christmas gifts, anniversarys, confirmation gifts and communion, also a lot of the feedback we received from women was they never know what to buy for men. We took that information, and researched some more, finding out that women are responsible for 80% of all purchases made online, women primarily take on the responsibility of purchasing gifts for most special occasions, this gave us our target market. With lack of business experience, we needed to up skill so we both took Fetac level 5 Start your own business courses, followed by Fetac level 5 digital marketing courses, this was all done prior to launching in 2012.
Which entrepreneurs do you admire?
I personally admire anyone that has the guts to go it alone, it takes time and effort to start a business, and even more time and effort to make it successful. I think Bill Cullen would be someone I admire, started with nothing, worked hard, learned what he had to, took a gamble, got himself out there and made a name for himself, then lost it all, but didn’t start licking his wounds, and got back up again. People may look at him and say he is this and that, but he made it happen, from nothing and always remains positive, learning from him, if you want it bad enough, you have to make it happen.
What challenges have you faced & how have you overcome them?
Being made redundant for anyone is tough, you still have bills, family to take care of, and your whole world turns upside down, getting over that was very tough, seeing the effect losing my job had on my family, were before while working you tend to take things for granted, and when its gone, it hits you hard. What I found hard to understand after doing what the government said I should do, by up skilling and completing the six month Start Your Own Business Course, I along with 13 other participants expected there would be some follow up after the course was completed, there wasn’t, it was course over, door closed, next group please. What is the point of sending unemployed people onto a SYOB course if you are going to shut the door when they leave! That was disappointing not only to me but to all the other entrepreneurs taking part, 14 people completed that course in 2011, today only 2 remain. Why? Next big challenge we faced was accessing funding. After reading all the information it appeared there was great support packages available, and it seems there is, but only if you don’t apply! How does that last sentence make sense? You have just completed your six month SYOB course, you go looking for supports, your business plan approved, and you find out most of the grant or support systems are match funded! Which means if you need 10k to start your own business, you have to come up with 5k yourself, this i found very hard to understand, how can they allow unemployed people who want to start a business, complete 6 months on a government run course, and then at the end tell them they need funds to access funds? Didn’t make sense and still doesn’t. We went to every enterprise board, and from location to location got knocked back, you have to live in the county, your project doesn’t come under our remit, our local Partnership ran the SYOB course and they couldn’t help us, our local CEB wanted us to have match funding! How? After one year of constant trying, knock backs, and no no no, we finally got a break, approaching out local Partnership for the second time, they agreed to accept grant application from us, in March 2013 we were successful in securing part of the funding we needed to buy equipment. Next was micro-finance for the remaining funding we required, armed with letter of rejection from our bank, which was easily obtained, no job, no income, no loan. We were rejected there also, and fought our case, and eventually got the remaining funding. So biggest challenge we faced was getting through all the red tape, finding out were the system fails, highlighting it to local TDS, writing to government ministers, who are the very people that say, the supports system are there to help, and they do, well they do if you have funding of your own. If you don’t, the systems don’t work.
How have you promoted your business?
With very limited resources, we use mostly social media, facebook, twitter, we also take stands in shopping centres, fairs, markets, by selling direct to the public, we are not faceless to them, we enjoy meeting new people and getting out there is a great way of doing this. We also look to promote our business through our own story, we have featured on Boost My Business on Ireland AM, The Sunday Business Post, The Star Newspaper, Morning Show with Martin King, and very recently we appeared on Ireland’s Dragon’s Den, these platforms have allowed us reach people all over Ireland, We also were finalists in the Start Up Awards in 2013, anything that helps raise the profile of our business we will try.
Where do you see your business in 3 years?
We hope in 3 years to have secured agreements with all major Irish sporting organisations to produce products in their sports, we would like to have established ourselves as the Premier sports gifts website in Ireland, expanding our product range along the way.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
From our experience, which has been an education in itself, I would say to people if you really believe in what you are doing, then go for it, and don’t let setbacks take away your passion, if you haven’t got the drive, determination or will power to see it through, then don’t do it, if you have then prepare for a rollercoaster of a ride, it will test you to your limits, problems! You will have plenty and if you focus on the problem, you won’t solve it, focus on solutions to the problems, there are ways around these if you have the desire to do so. Stay focused, Stay positive, and Stay strong, never be afraid to ask for help, and as I always say "If you don’t ask, you don't get"