Inside Track: Rhyno Mills animal feed production company

Animal feed production company Rhyno Mills relies on speed and value and is charging ahead

Paudie O’Connor with his cousin Joe O’Connor of the Castleisland- based Rhyno Mills with the best retailer award they won in Brighton. Photograph: John Reidy

Paudie O’Connor with his cousin Joe O’Connor of the Castleisland- based Rhyno Mills with the best retailer award they won in Brighton. Photograph: John Reidy

Wed, Jul 2, 2014, 13:13

Paudie O’Connor is the managing director of Rhyno Mills, an animal feed production and distribution company based in Castleisland, Co Kerry. It was opened by his grandfather in 1919 and recently won the Best Retailer Award at the Action Coach Business Excellence Forum in Brighton.

What sets your business apart from the competition?

The animal feed industry is a hugely competitive business. From the very start we decided

we would trade on the quality of our products and the speed of our delivery service. We only use the very best raw materials in our dairy, beef and sheep feeds. We customise feeds to suit farmers’ needs and we usually deliver these feeds to the farmer within 24 hours.

What is the best piece of business advice you have ever received?

We all know the standard ones like keeping overheads down, maintaining your margins and knowing your customers. They are very good bread-and-butter rules for running a successful business. But perhaps the best piece of advice I’ve heard is to try to look upon adversity as an opportunity. That is something I have always tried to do.

What is the biggest mistake you’ve made in business?

Without doubt our biggest mistake was in not adapting our current pro-active approach to developing the business sooner. When we took over the business in a management buy-out in 1988 we worked so hard to ensure the very survival of Rhyno Mills that, I suppose, we rested on our laurels when we achieved that. Now we are very much focused on driving the business forward.

And your major success to date?

We are one of the few feed mills in the country, and the first in Kerry, to achieve the International ISO Q Mark. And more recently, we won the Best Retailer award in Brighton. Less tangible, though no less significant achievements, are our loyal and expanding customer base and our highly-trained staff. We value their integrity, ability and honesty immensely. But perhaps our greatest success is to have Rhyno Mills in continuous operation since 1919. When myself and three others took over the business Rhyno Mills was at a pretty low ebb. Through hard work and determination we managed to turn the business around.

Who do you most admire in business and why?

Michael O’Leary of Ryanair took on the major players in the aviation industry. His business model created and implemented policies and methods not previously used in that industry. Michael does business on his own terms and achieved great success. He is certainly a business person to admire.

Are the banks open for business to SMEs?

In simple terms – no. The lending terms and conditions, plus the length of time it can take to get loan approval, have all become huge issues

.

What advice would you give the Government to help stimulate the economy?

Any measures that incentivise businesses to take on more staff would have a huge impact on the economy. The speed of recovery

will depend on how the Government treats small indigenous companies. Incentives should be given to help such companies. Incentivisation seems to be only for multinationals and companies that export. Do something for the biggest employers in the economy, the SMEs.

What is the biggest challenge you have had to face?

Taking over the company when it was almost on its knees. There had been little, or no, investment in plant and machinery for the previous 10 years. Essentially, all we got was the name

, Rhyno. Our early years were nervy, edge-of-the seat stuff. I think a lot of people expected the company to fail. But we persevered. We re-invested every bit of money that we made and gradually modernised the mill. We were fortunate to have great people working with us, a lot of whom are still with us today. Our very survival through that period was probably our greatest challenge.

How do you see the short-term future of your business?

We are hugely positive about the future of Rhyno Mills. We have installed new plant and systems which have enabled us to nearly double our production capacity as well as further increase the quality and range of our products. The European Commission will abolish milk quotas next

spring and that will increase the demand for animal feeds. It’s all positive.

What is your business worth and would you sell it?

In business everything has a price. It would, of course, be up to the shareholders to make any decision on that issue. As to what the business is worth

– that’s difficult to quantify. Entry level into the animal feed industry, to include site, buildings, plant and machinery would probably cost in the region of €20-€50 million. But you cannot put a price on the Rhyno name and our reputation for quality and service. lIn conversation with Alison Healy