Q&A Inside Track:
Oliver Seery, Seery’s Bakery, Tinryland, Co Carlow
What sets your business apart?
We relied very much on ‘from scratch’ recipes, home recipes – literally recipes from scratch as opposed to using pre-mix recipes what you can buy in. We put a lot of emphasis on that in the early years.
We would like to think that we have a product that is unique. The core product that we started off with, a range of fruit cakes, we still do.
What was the best piece of business advice you’ve ever received?
I suppose [to] have faith in yourself, someone said to me one time, in your product. To do your planning, development, your projections, but always be sceptical about your own projections from the point of view that they always look good on paper but you have to achieve them.
What’s the biggest mistake you have made in business?
I remember once promising someone to develop a cake with a particular Halloween motif or design and then when we actually received the sugar paste products, the design was completely different. I said, it didn’t really matter, the principle was the same, but the customer was very upset. The lesson from that was that if you change something, you tell your customer.
And your major success to date?
In 1997, we invested in a site locally and built a factory which at the time was, and still is, a state-of-the-art facility. The other success was breaking into the retail trade in the early 2000s in a more serious way because we had been dabbling around the edges.
Whom do you most admire in business and why?
“I admire Michael O’Leary because of what he has done, especially in the early days of Ryanair. My perception of Ryanair, and it’s a fact, is of a very efficient organisation regardless of what one may think from time to time. I would like to think that we are trying to be efficient at our level.
Based on your experience in the downturn, are the banks in Ireland open for business to SMEs?
In my experience with my company I have found the bank that I deal with to be very receptive and supportive. Touch wood, I haven’t had any difficulty.
What one piece of advice would you give the Government to help stimulate the economy?
Like every other citizen in this country, we have all been very angry at what has happened. I would say I would support the Government in trying to close the current budget deficit but at the same time to try to ensure that capital is used to stimulate job creation and growth. The priority, unfortunately, has to be given to the deficit.
What has been the biggest challenge you have had to face?
Distribution was huge. It meant that either one had to put a fleet of vehicles on the road oneself, which was a huge expense, or get involved with people who had a distribution chain and do a piggy-back with them.
When you are relying on someone else to get your product out, they don’t necessarily give it the same attention you would give it yourself.
How do you see the short-term future for your business?
We decided a couple of years ago that we would go after niche markets in other countries and we are pursuing that. We are selling in the UK but also in Holland, Germany and the Middle East, Dubai in particular. We are pursuing an export policy in order to develop the business.
What’s your business worth and would you sell it?
No, I wouldn’t sell it. It’s very difficult to say what it’s worth; I don’t know is the short answer. It’s not on the market, it’s not even on the horizon. It’s an academic question.
In conversation with Mark Hilliard