Inside Track: Paul Rawlins, Celtic Rider motorcycle rental and tours
Realistic dreams and marketing key milestones on the road to success
Paul Rawlins, co-founder and MD, Celtic Rider motorcycle rental and tours: “You can’t say ‘I’m only going to work a certain number of hours’.” photograph: sasko lazarov/photocall ireland
What distinguishes your business from competitors?
We were the first motorcycle rental company to set up in Ireland. It was not possible for overseas tourists to experience Ireland on a rented motorcycle before my wife and I started the company in 2007.
I remember searching “motorcycle rental in Ireland” on Google when we first set up the business and no results were returned. Can you imagine that?
Our clients are cash rich and time poor so we organise everything for them. We collect them from the airport, bring them to their hotel, give them bikes, riding gear and an itinerary. We plan out the best motorcycle routes, with accommodation options etc so they can do self-guided tours.
We also have a dedicated driving school, and a lot of our clients take a lesson at that before embarking on their tour. More often than not they come from a country where they drive on the right hand side and they might not be used to roundabouts either.
What’s been the biggest challenge you have had to face?
It would have to be marketing. It was one thing to set up the business but quite another to market it into the world of motorcyclists. We did not know at that time where our key markets would come from, what type of motorcycles would become the most popular, etc. We designed, built and commissioned a customised database to understand our business, the market and clients’ details.
And your major success to date?
Starting and introducing a brand new business from absolutely nothing but an idea, watching it grow, creating employment, and then being awarded Outstanding Small Business 2013 by the Small Firms Association.
We have had a number of celebrity clients, including the pop star Pink, the king of Jordan and the Crown Prince of Bahrain.
We got an email in 2010 looking for nine motorcycles to be delivered to the Merrion Hotel. They wouldn’t give us the name of the client. Then lots of secret service agents came to our house to suss out the business and we were intrigued. When we delivered the bikes to the hotel we discovered the king of Jordan, the Crown Prince of Bahrain and nine sheikhs were all embarking on a motorcycle tour of Ireland together.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in business?
I didn’t seek the advice and support from the businesspeople who matter. I should have asked for more help from enterprise boards and tourism boards but I didn’t think to do so. I have a team around me now and each person is far better at their job than I am. They have skill sets that I don’t.
We had a window blind and curtain business, which we set up in the summer of 1993. It went bust last Christmas. It was completely dependent on the local economy, the Irish market. At the height of the boom, when lots of new housing estates were being built, there was a huge demand for blinds and curtain. That demand disappeared with the property crash.