Inside Track: Mag Kirwan, Goatsbridge Trout Farm, Co Kilkenny
‘The best piece of business advice I got was to stop stressing the things I could not control’
Mag Kirwan and her husband Ger jointly run the business, which employs 20 staff and is in the middle of a factory expansion. “There is a great vibe in Goatsbridge at the moment.”
Goatsbridge Trout Farm was founded 54 years ago by Rita and Pádraig Kirwan and was the first privately-owned fish farm in Ireland. The business is now run by their son Ger and his wife Mag, who employ more than 20 staff. Goatsbridge supplies supermarkets, restaurants, delis and specialist fishmongers with fresh trout and for the past three years has also focused on the production of its award-winning prepared fish products, such as smoked rainbow trout, pâté and caviar.
What sets your business apart from the competition?
I’d like to think that there is no real competition. We feel there is room in the market for everyone. The more trout or Irish fish we sell, the more room there is for growth. It’s a small sector and we try to work together to develop the sector.
I know we are not afraid to think big or to take risks – think of our caviar. We are innovative. For example, we developed a machine for pin-boning our fillets, which means we can offer the consumer a completely boneless fillet, and we were the first fish producers to sell at a unit price as opposed to charging consumers by weight.
What was the best piece of business advice you’ve ever received?
Blaise Brosnan is a business consultant and I did a management development course with him through the enterprise board. He told me “stop stressing the things you cannot control” and I live by that.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in business?
Outsourcing some of our secondary processing. Nobody cares about your products as much as you do. It made sense to outsource from a business perspective but it doesn’t work for me. Maybe I’m a control freak, maybe I had to do it to realise it wasn’t the right thing to do. At the end of the day, your product and your brand is your reputation and we care about the quality of every single product.
And your major success to date?
The team that we have built around us. We share a common vision and are building this business together.
Who do you most admire in business and why?
Pat Whelan of James Whelan butchers. I have watched him closely for a number of years and I am inspired by him. He’s very innovative, has fantastic vision and he thinks outside the box. Everything starts with the product for him and that is a very good lesson to me.
Based on your experience in the downturn, are the banks in Ireland open for business to SMEs?
Like any food producer, we are a marginal business but we have never had any bad experiences with banks. If you are strong, the banks will lend; if you’re not, they won’t. It’s risk management for them. They’re no more likely to talk to me now than they were 20 years ago, but we are farmers as well, so we have that security.
What one piece of advice would you give the Government to help stimulate the economy?
I think anyone who starts a business should get basic training in business management, finance, taxation and so on. If people did such a course, they would be able to make decisions based on business rather than just instinct or gut feeling. These things are important but business skills are vital. The enterprise board is amazing but if they made such training obligatory to aspiring entrepreneurs, I think we would have a lot less failures in business.
What’s been the biggest challenge you have had to face?
When you work so closely with your spouse, it can be a challenge to respect each other and to appreciate what each person brings to the table. We’ve both worked very hard on it. We are very different, with different perspectives, which is probably why we’ve a successful business and a successful marriage. I feel that it’s a difficulty and yet it is also a strength.
How do you see the short-term future for your business?
I’m very excited by it. There is a lot happening in the business at the moment. We are currently in the middle of a factory expansion. There is so much room for growth but we are measured in what we do. People are really beginning to understand and appreciate what we are doing here in Ireland with food. There is a great vibe in Goatsbridge at the moment.
What’s your business worth and would you sell it?
We’ve been growing steadily. Turnover is vanity, profit is sanity, so we are focused on profitability and margins. You can’t learn a lot of what we do in a textbook, but we’ve got all the expertise in-house now, so come back to me in five years’ time and I might be ready to sell it!