What makes Oriel Sea Salt different from the rest
Inside track: Brian Fitzpatrick, managing director of Oriel Sea Salt
Brian Fitzpatrick: “Sometimes you have to shake off a bad experience and just move on and go again with a different outlook and more solid experience.”
What sets your business apart from the competition? Everyone else harvests sea salt in a traditional way. We’re using technology that we developed with a desalination expert. The difference is that when we pump water from the ocean floor, the sea salt isn’t touched by air, sand, soil or hand until it comes out as a finished product. No one else in the world is doing that.
What that means is that the salt is really intense and has a powerful flavour, allowing people to use less of it. It’s also healthier because it’s rich in minerals. An awful lot of companies have to wash salt when they harvest it and, in doing that, they also wash away the mineral content.
What is the best piece of business advice you have ever received? My dad used to tell me again and again never to give up. He would say, “Keep doing it. You’re getting there.” He was a businessman himself. He had a couple of difficult experiences, but he kept starting over and kept at it.
Sometimes you have to shake off a bad experience and just move on and go again with a different outlook and more solid experience.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in business? We didn’t secure enough investment upfront and our funds ran out after year one. We were lucky enough to have a great team of investors around us. They could have said, as sometimes happens: ‘If you really need more money, we want more of your company.’ Fortunately they supported us financially without imposing any onerous conditions.
And your major success to date? Tayto has recently agreed to launch a sea salt crisp using Oriel salt, which is a great boost. And Neal’s Yard, a London-based cosmetics and skincare company, has confirmed it is going to begin using our mineral products. Each small success, where you’re getting your product out there so people can see it, is huge for us.
Who do you most admire in business and why? John Teeling would be someone I admire. I like what he’s done, and the fact that he just stuck with it through thick and thin, and fought a hard fight for a very long time Based on your experience in the downturn, are the banks open for business with SMEs? Yes and no. Our first bank experience was a no. They weren’t open for business. We lodged a seven-figure investment with the bank but, despite that, the support we were given was terrible. The people who were supposed to be managing our account would not make a decision or do anything that would help you. We ended up transferring the entire investment to another bank and we’re very happy with them.
What’s been the biggest challenge you have had to face? We got hit with Mother Nature last winter and we had to rethink every aspect of how we were harvesting water. We had to change a huge element of our water intake system because of the amount of sand and debris coming in as a result of storms. It cost us about €100,000 in additional equipment. What one piece of advice would you give to the Government to help stimulate the economy? The red tape surrounding the State support mechanisms makes it very difficult to access start-up funding. When you’re a start-up business, time is a premium. I work 16 hours a day. To have to add another hour to try and fill out forms is frustrating.
I think SME support bodies would do well to involve businesspeople in advising on how their process should work. It would probably smooth the road a bit.
How do you see the short-term future for your business? We want to grow our salt business so that it’s our bread and butter. On the deep sea minerals side, we’ve just received the first skin-test results and, over the next few months, we’ll officially launch our products. We already have interest from one of the top 20 skincare companies in the world.
What’s your business worth and would you sell it? From an investment perspective, we had to have an exit plan.
Will we take it up or not? My partner [John Delany] and I still love every part of the business, and we’ve an awful lot to do to get where we want to go. I’d like to stay involved for a long time.
– In conversation with Caroline Madden