Unique and clinical approach to universal issue

Inside Track: Andrew Hennessy of The Headlice Experts

Andrew Hennessy of The Headlice Experts

Andrew Hennessy of The Headlice Experts

 

Andrew Hennessy’s previous role as country manager for one of Europe’s major tobacco brands was coming to a close imminently, as a result of the rationalisation and introduction of new policies.

While dealing with the universal issue of headlice at home, with four long-haired-daughters, Andrew and his wife, Michele, found the germ of a business idea. They started The Headlice Experts from one treatment centre in Malahide, in north Co Dublin three-years ago and now have Ireland’s only full-time network of treatment centres dedicated to the removal and eradication of headlice.

What’s sets your business apart from the competition?

From our research, we devised an extraction process focused on the life cycle of the louse, which enables successful treatment, using our own vacuum cleaner with the patented filter and comb – a registered medical device.

Uniquely, we have developed “The Nit Kit”, a comprehensive set of tools in one box, to deal with the problem of lice. We distribute it through pharmacies nationwide. Included in the kit is a voucher for 20 per cent off treatment in our clinic in the event that the client cannot manage to clear the problem at home.

What was the best piece of business advice you ever received?

Remain focused. Focus on the tasks required to achieve the goal and proper road mapping are absolute key.

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

During our early start-up phase, we fell victim to so called experts selling devices and services that didn’t work, wasting tens of thousands of euro. Our process is now based on our own expertise and the skillset of our employees, manually removing the lice. In doing so, we can guarantee our process. There is no machine that delivers 100 per cent success.

And your major success to date?

The launch of “The Nit Kit” product and introducing awareness through schools by means of the testing comb, costing €5, have been instrumental in our success. Parents can then come to the clinics if they identify an issue.

Who do you most admire in business and why?

My admiration goes to people like Michael Wright, of the Wright group, and David McKernan, of Java Republic, both of whom have followed their concepts passionately. Building such empires while putting food on the table takes real “liathróidí”.

Based on your experience in the downturn, are the banks in Ireland open for business to SMEs?

Generally SMEs receive a poor reception from banks. In a select few, funding is available if backed by equivalent amounts and a personal guarantee, so the risk is extremely limited for the lenders. What frustrates further is the method of evaluation which is pigeon holing at its extreme!

From our side, I would commend the team at the Walkinstown Bank of Ireland branch as they fought to support us. Incentives such as the BOI start-up awards are excellent and I recommend participation, if only to provoke a structured thought process.

At the 2017 BOI start-up awards, we secured a silver award in the creative retail division and a bronze award in the healthcare start-up section. The pitching process and the preparation makes you ask yourself in detail about your model and, in some cases, it highlights areas you have gone off track.

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

I would ask them to listen to those on the front line and examine the evaluation process for funding schemes such as Local Enterprise Office (LEO). In my opinion, evaluation is not measured accurately and in detail. The boards of offices such as LEO are decorated by veterans of industry. However, the gatekeepers have no idea or real experience of SMEs / start-ups.

What’s been the biggest challenge you have had to face?

Funding. Coming out of the dark into the light requires massive energy and ambition. However, with no funding, you’re not going to get going. We have 11 staff now and are currently recruiting more. Our model depends on our team at the coalface. Because our operation is service based, we invest heavily in training before our clinicians can work alone. And, in some cases, it just doesn’t work out. Alongside this, our premises are high profile and professional which, in the current property market, doesn’t come cheap.

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

This year will see the opening of our third Dublin treatment centre in west Dublin. We are in preparation to go to market, seeking funding for export and international markets. Ireland basically has been a test market for our concept and we are excited by the result.

What’s your business worth and would you sell it?

It’s too early to say. We have a definite strategy and everything has a price.