‘Our contract with Tipperary Camogie built huge credibility for the brand’

Inside Track: Cathal Bourke, CEO of Bourke Sports

Synonymous with hurley making, Bourke Sports, in Borrisoleigh, Co Tipperary, has made quite the name for itself by incorporating a sports wear and equipment brand too. Manufacturing his own products has paid off for Cathal Bourke as the company secured its first inter-county contract last year.

What distinguishes your business from your competitors?

We are the only company that would be able to complement the craft of hurley making with the supply and design of sports gear. When developing our sportswear, we wanted something that was durable but also looked good. So our unique selling point would be in our fabric. We worked closely with our suppliers to develop it, ensuring it’s the best quality that’s available to us.

What’s the biggest challenge that you’ve had to face?

Suppliers. I spent three years developing samples and going to different suppliers until I found one that could make products to a standard I was happy with. We are lucky enough with the suppliers we actually picked – we’ve a great relationship with them and they are willing to work with us which helps us to develop new products and keep up to date with sport industry trends.

What has been your major success to date?

Last year, we secured our first inter-country contract with Tipperary Camogie so that’s built huge credibility for the brand and I suppose we gain a lot of trust from the clubs around the country when they see our name on the Tipperary sports wear. Women in sport seems to be thriving at the moment, so it’s great to play a part in promoting women in sport.

What more do you think the Government could do to help SMEs?

From my own point of view, there’s great support available through our local enterprise office. I’m constantly availing of these services.

Entrepreneurs do a lot for the economy but if their businesses fail for whatever reason, there seems to be few supports available. I think a support network so people who do fail have some sort of support service to go through in that situation would be good.

Do you think that the banks are open for business?

Well I started the business as a 20-year-old. I did quantity surveying in college. When I came out of college, I had no business experience so my business ideas, at the time, may have sounded a bit too ambitious. Initially I thought it was very hard to get funding but thankfully now I’ve a good relationship with the bank.

What are the biggest mistakes you’ve made in business?

Not asking for help sooner. In the early days I was trying to do sales and marketing, build a brand and manage stock. From meeting the enterprise board, I’m now able to delegate. I have an advisory team which I reach out to on a regular basis.

Whom do you admire most in business and why?

Phil Knight who'd be the founder of Nike, I suppose he built what is essentially the biggest brand in the world from selling runners out of the boot of his car. Being in the sports industry myself, I'm in a similar space to him so it's a story I can relate to. And, in Ireland, Pat McDonagh [of Supermacs]; they both built businesses from the ground up and the risk paid off.

What’s the best piece of business advice that you’ve ever received?

[Management consultant and author] Blaise Brosnan told me to surround myself with people who are better than me, I can't be good at everything. Hire people that are strong in areas where you are weak.

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

We are expanding our sales network to employ more people. Our goal, I suppose, is to achieve a GAA licence so we are doing everything in our power to keep that in mind. Getting our camogie inter-county contracts will help us along the way.

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

Selling the business has never even crossed my mind to be honest. I started Bourke Sports out of playing sport and my father had a hardware store so I kind of had an interest for business from an early age anyway. Money is not really what excites me; it’s building a brand and a community around that.

When I’m travelling around and I see people who are wearing the Bourke Sports brand, that’s what I get a kick out of. For now, I’m happy to continue to execute any plans we have in place that will continue our success.