Inside Track: Base2Race co-founder Dominic O’Hanlon

‘It’s just miles apart from being an employee – it’s the steepest learning curve I’ve ever had’

Triathletes don't do things by half measures, so when a group of Wicklow Tri Club members decided to open a shop seven years ago, it was inevitable it was going to turn into the triathlon department store it is today. Base2Race houses physical therapy rooms; a runners' shop with gait analysis; a fitness studio; a clothing shop; a swim analysis pool; onsite and offsite coaching; and a cycle shop. Dominic O'Hanlon owns the cycle shop – trading as Velo Motion Cycles – with his husband, Paul O'Connor.

What distinguishes your business from your competitors?

We got into the business initially because we felt we weren’t getting enough attention ourselves when we went into shops. We all race here. It gives us an understanding of the clientele coming into us but I think what really sets us apart is that we really devote time to customers. I don’t take it lightly when they invest in our business by purchasing from us.

What has been your biggest challenge in business?

Without doubt, starting. You are blinkered with enthusiasm for so long and you jump in without knowing the business to the depth you probably should. We found it difficult because we opened up the day after the first austerity budget in Ireland, in the middle of a snowstorm. We were so enthusiastic we didn’t see that as a problem, we just kept going.

What has been your major success to date?

Growth. We’ve developed as we needed to and we didn’t lose the run of ourselves. We had a small shop to begin. We thought it was huge; it’s now just the training room in the front. With that growth comes confidence, so you make sure you’re growing at a rate that’s manageable for you to succeed but appreciable to the clientele coming in.

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

It would be really nice to see reductions in certain payments that we have to make across the board. Cash is king in a small SME, so to stimulate even more growth and sales you’d love to see a lower VAT rate and less USC. All of these little things, if they combine together, can be quite a big impact on a small business.

Do you think that the banks are open for business?

When we were going through such a bad time in 2009- 2011, getting funding to start a new business, we didn’t find there was a lot of support out there. We moved to Ulster Bank and they’ve been super since.

What’s been the biggest mistake you’ve made in business?

We fire-fought all the time people were coming in. They were looking for something and we’d order it. We got stuck in a circle of just firefighting yet there was no progression. We had to break that cycle to get out and put a plan in place. In the early days, we just got sucked into making everyone happy without looking in the direction the business needed to go.

Whom do you admire in business and why?

I admire small-business people, anyone who has the gumption to get up and go into business when it can go up or down on a knife edge. These are regular people, they’ve taken the gamble to go into this and put it all on the line, that takes huge kahunas and I’ve so much respect for that.

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

Plan. Have a goal, an objective, be it for one year, three years or five years. You need to be going down a path to something, not just meandering. If you meander you’ll eventually hit a road that has six lanes off it and you’ll just chose one for the sake of choosing one rather than asking: ‘Where do I want to be?’

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

We’ve brought in three new time-trial ranges this year to add to the ones that we have, so we have now five time-trial bikes alone in addition to all the road bikes, and I think it makes us the most stocked triathlon time-trial bike store in the country by a mile. I think that’s great for us.

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

I’ve no idea what it’s worth. Would I sell it? No, I got into it for a particular reason and I value quality of life and so does Paul, and so do the rest of the guys here. What I also love, I suppose, are the learnings that come from owning your own business. It’s just miles apart from being an employee, it’s just so fundamentally different. It’s the steepest learning curve I’ve ever had in my life.