Staying commercially airborne among the birds of prey

Small Business Inside Track Q&A Brian McCann, owner, Newgrange Falconry

Brian McCann and company: visitors ‘get the opportunity to hold the birds and to fly them’

Brian McCann and company: visitors ‘get the opportunity to hold the birds and to fly them’

 

Brian McCann spent 22 years as a firefighter before turning his passion for birds of prey into a business five years ago.

What is special about your business? We are a family-owned enterprise that has the privilege of sharing our diverse collection of magnificent birds of prey with customers the length and breadth of Ireland. Our bird family includes falcons, hawks, owls and two majestic golden eagles. We take people from Ireland and visitors from all over the world out into the countryside to watch the birds in natural flight. They also get the opportunity to hold the birds and to fly them.

What sets your business apart in its sector? We go to great lengths to give every customer, whatever their age and wherever they come from, an insight into falconry and a totally unforgettable experience. For those who come to our home base, we take them out into the beautiful and historic countryside of Co Meath to fly the birds and give them hot tea and homemade brack to fortify them during the session. Watching these birds soar above the Boyne Valley on a windy day is a truly magical experience. The windier the day, the better they fly.

What has been your biggest challenge? Marketing the business and getting our name out there. When you’re a small team (there are just three of us), that’s a challenge, as training and caring for the birds is time-consuming. You are also on the road a lot, doing demonstrations or taking people out for flying sessions. It doesn’t leave much time for business development.

What has been your biggest success? Holding falconry displays for international businesses, building strong relationships with a number of Ireland’s premium hotels and being asked to do exhibitions in a wide variety of locations. We were very chuffed to have actor Omar Sharif photographed holding one of our birds and, in 2012, we were asked to provide a hawk for a wedding. I was really nervous, but the bird behaved beautifully and flew up the aisle with the rings during the ceremony.

What is the key piece of advice you would give someone starting their own business? It can take time to get up and running, so be persistent and don’t give up. It also helps to have a real passion for what you’re doing and you really have to believe that your business can work.

Who do you admire in business? Michael O’Leary, of Ryanair. He doesn’t seem to be daunted by anyone or anything, and is so driven to succeed with his “yes we can” philosophy. He also seems to have a great team of like-minded advisers and employees working with him.

What two things could the Government do to help small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)? They could be more active in helping to promote small service industries.

We may not be a Google or a Facebook, but we are an important part of the economic and, particularly, the tourism infrastructure.

It would also be a big help if they removed some of the bureaucracy and red tape small companies have to deal with with limited resources.

In your experience, are the banks lending to SME? In my experience, they are very slow to do so.

What is the biggest mistake you have made in business? Not starting it when I was younger.

What is the most frustrating part of running a business? It can be a seven-day-a-week job and keeping up to date with all the paperwork, such as accounts, tax returns and so on, can be a real hassle.

What is your business worth and would you sell it? I could not put a price on it. My business is also my hobby and no one would want to give up their hobby.