Farm expertise showcases the real Ireland to tourists
Inside Track: Farm Tours Ireland director Aonghus Giggins on learning a new business
Ireland is world-renowned both for its farming practices and its attraction as a tourist destination. A Co Louth farming family decided to mix both sectors to create Farm Tours Ireland, a company that showcases the best of Irish agriculture to those who want to visit farms and get off the beaten track. Aonghus Giggins established the company in 2012.
What distinguishes your business from your competitors?
We are quite a niche business. We are specialising in agriculture tourism, so it’s not a field that is awash with competitors. Our background is in the agricultural area; that’s where our expertise lies.
What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve had to face in business?
As a small start-up business, really getting our company name established. Getting the name of our business out there, making people aware that we can provide the service, has been a big challenge, without a huge marketing budget to call upon. We’ve been trying to grow that awareness organically through social media, word of mouth, and existing contacts we have in the agricultural industry, but it has been a big challenge.
What’s your major success to date?
The company has been growing year on year, we are taking in more visitors to Ireland on an annual basis. It’s been a big success seeing the growth of the company in that regard. It’s always a huge pleasure to hear the feedback from customers, not just on our service but on Ireland, the people that they meet, the food they get to taste, the farms that they get to visit, the history and the cultures. It reinforces our belief in the company and the country as well.
What more do you think the Government can do to help SMEs?
We’ve received a good level of help from our local enterprise office, LEO Louth. They have really been a huge help. We got a lot of mentoring in the areas where we had no expertise. Obviously, coming from an agriculture background we had no expertise in tourism, in establishing a business or in running a small enterprise. Fáilte Ireland have been quite helpful and some of the networks in Teagasc. We’ve received good help from those type of bodies.
Do you think the banks are open for business?
We started the business in 2012, so that was obviously in the middle of the economic recession. Again, for the main part, the company has grown organically and was self-funded. The few occasions we did go looking for small amounts of credit from the bank, it was with mixed success. For the most part, we’ve been lucky. Our business model didn’t require a load of investment to get the business to where it is at the moment.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in business?
The whole area of tourism and tour operations has been a steep learning curve. We’ve obviously made numerous mistakes in that regard, nothing huge but we’ve learned from them and I’d like to think that we’ve improved both our business model and the package we are offering our clients as well.
Whom do you admire most in business and why?
We’d have a lot of dealings with Alltech. Dr Pearse Lyons sadly passed away in March of last year but we’d have had huge admiration for Dr Lyons, how he established his company and grew that company into the global market leader that it is, and also being a Co Louth man. It was great to see an entrepreneur trucking over to America and becoming such a success.
What’s the best piece of business advice that you’ve ever received?
Quite a simple one. You often only have a minute to make an impression on someone, so make the person you are talking to leave your company wanting to come and visit Ireland.
How do you see the short-term future of your business?
Quite positive. In the agricultural sphere worldwide, Ireland is seen as quite a unique model. People from all around the world come and see our production models. There seems to be a constant flow of people coming to Ireland to see what we’re doing in an agricultural sense. We feel we can put in place an excellent package surrounding the culture and history as well as our agriculture.
What’s the business worth and would you sell it?
I don’t know exactly how much the business is worth. I definitely wouldn’t consider selling it. We are a small family business – myself, my father Gerry and my sister Siobhán – we’re all passionate about the business and showcasing Ireland and we are hoping to continue the growth of the business, so it’s definitely not on our radar any time soon.