‘You have control over your quality once you manufacture’
Inside Track: Harte Outdoor Lighting managing director Liz Harte
Liz Harte and Jack Harte pictured ahead of the 2019 National Enterprise Awards. Photograph: Martina Regan
Harte Outdoor Lighting in New Ross was established by Willie Harte in 1983. He was an electrical engineer with a vision for high-end lighting to be manufactured in Ireland using cast iron with steel. After Harte passed away in 2014, his wife, Liz, took over at the helm and with the help of their long-standing staff, who had already out ridden the recession, they brought the company back to being a thriving enterprise which continues to supply some of the most prestigious properties in Ireland.
What distinguishes your business from those of your competitors?
Our product is manufactured here in Ireland and this is a family-owned business. We can custom make to our customers’ requirements, every project can be individual. They are high quality, long lasting and sustainable. These are not a throw-away lamp. Ours have been in gardens for over 30 years now.
We pride ourselves on our service as well. We would have a good reputation for customer service. To me, that’s very important.
What’s been the biggest challenge in business?
Obviously one of the biggest challenges was losing Willie here, that was a huge blow to us all but we just had to get on with it. I would have been mainly involved in the commercial end, my design work would have been the biggest part of my life. But I had to move into running the business as well and Jack, our son, was a great help. He’s the one who keeps pushing us and saying yes we can do it.
What has been your major success to date?
From a product point of view, placing our products in prestigious locations – particularly Ashford Castle and Adare Manor. They would be very high end and the fact they used our product over imported products, to me, was fantastic.
We recently won the South East National Enterprise Award and we were finalists in the National Enterprise Award. Our Local Enterprise Office has been fantastic all along. They are always a sounding board for us and their help has been fantastic.
What more do you think the Government could do to help SMEs?
In the climate we are in, with all the high tax regimes for small businesses, it’s difficult. I know it is necessary but small companies have to deal with huge overheads at the moment, and the costs are rising.
Do you think that the banks are open to business?
Yes, we’ve found the banks fair to deal with. I’ve never had, thankfully, any problems with the banks.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in business?
When the crash came, we started to supplement our ranges by importing products. They were lower-end products and that didn’t work for us because we are more of a high-end supplier. We should have stuck to what we knew. You have control over your quality once you manufacture yourself and quality is very important to us.
Whom do you most admire in business and why?
I admire women in business and family-run businesses because it’s not easy. I admire small business owners and women in business because we all have to stick together and be proud of what we’ve achieved. They are always the backbone of the community.
What is the best piece of business advice that you have ever received?
I think just be honest with your customer. There’s a term – ‘get sticky with your customer’. I think it’s really important to know your market and know your customer because they are the basis of all our business. That’s what I feel would be one of the most valuable insights in business.
How do you see the short-term future of your business?
When Jack came on board, he introduced some new lighting ranges which are more contemporary and that’s the direction we will be moving forward in. We’ll be expanding our ranges and we also might be looking at other products that would go hand in hand with lighting in our gardens.
There is a big market for our product overseas as well. We’ve already had inquiries in France and we’ve sold a small amount over there already.
What’s your business worth and would you sell it?
I wouldn’t know what it’s worth and I wouldn’t consider selling it, not when Jack is there. We will be driving forward now for the next number of years, I wouldn’t have any intention of selling it at the moment anyway. It’s nostalgic as well; it’s a legacy to Willie who founded it.