Adversity begets innovation, according to John Concannon, founder and managing director of Galway company JFC Manufacturing. He said companies which took the necessary steps to survive the recession would be well-placed for growth in the years ahead.
‘‘We have had two big crises over the years: BSE and then foot-and-mouth. Both hit us severely and drove us to go after something else,’’ Concannon said. ‘‘When BSE struck, we started a range of linen trolleys and similar products for hotel and catering customers. We were almost compelled to do it, as we had nothing else to do.’’
Marine a real growth area
JFC has also shifted its focus from construction into the marine and aqua-culture sectors. ‘‘We see marine as a real growth area,’’ Concannon said. ‘‘We make marker buoys and beacons for wave energy installations and a range of floats for the mussel industry, which have been very successful for us. Ireland has fine seas to develop from a marine perspective, and the growth in mussel farming has been very exciting in recent years. If the same thing happened in beef production, it would be huge news.’’
Concannon said environmental products were an increasingly important part of the JFC portfolio.
‘‘We purchased a recycling company in St Helens in Britain in 2005,’’ he said. ‘‘We have since moved that business to a new e10 million state-of-the- art facility in Runcorn, in which we do bottle-to-bottle recycling and produce plastic pipes, packaging and fibre products. That investment has been very successful for us.’’
Concannon established JFC in Tuam in 1987. The company supplies plastic products to customers in a broad range of industries, including agriculture, construction, environ- mental, marine and healthcare. Initially, however, it was a much smaller operation.
‘‘I was from an agricultural background and started out to make products for that market,’’ said Concannon.
‘‘At the time, there was a lot of emphasis on dairy and the agricultural sector overall, so we tapped into that with a range of feeders for calves and water troughs and similar products, which I knew there was a market for.’’
JFC employs more than 250 staff in facilities in Ireland, Britain, Poland, the Netherlands and South Africa.
‘‘Last year, we took a 52 per cent share in a South African company called Accelerate Design,’’ said Concannon.
‘‘We were looking at getting our products into the market down there, as we felt it was a massive market which was underdeveloped, so we went on an Enterprise Ireland trade mission and it organised meetings with eight companies for us.
‘‘We selected the one we liked and were able to buy the shares of a partner who was planning to get out of the business. We have since been able to bring some of our know how, technology and range of products into that company. It has worked out very well for us so far.’’
JFC established an innovation awards scheme for rural businesses in 2005 to help entrepreneurs based outside major urban areas to build successful businesses.
‘‘The idea is to help stimulate industry and agriculture, and help small and start-up companies,’’ said Concannon. ‘‘The annual winners have the chance to progress with advice from Teagasc and exposure through the Farmers Journal. We are involved as the main sponsor.’’