There were some inspiring stories about innovation in this week’s Sunday Business Post (now behind a paywall), and then there was one cautionary tale from David McWilliams on how harmful government can be to struggling businesses.
First the good news: Innovation does not have to come in the form of a blockbuster company like Nokia or Apple to pull us out of recession or keep companies afloat.
It comes in many forms from inside entrepreneurial organisations, and we will probably need thousands of them if the country is to start moving again.
Kevin O’Brien, a dentist based in Cork, was feeling the pinch when the government cut back on PRSI payments for dental work.
He teamed up with another Cork dentist, Kevin O’Grady, they formed Winning Smiles, and expanded their service offerings to include cosmetic dental treatments and botox injections.
Dentistry had become very conservative, O’Brien told the newspaper, and the PRSI cutbacks will shake up the profession. He also revamped customer service to make dentistry “more approachable and more friendly.” As for the botox thingy, O’Brien told the Post it was a logical expansion.
Our specialist area is the head and neck and we are giving injections all day.
Feeling the pain from the construction-industry implosion, a Naas steel company, Nugent Manufacturing, expanded its product offerings to target the residential and agricultural sectors. With almost half his staff lost — they went from 23 to 12 workers — owner Stephen Nugent started making dog enclosures.
However, these proved to be popular with urban chicken owners. Other new products are enclosures for farm animals. They capitalised quickly on this past winter’s snowy conditions by getting sleds to the market quickly. Nugent has also set up itsasteel.ie to show off his products.
The hotel sector has taken a pummeling during the recession and occupancy rates are at low levels last seen in the early 1980s. Excess capacity and newly price-sensitive customers were a challenge for Patrick Dillon and Paul O’Shea at the Quality Resort in Killarney.
They added amenities for a tough crowd: Teenagers. In came Playstations, Wiis, crazy golf and bucking broncos. They also looked to older clients who would be inclined to take breaks off season. The hotel got rid of the single supplement for people travelling on their own.
And the bad news: McWilliams tells the story of a businessman “slashing prices and doing deals to stay afloat.” He hopes to make it through provided the economy has bottomed out by now. However, he rents some land from a local council and they hiked up his rent this year.
Their logic, McWilliams says, is that if he is in business, he can afford to pay. If he goes under, someone else will make up the slack. While the council is also hurting:
It sees the businessman a revenue source, rather than a wealth generator.
This kind of thinking will have to change. The council may be cash starved, too, but it should not be allowed to sink the country’s businesses.
Image courtesy of nyoin on Flickr.