It’s one layer at a time when it comes to the business of peeling onions, as Eamon Crowley, owner of the Irish Onion Company based in Bandon tells Mary O’Brien.
Since establishing the business in 2012, Eamon has strived layer by layer to make the Irish Onion Company as efficient as possible. Recently, with the help of the Local Enterprise Office LEAN Business Programme, he has cut back on waste in his company and made significant improvements in productivity and profitability.
“LEAN gives you a great foundation to build on,” says Eamon. “I look at the books now every week to see how we’re doing and if we lost money, where we lost it and where we can save money and so on.”
Eamon’s biggest customer is Clonakilty Blackpudding but companies all over Ireland use his onions as ingredients in soups, coleslaw, salad products, relishes and chutneys.
Last year the Irish Onion Company peeled in excess of 2000 tonnes of onions.
As with all businesses, there are challenges.
Most of the onions prepared by the company are Irish grown and when these are unavailable they usually source from growers in England, Holland and Spain. At present, Eamon grows his own crop of onions on 20 acres of land, however the drought last summer really affected him. “ My yield was halved,” he explains, “so I had to import onions from China.”
Eamon’s background is in manufacturing and mechanical engineering but he grew up on a dairy farm in Ahiohill so growing his own crop of onions really appeals to him.”
“In the future we will need to rent another storage building and put in drying facilities, which will be a big investment,” he says. This investment however should give the company security, as it will mean that the Irish Onion Company will be self-sufficient for five or six months of the year.
Eamon originally took over the business from Bandon Co-op, where he worked at the time. In 2012, he bought the equipment off the co-op, took some staff with him, changed the production layout and peeled six tonne of raw material in the first week. A year later he bought extra equipment and rented a premises on the bypass in Bandon.
Today the Irish Onion Company has 12 employees including Eamon.
The business is becoming more efficient all the time. “We have to be very LEAN, as our production costs are very high,” explains Eamon. “The electricity bill is about three-and-a-half grand a month.”
After taking on a production manager last May, Eamon now can spend less time on the factory floor and more time on developing the business. “I have more time to put into developing the ‘growing’ side of the business,” he says. “I bought a lot of harvesting equipment last year, which was a large capital cost, but it will be worth it to have our own crop.”
Eamon feels that the most challenging part of being self-employed is the solitary aspect of it at times, in particular when things aren’t going right.
“My second year was a real struggle with cashflow,” he says, “as the yield price jumped up. Thankfully we traded our way out of it. There’s nothing worse than money worries… I don’t ever want to go back there again.”
The Local Enterprise Office has been a real help and inspiration to Eamon. “We are blessed with LEO in Clonakilty; the mentoring, the courses and in particular the people. There’s nothing that compares to it in any other part of the country.”
Success is also about managing a good work/life balance points out Eamon. Eamon and his wife Ann Marie both work full-time and have three children under six. “I don’t ever think to calculate the number of work hours I put in but I don’t take work calls on Sunday…it’s a day that’s completely about family,” he says, adding with a laugh “my wife kills me, as we never have any onions in the house!”