As the newly announced winners of this year's Dot IE Net Visionary Awards, Ciaran Crean and his brother Michael run one of Ireland's most successful online ventures.
MicksGarage.com sells car parts and accessories online to car and garage owners in Ireland and overseas.
The Creans established the company in 2004 and have since seen significant growth in Ireland, Britain - their second biggest market - Germany, Australia and New Zealand.
Having raised €1.5 million last year through the Employment and Investment Incentive Scheme, they are already taking steps to buffer their business against the potential risks posed by Brexit.
"I'd like to tell you we saw the writing on the wall with Brexit, but we didn't. We were as shocked by the result of the vote as everybody else," Ciaran Crean told attendees at the recent launch of Bank of Ireland's Prepare for Brexit Roadshow in Dublin's House of Lords.
The new nationwide initiative will see experts travel the length and breadth of the country helping Irish businesses to prepare now for continued growth in the aftermath of Britain's exit from the EU.
"Like any company selling products, we are a 'buy right, sell right' business, so preparing for Brexit has been about wrapping our arms around the UK supply chain," Crean told attendees at the September 12 launch.
"We're looking at where we can source products at the best price now - be it Italy, Spain or the UK.
"It's always important in business to exceed customer expectations while maximising margins, but in the new Brexit-orientated reality, businesses selling products now really have to live and die by that mantra.
"We're looking more closely now at our competitiveness - how does our product stack up against our competitors?"
In preparing for Brexit, the Creans are factoring in business efficiencies alongside supply chain structures.
"Just before Brexit was announced, we had established a 34,000 sq. ft. warehouse facility in Barnsley," said Ciaran Crean. "For us, it was fortuitous to some degree, because prior to that, we had been dominated by the fact that we were buying in euro and selling in sterling. As sterling has continued to slide, that obviously leads to lower margins.
"On the e-commerce front, 75 per cent of the Irish consumer base were buying overseas, predominantly in the UK. So, we were seeing a challenge with regard to our margins, particularly FX, and we were also seeing our competitors become a lot more competitive relative to our home market in Ireland given the position of sterling."
In addition to its British base, MicksGarage has another distribution centre in Poland, supplying the German market. The company has a live database of 750,000 active products and 54 staff across its Irish operations in Dublin, Britain and Poland.
"We are a linear scaling business in the sense that, for every 1,000 to 2,000 products we send out to customers, we know that we need a certain amount of manpower to do that," said Ciaran Crean.
“We thrive on innovation, but we have increased the speed at which we innovate ahead of Brexit and we are now continually looking at ways to elevate - to see how we can make our internal processes leaner using technical innovation.
"That means that, when we do an extra 2,000 orders in a given month, we don't have to bring on new staff,” he continued.
“We can just rearrange our warehouse workflow or help customers help themselves online so they don't have to make a phone call to answer any questions they might have. Lean for us is about applying technical innovation to ensure we can deliver maximum productivity."
For companies like MicksGarage, the biggest challenge arising from Britain's withdrawal from the EU surrounds continued uncertainty regarding the eventual course Brexit will take.
At the Bank of Ireland Prepare for Brexit Roadshow events, business owners like Ciaran Crean will discuss how they have assessed the impact Brexit could have on their business, the actions they are taking now to mitigate them and the benefits of preparation in an uncertain environment.
Bank of Ireland representatives will highlight relevant data and sectoral insights from internal research. They will discuss how businesses can manage the challenges presented by Brexit and explore potential business opportunities.
Bank of Ireland is partnering with a number of industry bodies and advisory firms for the roadshow, including Enterprise Ireland, Bord Bia, IBEC and the British Irish Chamber of Commerce.
They will provide attendees with an overview of a range of potential Brexit outcomes and the issues they and their members are facing.
Accounting and advisory firms KPMG, Deloitte, EY, PWC, Grant Thornton, BDO and Mazars will also participate, outlining best practice for the implementation of a “Brexit Diagnostic” tool and customer experience to date.
“MicksGarage are a great example of an Irish business succeeding in e-commerce, giving themselves more export options, especially in Europe. They have identified the supply chain as a significant challenge in future post-Brexit planning and are preparing a number of supply options for different markets. Mapping your supply chains and understanding your competitors is critical to understand how your business will stack-up in the new world” - Michael Lauhoff, Director of Business Banking, Bank of Ireland
"Indigenous Irish companies that trade with the UK are facing unprecedented challenges with the onset of Brexit. Undoubtedly, the best outcome for Irish business would be a maintenance of the status quo. The more likely scenario, with the UK leaving the customs union and the single market, is customs, tariffs and border controls for trade between Ireland and the UK. This will lead to increased costs for Irish business. It is the extent to which this happens that is open to debate, not the fact that it is going to happen. The first task therefore is to ensure that Irish business is aware of these potential implications. This sounds obvious but there is a growing concern, borne out by recent surveys, that many companies are still not aware of the potential consequences of Brexit. Deloitte has developed The Brexit Lab to assist companies conduct an in-depth analysis of their current business model, to identify what changes may be necessary, to help position companies to benefit from new opportunities and to mitigate risks. Our advice would be that businesses should act now and plan for maximum change." - David Carson, Brexit Lead, Deloitte
"The UK has long been a vital trading partner for Ireland and this is felt most acutely in our indigenous sector where 50 per cent of exports are destined for this market. These sectors are largely sustained through SMEs. They employ more than 69 per cent of the Irish workforce, so protecting their trade needs to be a fundamental part of our Brexit response. We are working hard to help our members prepare for Brexit and get themselves “Brexit Ready”. Our recently published Brexit Toolkit provides practical advice and steps that businesses can take now to help plan for whatever outcome might arise from the Brexit negotiation process." - Eoin O'Neill, President, British Irish Chamber of Commerce
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