John Concannon might be running a global company but it wasn’t always that way. Through persistence, pushing through the fear and thinking the impossible, he took risks, learned from them and moved on.
The JFC Manufacturing story began in 1987 after Concannon had spent 17 years working on his father’s farm. Feeding cattle was a labour-intensive job and he saw an opportunity to try his hand at entrepreneurship.
Mr Concannon’s first venture as an entrepreneur was selling a product for feeding calves - a bucket that fed three calves at once. With a £1,800 grant given by Charles Lynch from the county enterprise board, Concannon subcontracted the production of his bucket to a local plastc moulding company.
He started selling his buckets to shops around Galway. The product was unusual and didn’t sell very well. Instead of acknowledging failure, he continued to travel around Ireland selling door-to-door on farms. “I was 31, married with four children and had no choice but to hit the road and get selling. It was tough,” said Concannon.
Today JFC Manufacturing company has a turnover of €40m and employs 250 people. JFC began life developing products for the agricultural market and now exports plastic products for agriculture, industrial, civil, medical, marine and equine use throughout the world.
For Mr Concannon mistakes arose at various times throughout the years.
In the beginning, he knew he needed a serious boost in awareness if the business were to survive. Inspiration arrived when several young start ups were featured on The Late Late Show one Saturday night. “When I saw this on the Late Late, I said to myself, 'I need to get on that show,” Concannon recalls.
Six months later he launched onto the national arena through The Late Late show which posed an issue. “I was given six minutes by the producers to talk about my product and 12 minutes later I was still talking! In a way, that was a mistake.”
What followed was a barrage of orders with not enough stock to meet the demand. One could presume such negative customer service would close such a small operation. He thought otherwise. He stepped it up a gear.
At the time, the IDA ran an incentive encouraging export business. Mr Concannon received £50,000 investment and moved his business into a factory on the Enterprise Ireland site in Tuam. He has since bought this building.
Mr Concannon left St. Jarlath’s College in Tuam after three years but his lack of education did not deter him. “I never saw that as failing,” he said.
“In the early years when I was working with my father, he spent much of his time driving around Ireland to fairs where deals were made with sheep and cattle farmers. You’d learn a thing or two from these people,” said Mr Concannon. “People skills, how to do deals, the clash of the hands so to speak. That was an education of life and the foundation for where I am today.”
His rebounding attitude appeared regularly.
One of the biggest challenges the company faced was the BSE crisis in 1998 and Foot and Mouth crisis in 2000 at a time when JFC Manufacturing had been catering for the agricultural market across Ireland, UK and Holland. To their dismay, these were the worst-hit countries by the crisis. The BSE crisis alone cost the company £700,000.
“No one was buying and therefore we couldn’t sell any of our products. We had to react quickly. I had 10 sales people with nothing to sell. In the face of this crisis, we adjusted and started selling linen trollies to hospitals, jails and the likes. Our initiative turned the situation around,” said Mr Concannon.
Today the company invests more than €500,000 per year in R&D which comprises of a team of 10 people. According to Concannon, encouraging risk-tasking in innovation is what drives people. “We drive our people to innovate and take a collaborative approach. Our sales team are involved in the process.”
When asked what the consequences are for products that fail? “Not all our products are a success. Some don’t sell like we expect them to. We move on and develop products that are better and do sell,” he answered.
It is this attitude which has created the JFC brand.
The JFC Manufacturing system is simple: people equals success. As far as John Concannon is concerned it is people that make things happen. “As a company we set goals and targets together. We make mistakes, we learn from them and our determination means that we never give up,” he said.
Customers to Mr Concannon are as important as employees. “JFC has always viewed customers as being part of the team, the backbone of our company. We get excited talking to them, selling ideas and getting products to customers,” he said.
“We like problem solving. It’s what we do. We travel the world, go to trade shows, talk to our customers and ask them what they’re having a problem with. We take the comments, log it and solve problems in plastic! We like to think JFC set trends and not copy them.”
When moving into the business world, he decided to re educate himself by attending several night classes in UCG in the areas of marketing, sales and group dynamics. “This was just the start to programming myself for my future in the business world,” he said. “It’s all in the mind whether one makes things happen or not and that’s the most important thing”.
“To me, people are more afraid of failure than actuality of failing. They worry about what the neighbours might say. That’s why, I believe, young Irish people make it abroad. Nobody knows them, so if they fail, nobody cares.”
The recession certainly has not caused any slowing of Mr Concannon’s can-do attitude. “It has given me time to concentrate on developing new markets and prospects for JFC. Everyone cannot sit on their laurels and wait for things to happen, JFC like other companies has taken risks in the past but when everyone is standing, that is the time to start running and we are doing just that! The West is still awake and going from strength to strength despite the recession in Ireland,” he said.
He holds a very pragmatic opinion of the current economic situation. One that epitomizes his success. According to John Concannon, everyone made mistakes in the past because we were operating in a false economy. “It was the market driving business, not people. That’s where we failed as a country. Now, innovation will come with a change of attitude. That must happen in our banks as well. They are key to inspiring business,” he said.
Concannon has met many challenges along the road of entrepreneurship, had a few hiccups and some sleepless nights, but his vision, passion and attitude forged the course.
“Collectively we try our best every day to lead the markets. That’s what we do to achieve success and overcome mistakes as they happen.”
John Concannon will be attending Bizcamp Galway next Saturday week (September 11 ) as part of an expert panel discussing the idea of Failure in the Pursuit of Success. For more information go to www.bizcamp.ie/galway