Ireland Small Business Supplier Diversity Launch

The Google Supplier Diversity Team held its inaugural Global Launch on March 29, 2017. They welcomed over 300 small and diverse Irish businesses to learn more about their newly launched program and how Google buys. The video was created by certified women’s business enterprise Glass Eye Productions.
Louise Lonergan, owner of certified women’s business enterprise Lonergan Corporate Gifts, is featured in the video. Google became a WEConnect International global corporate member in 2017.

Fora.ie article

fora

‘Sometimes a side project can grow into something much bigger’

This small business owner explains how she turned her company around with a unique idea.

Read the article : https://fora.ie/readme/changing-business-model-3264905-Mar2017/

 

‘Sometimes a side project can grow into something much bigger’ – Fora

WHEN I STARTED my own company almost 20 years ago, I’m pretty sure I had no idea what a recession was.It never occurred to be that the outside world could impact on my little life. It was kind of like: if you keep your head low enough, the bullies might not spot you in the schoolyard.Lonergan Corporate Gifts – which at that time only sold high-end, branded gifts to companies looking to woo clients – had its best year ever in 2007. We were preparing to scale up during the coming 12 months.

However, by the following summer, the phone stopped ringing. My best telesales people couldn’t get any appointments. Christmas is usually a busy time for us, but our sales just didn’t deliver in 2008.

By January, I had to part with some really good staff who had done nothing wrong.

We were in the luxury sector, so we felt the effects of the downturn pretty quickly and I had to trim the fat everywhere I could.

With that in mind, here’s how I managed to turn my business around with a unique idea that made it a profitable operation again.

Motivated by family

First of all, I got my family on board to help steady the ship.

My crane-driving husband, Joe, had been let go, so he started working with us during the day and drove a taxi at night. That went on for a number of years with very little return.

The fact that we were both taking a salary from the company put added pressure on the firm to perform well.

I’m aware now that it’s not a great idea to have all your eggs in the same basket. It’s worrying – but it can be good motivator too.

My accountant at the time would often ask me how I did it all. It seemed like such a silly question to me. I had two children to look after – I would’ve cleaned the streets if I needed to.

My brother Aidan pitched in as well and that helped us keep the company going while we looked for ways to give our business model a makeover.

Useful accident

While we still sell high-end promotional gifts to this day, we’ve ventured into selling products for employee incentive schemes and reward programmes.

That part of the business came about almost by accident – but it’s what saved us.

Without fully realising it, we had started a separate part of our business during the nineties.

We covered service awards for Wyeth, which is now Pfizer, where we would personally deliver gifts to their 300 staff.

Out of that came the idea for GetGifts.ie, a human resources reward and recognition programme that we launched a couple of years ago. HR managers use it to buy rewards for staff that hit certain sales targets or reach a milestone in their careers.

It also takes advantage of the small benefits exemption scheme, where employees can receive a tax-free, non-cash bonus of up to €500 every year.

Once we accidentally found that niche, we put all of our resources into it.

When we couldn’t grow our promotional goods sales, we put all of our energy into getting onto the HR departments at the country’s top companies so we could become their preferred supplier for gifts.

It just goes to show that sometimes what starts off as a sort of side project can grow into something bigger.

I love the gifts industry now. I get to help HR teams at big companies make their staff feel valued for all their hard work.

Our research has shown that when companies spend even just 1% of their payroll on recognising their employees’ hard work, it can make such a huge difference.

Mentor

My last piece of advice for anyone who is looking to turn around a struggling business is to work with customers you like and find yourself a mentor.

My mentor was financial consultant John Crawley. He took me under his wing and helped me believe in myself again.

John reminded me I am the one who sets the bar – I am the only one who can get my hands dirty and get stuff done.

I have three children now, so the bar is even higher today than it was during our tough years. I hope I’ll be ahead of the curve from now on. With the help of my family and friends, I am pretty sure I can be.

Louise Lonergan is chief executive of Lonergan Corporate Gifts

Corporate gifts used to be about champagne – now firms demand tokens that will last

Corporate gifts used to be about champagne – now firms demand tokens that will last.

THE CORPORATE GIFTING game used to be all about glitz and glamour.

Back in the Celtic Tiger years, Louise Lonergan, founder and chief executive of Lonergan Corporate Gifts, would be asked to deliver brand-name suitcases stuffed with champagne and a host of “crazy requests” from businesses looking to woo clients.

“I don’t think there is anything extravagant (about it) any more,” Lonergan tells Fora. ”Everybody is trying to spend their money as carefully as possible and work to the budget that they’re working to.”

When marketing spend suffered deep cuts during the recession, the rug was pulled from the flashy world of corporate gift buying.

These days, Lonergan says, companies are more interested in offering a token of appreciation to loyal staff who stuck with them during the bad years than splashing out on expensive gimmicks.

That’s why Lonergan’s business has expanded into the ‘service awards’ area, where companies reward employees for a job well done or for reaching a career milestone.


“A lot of (workers) are doing two or three people’s jobs,” she says. “Companies are trying to create a buzz again and let their staff know that they’re thankful for all the work that they’ve done.”


High-profile clients like Pfizer and Diageo have used such a service for a number of years, but it was only in April last year that Lonergan decided to formalise the facility with Get Gifts, an online gift catalogue.

Get Gifts takes advantage of the small benefits exemption scheme, where employees can receive a tax-free, non-cash bonus of up to €500 every year.

Bosses provide workers with a login to the site so they can decide how they wish to spend their bonus from a selection of gifts like laptops, hotel breaks and furniture.

With about 20,000 items on offer from 100 suppliers, Lonergan jokes that she’s a bit like the Only Fools and Horses character Del Boy: “All I need now is a three-wheel van.”

‘Better off’ with gifts

Citing research from human resources consultants Towers Watson, Lonergan claims that companies “are better off giving a non-cash gift” than hard cash if they want to boost staff morale.


“You can imagine the daddy opening the television when it’s delivered to his house and his kids are excited about what he’s after getting,” she says.


Still from Promo

There is a certain sentimentality attached to tangible objects.

“A lot of people when they work for 25 or 30 years, they want to get a memento of their work, something that will last,” she says.

That’s why she is interested in expanding Get Gifts to include what she calls a “reward and recognition scheme”, a points-based system where workers collect points for completing certain good deeds like covering a bank holiday shift or training colleagues outside regular work hours. They can redeem a gift when they’ve accumulated enough reward points.

One company has already signed up to use the service, but there is still some administrative kinks to work out before more clients come on board.

“These things take time because each company has to figure out how it’s going to run it and what points different staff get and why,” she explains.

Challenges

Lonergan’s core team is small, with four workers on the books for most of the year. Seasonal staff come on board to help out during the busy end-of-year period.

When contractors are taken into account – delivery drivers, embroiderers, printers and the like – Lonergan works with up 95 people at any given time.

Like most small businesses, Lonergan says her biggest challenge is cash flow, which she expects will continue to be a difficulty in 2017.

“When you’re dealing with very large companies, their (payment) terms are usually 45 to 90 days,” she says. “You can imagine if you have to pay up front for a products … it’s difficult to manage.”

Ironically, she is also competing with her big-name clients to attract tech talent, another common problem for small business owners.

A few years ago, Lonergan’s bank manager said they weren’t sure how she was still in business, given that many competing promotional gift firms failed during the recession.

She attributes her survival to rebuilding her business to suit changing attitudes.


“You would’ve thought that corporate gifting was the first thing to go,” she says. “I hope that says something about the company.”


Lonergan Corporate Gifts will exhibit at Showcase Ireland, a craft and design business trade show, in the RDS, 22 to 25 January.

Source: Fora.ie, https://fora.ie/lonergan-corporate-gifting-3169663-Jan2017/