Entrepreneurs given spark by bank initiative
Ambitious is the only way to describe Warren Polly’s business aspirations.
He started out giving kite surfing lessons when he was made redundant from his job as a civil engineer.
But now Warren, who established Wave and Wake — the first kite surfing and wakeboarding supplier in Northern Ireland — is hoping to establish Northern Ireland’s first multi-purpose leisure park with an investment of £500,000 to get it up and running.
“I was interested in kite surfing myself and I knew there were no schools in Northern Ireland, so I decided to set one up,” he explained.
“Gradually, I added in a few pieces of equipment to sell to people I was teaching.
“It just took off from there, especially once I had the dealership rights for brands and I was able to advertise.
“I also broke into the wakeboarding side of things. It started off as a bit of a sideline, but once I realised the potential in it, I was determined to make it work.
Warren said he was able to maximise on the gap in the market.
“I used to live in Dublin and there were two or three kite surfing schools there,” he continued.
“I did a lot of sailing and there were schools dotted along the coast of England and I knew that they were working everywhere else, so I knew it could work in Northern Ireland.
“There were also no other businesses in Northern Ireland selling kite surfing equipment, so that made it easier to develop links with manufacturers.
“The closest other retailers were in Dublin, so they were keen to work with me.”
Setting up the business did not require a huge amount of investment.
Warren gradually accrued the equipment he required for his lessons using income from the school.
And demand for kiteboarding lessons grew through word of mouth.
“I did the lessons around North Down and the Ards peninsula and it is quite a visual thing — everyone saw it, and more and more people wanted to try it,” he said.
“There has been growing demand, especially in the last three years.
However, Warren said social media has also played an integral role in the success of his business.
“Social media has been absolutely crucial in online e commerce,” he continued.
“Once we got Facebook up and running — we did some advertising as well — word spread really quickly.
“It is important to develop consumer confidence and I think that is achieved by a strong online presence.
“Certainly, I have worked really hard on search engine optimisation and social media. I had some help from Signal, which works with small businesses, and they helped me with a strategy for online retail.
“I had to rebrand so I wasn’t just concentrating on Northern Ireland and that is where Wave and Wake came from. It was probably in the back of my mind for about a year before I did it. I knew I had to create a brand that was more applicable to worldwide sales, rather than being focused on Northern Ireland.
“Now, we supply equipment around the world.”
Warren said that as a result of the work he has done, website traffic has grown ten-fold in the last three years.
“Our turnover has been increasing by 10 to 15%,” he added.
But he is not satisfied with his success to date. He is currently working on plans to develop a purpose-built leisure park in North Down.
“I have just joined the Entrepreneurial Spark Global e-hatchery, which has just started in Belfast and is being run by Ulster Bank,” he continued.
“You get business space as part of an accelerated business growth programme and there are regular meetings and opportunities to work with mentors.
“To get the place, I had to come up with a proposal and mine was for the multi-function sports’ facility for a range of activities like wakeboarding, triathlons, open water swimming, and trail running.
“The chief executive of Entrepreneurial Spark told me it was an excellent idea, but it was very ambitious.
“I think that I don’t put a limit on ambition and on top of that, these kind of facilities work everywhere else, so why can’t they work in Northern Ireland?
“There are a few similar centres in the rest of the UK and people travel to get to them and I am pretty excited about bringing something like this to Northern Ireland.
“I think Northern Ireland will really benefit from something like this.”
Warren has already identified a suitable site and has been involved in meetings with Northern Ireland Water, who own the land, to discuss the possibility of buying and developing the site.
He is also working closely with architects and planning authorities.
“This just seems like the next logical step for the business,” he continued.
“It wasn’t a conscious decision to leave civil engineering.
“I had always wanted to be my own boss, and having my own business is probably 10 times more work than before — but it is also 10 times more rewarding.”