Slurrykat success story moves in down on the farm
For someone who left school with no qualifications, Garth Cairns is a remarkable success story. Little did he realise at the tender age of 16 that his love of farming and design and technology combined with an entrepreneurial flair would result in him creating a globally recognised brand and heading up a multi-million pound company.
From small beginnings, tinkering at the back of his parents' house and starting a one-man agricultural contracting business, he now heads up Slurrykat, which is based on a five-acre site near Waringstown, Co Armagh.
Employing 44 people, Slurrykat is renowned for its umbilical slurry system and other agricultural equipment, which is shipped all over the world.
Although he took ownership of the Slurrykat name in 1994, the business in its current form has only been operating since 2008.
Mr Cairns said: "Slurrykat was a wee place up in Clough, Downpatrick. Two people worked in it and they really just bought and sold slurry pumps. I got to know the guy, who was emigrating to Australia and he asked would I be interested in buying it. There was nothing to buy but we bought the name because the name was known."
Meanwhile Mr Cairns - the son of an engineer and nurse - left school at 16 and started an agricultural contracting business.
The business grew and before long he had to employ another person and buy a second tractor.
On wet days when he was unable to plough, make silage or spread slurry, Mr Cairns, who is now 33, started to make farm machinery.
"I did welding and bits of metalwork and things. I always had an interest in that in school and I started to make my own machinery. You can see the picture developing. In wet days and when there was no work on I was making pieces of farm machinery to use ourselves."
That agricultural contracting business, Cairns Contracts, is still going today employing seven people and providing a vital testing ground for Slurrykat's products.
Mr Cairns said: "One of the big advantages, and one that has been directly related to the success of Slurrykat, was that we were able to test everything we made ourselves in the contract business.
"We are on the farms, we had our fingers on the pulse with the farmers, listening to the farmers, getting the feedback and that meant we weren't relying on other people to test stuff for us. It was like an in-house design and testing set-up, which has been so successful for Slurrykat; how we design and develop new products."
This year Slurrykat is on target to have £7.5m turnover - 92% of that is related to export.
Mr Cairns said: "Our main export markets are New Zealand, where we have just signed up a big dealership in the last month. Scandinavia is very strong for us and we are doing quite a bit in Canada.
"We are looking at the Middle East, it's a big one, and we have a lot of interest in the Far East. South Africa is another market we have some equipment in and it is growing for us. I think the next two to three years are going to be quite lucrative for us."
Looking at Slurrykat's products, order books, growth (58% in one year) and turnover, it's hardly surprising it won best agri business in the Ulster heat of the Ulster Bank Business Achievers Awards.
It's the first time Slurrykat has entered the competition but Mr Cairns has his eyes on the All-Ireland title, the winner of which will be revealed at a ceremony in Dublin on December 4.
He said: "This award is for the staff, not for me. The staff are a big part of the company and we wouldn't have the business we have without the staff. It's for every one of them."