BONSAI HOBBY BECOMES FAMILY business for BIRKENHEAD-BORN LEN and his wife MARY
Bonsai4u is a two-person family business set up by Len McCarthy with support from his wife Mary seven years ago. "It started out as a hobby," said Mr McCarthy, who was previously a school caretaker.
"One day I came home from work through Martinstown and there was a banner outside the credit union office which said, 'Start your own business through Invest NI', with help from its Start a Business Programme.
"My wife suggested we go down to find out about it. We went to see one of Invest NI's people in Ballymena and he said that we could do one of their courses. We took the course - before that we knew nothing about business. The last thing on my mind was bonsai, which was only a hobby. Then it occurred to me and my wife - bonsai."
Although Mr McCarthy came to Northern Ireland from England in 1982, his Birkenhead accent remains distinct.
And when he did his market research he returned to his River Mersey roots.
"I spoke to someone in Liverpool," said Mr McCarthy. "And he told me that lots of people went over there from Northern Ireland to buy bonsai because no one was selling them in Northern Ireland.
"So then we registered a business account with the bank, but we needed a decent supplier. I was buying my bonsai online and I spoke to my supplier.
"He told me of a very good, big, supplier. I contacted him and now he ships the bonsai over here to us. We went to a car boot sale and sold one tree.
"Someone said to me we would be much better selling at a market and suggested Nutts Corner. We went there and sold seven trees. The following week we sold 14 and the next week we completely sold out. Then we got a better position at Nutts Corner and our sales escalated."
Mr McCarthy has done some dealing on eBay, but has found that bonsai is not ideally suited to an online marketplace.
"It's difficult to get photos that show the trees properly," he said. But Mr McCarthy's enthusiasm for his trade shines through. "It's great to have a business that is also a hobby," he said. Because bonsai remains as much a love affair as a business, Mr McCarthy has no intention of stepping down simply because he is now 59.
"It's not really a business, it's a hobby," he stressed. "So I can see myself going on as long as I can walk." www.Bonsai4U.org.uk