Belfast Telegraph

Antrim man will meet Disney to pitch furniture concept

By Margaret Canning

A Co Antrim businessman is on his way to Orlando today to pitch his street furniture to Disney, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

Alan Lowry founded Environment Street Furniture in Newtownabbey at the end of 2012 after learning the trade from his old employer, English building supplies firm Burdens.

He has since been building the export arm of ESF, which manufactures fittings for outdoor areas such as bins and mobile phone charging points.

Today he will take off for Orlando and the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA), the world's biggest trade event for permanent amusement attractions.

He said he had just received 'vendor approval' - the US equivalent of preferred bidder status -for a major US theme park operator, believed to be Disney.

But Mr Lowry could not confirm the identity of the operator, due to strict non-disclosure terms.

He said: "I have an opportunity to present about 50 designers with a whole range of street furniture."

And he said he'd be continuing to forge links in the UAE, and hoped to secure deals connected with the World Cup in Qatar in 2022.

Mr Lowry said around 30% of the firm's business was conducted in Northern Ireland, 40% in the Republic and the UK, and the remaining 30% in export markets.

He started out in street furniture with Burdens in Bristol, a construction-related firm with turnover of around £500m which employed 1,500 people before going bust.

But he took his knowledge of street furniture to establish ESF at home in 2012.

He said: "I spent the first year or so establishing the core of the business in the home markets of the UK and Republic and it's only in the last year that we've looked into export markets."

His firm now employs nine people and has turnover of around £1.3m.

He said street furniture was a "niche" market which was facing competition from cheaper alternatives from China and India.

He added: "But we are trying to bring in innovation using solar energy street furniture for different things."

The company recently secured two major export contracts worth around £20,000 each.

It has won a deal to supply McDonadl's outlets in Italy with its solar powered outdoor public mobile phone charging station.

And after an Invest NI trade mission to the United Arab Emirates, it has also won a deal to supply the street charging sytem to a customer in Abu Dhabi.

Invest NI trade director Olive Hill said the agency had supported Environmental Street Furniture with recruitment and marketing - and by helping graduates through the export sales and marketing academy.

He said Invest NI had also supported the firm with winning its first business in Azerbaijan for the Baku European games, the first of a new Olympic event to be held in Europe every four years.

Mr Lowry said future products would be more "interactive" with illuminated litter bins as well as using solar energy for outdoor technology.

"We are also reinvesting all our profits back into overseas promotions and are delighted that our products are now reaching a global audience. Hopefully the relationships we have built will help us to secure further orders in Europe and beyond," he added.

Belfast Telegraph