A business life full of adventure. We meet Ronan O’Connor from Ardmore Adventures in Waterford.
Ronan O’Connor set up Ardmore Adventures in June 2009. His background spans both lifeguarding and water sports activities. He is one of the most experienced lifeguard instructors in Ireland and has been teaching and coaching all aspects of lifesaving since 1996. O’Connor was a beach lifeguard for seven years and has competed for Cork at both national and international level as well as coaching subsequent competitors to become national champions.
A true pioneer for the outdoor life, he wants to make it easy for everybody to access and experience the Irish outdoors.
‘I love teaching and want to introduce people to the outdoors – it’s a free resource, and I’d like to see more people get out and try the activities in their local area.’
Ardmore Adventures is located next to the beach in picturesque Ardmore Bay in Waterford. It offers adventure activities in unspoilt natural locations across Waterford and Cork. Activities include rock climbing, sea kayaking, surfing, snorkelling, stand-up paddle boarding, archery, team building, lifeguard and first aid courses.
It’s a seasonal business, and during the busiest time – summer –there is ten staff working at Ardmore. Outside the summer season, O’Connor does a lot of work training lifeguards, kayak instructors and first aid. He also travels around Europe to teach instructor training.
Getting the word out
O’Connor’s primary sales tools are his local business peers. A lot of business is referred his way from the hotels, B&Bs and the local tourist office. Equally, Tripadvisor has been an active source of referrals for the business.
He has a website, blog, YouTube channel, Facebook and Twitter accounts but admits it can be difficult to keep everything updated. Over the years they have been featured on RTÉ’s Nationwide, No Frontiers and The Holiday Show.
Recently they struck viral gold with a video that O’Connor took of Basking sharks in Ardmore Bay. He was kayaking right alongside and got some amazing footage, which made it to Joe.ie before being picked up by NBC. It was also covered by some Irish online news sites, all of which pushed their organic search results up and boosted their website traffic.
Building a customer base
According to O’Connor, customers are mainly family groups – children, teenagers and adults. It can vary from day to day but during high season there tends to be a lot of student and children groups.
‘As I look out the window now there are a group of 14-year-olds students getting ready to head out on kayaks.’
This is part of Ardmore Adventure’s successful Summer Camps Programme, where they take out small groups teaching them a variety of water activities within the one day.
‘We get a huge percentage of Irish with some UK and international tourists but mainly Irish. In the last two weeks of August and early September you see UK tourists – it will be interesting to see if Brexit affects that this year.’
Regarding competition, according to O’Connor ‘the nearest ones are 50 miles either side’ of his base at Ardmore, so this gives him an advantage in the locality.
Back when O’Connor was establishing the business, he availed of local supports including some funds from the Leader Programme. Over the years he’s sought advice sessions and courses from the local Enterprise Board, which he finds particularly helpful.
However, when he first started the business, there was no one who could describe what lay ahead for Ronan. ‘The trickiest part in the early days was the lack of mentors who had experience in running an outdoor business. I had to learn by doing’.
His advice now to anyone starting in this area would be to ‘keep up the personal touch –that’s what people go for’. He has worked hard to make his business stand out and offer something a bit different.
‘We don’t go for the splash and dash approach. We like to educate people – to teach them all about the local area and to talk them through the activities.’
Education is critical to O’Connor, and he is continually challenging himself to learn more. He’s recently completed a professional diploma in digital marketing and will be starting a degree in outdoor learning in September.
For the future, O’Connor wants to continue growing, and to continue ‘introducing people to the outdoors’.
‘I’d love to see a change of national mind set – for people to get out even when it’s raining!’
For more information go to www.ardmoreadventures.ie.
Article by Lorraine Griffin.