Having moved to Australia to work in financial services, chartered accountant John Kennedy decided he wanted to try something different when he returned to Ireland. Here’s the story of West Ireland Cycling.
Why did you start West Ireland Cycling?
For me, West Ireland Cycling started in July 2016. My wife’s uncle and his uncle before him had run cycling businesses in Galway since the 1960s. My mother grew up on Eyre’s Square and so I spent a lot of my childhood in Galway City and always wanted to live here.
Spending time away from Ireland helped us appreciate just how lucky we are to have grown up here. Ireland is full of amazing, unspoilt scenery. The people are extremely friendly, we have an ancient history dating back thousands of years and evidence of this history is carved into a breathtakingly beautiful landscape.
Shortly after we returned home to Ireland my wife’s uncle, unfortunately, passed away and his cycling business closed down. We saw a chance to re-open the business, take it in a new direction and share our passion for Ireland and cycling so we moved to Galway, opened a new shop and the rest is history. It has been a huge learning curve but we knew we made the right decision.
“A shared experience outside the normal corporate environment has a big impact on team building.”
How successful has it been to date?
It has been great. We have been growing each year and the feedback from our customers is really rewarding. We rely heavily on word-of-mouth and TripAdvisor and these have been going really well for us. We received the Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence Winner 2016, 2017 and 2018.
The fastest growing part of the business is short-term, customised, activity based breaks for corporate clients. We have some of the top four accountancy firms and larger banks coming back to us this year which is great to see. They say a shared experience outside the normal corporate environment has a big impact on team building and team morale. Ultimately this makes for stronger relationships within a team, improving communication and increasing efficiency.
The other growing part of the business is our bike shop here in Galway. We offer sales and bike repair service to the local community too and as word spreads, we are seeing more people come through the doors, which is great.
“We tailor the holiday to the customer’s need and add in a few surprises we think they might like as well.”
What is your USP?
I grew up in Mayo and love the outdoors. I love anything to do with history, cycling, running and swimming in general. I love sharing this passion with as many people as possible. A lot of our competitors are internet-based businesses offering the same all-inclusive holiday experiences as West Ireland Cycling but are not based here. They don’t live here and I feel that our passion for this part of Ireland really gives us a unique advantage, and the feedback from customers is great. We genuinely feel that Ireland is a great destination for a cycling and activity based holiday. We tailor the holiday to the customer’s need and add in a few surprises we think they might like as well.
What are your plans for the future?
Expansion along the coast and developing some overseas markets particularly across the Atlantic are the long term goals. In the short-term, we are concentrating of promoting our cycling tours in the quieter times of the season. The best time to cycle around Ireland is September and October. The weather is usually nice, the evenings are still long and the best cycling areas are quieter than they would otherwise be midsummer.
What inspired you to start a business?
My main motivation is my family. We have two young kids and a third on the way so I want to be able to spend time with my kids as they grow up, live in the west of Ireland close to family and friends and work at something that I enjoy every day.
“I feel that our passion for this part of Ireland really gives us a unique advantage.”
The west has a strong tourism sector, do you see other attractions as competition?
No, I wouldn’t see other attractions in the west as competition. On the contrary, I see these as complementary to the service we offer and a busy tourism sector means there is a healthy market which is all good for us. Ultimately, Ireland is competing with the rest of the world for tourism. We have a lot of excellent attractions and also the potential for a lot more. Learning to develop and harness these attractions in a way that benefits the people who live here is the main challenge as I see it, whether that be through tourism or any other way.
Did the growing popularity of cycling in Ireland play a key role in setting up the business?
Sure, the growing popularity of cycling helped us be more confident in our decision to take this on. No doubt about that. I think cycling becoming more popular in Ireland reflects a broader trend of people moving away from spending their money on material things and opting instead for an enjoyable and memorable experience. Whether that be in the mode of transport to get to work, a holiday or as a hobby. It is more rewarding, in my opinion, to move across the land under your own steam, by bike, for example than face the alternative journey by bus or car. Attitudes are changing in Ireland and the growing popularity in cycling is one small part of that.
What has been the biggest help to your business?
I cannot overstate how important the Workbench in Galway was in getting our business off the ground and I know a half-dozen family-run startups who feel the same way. It creates jobs. It helps turn ideas into viable businesses. It is great to see such forward-thinking from the management at Bank of Ireland and I really believe they are on to a long-term winner with this one.