How one man’s Covid redundancy opened the gates to a new business supporting local jobs.
When the Covid-19 pandemic struck, John Cogan was only four days into a new job as a fabricator with a midlands company. Finding himself temporarily unemployed and on the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP), John started casting around for something to do.
John, who is based in Castlepollard, Co Westmeath, decided to investigate whether there might be an opening for wrought iron gate work in his local area.
“I was getting that busy I decided in January of this year that I would lease a bigger premises and expand”
Only a year later, Lir Steelworks, his new company, already has four full-time employees, including John, and one working part time – and the business has just enjoyed a turnover of €350,000 for 2021.
“You can do anything if you want to do it,” John says. “I started this with very little money, but you don’t need much money. You generate your money and, if you mind the money you generate, you generate a bigger picture.”
As well as wrought iron gates and railings, Lir Steelworks manufactures a wide range of steel fences, provides a CNC plasma cutting service and offers mobile welding services.
John started the business as a small operation at the back of his house. “I worked at home and set up a mobile unit, a van with all the equipment I needed to go around doing small jobs for farmers or builders,” he says.
“Then, I was getting that busy I decided in January of this year that I would lease a bigger premises and expand.”
With the help of his then 18-year-old son, Brian, who was in his Leaving Cert year but confined to the home because of the pandemic, John built up the business through Facebook advertising and word of mouth.
He also received support in the form of advice and grants through his involvement with the ENGENUITY network of Midlands engineering companies.
“They have been brilliant,” he says. “I got great ideas from ENGENUITY. There are great leads from it. There’s so much there and you learn what’s on offer for your business that you wouldn’t otherwise know.”
John’s business philosophy is as simple as it is effective. “It’s a team effort,” he says, “It’s not rocket science but the quality of work we do is very good.”
The ENGENUITY engineering network, led by LEO Westmeath, and supported by Offaly, Longford and Laois Local Enterprise Offices, was founded in the belief that engineering microenterprises and SMEs needed to come together as a cluster to share knowledge and have their voices heard.
The network was the brainchild of Tracey Tallon, senior Enterprise Development officer at LEO Westmeath, who believed that businesses that were experiencing the same problems could help each other.
Theresa Mulvihill, network manager for Engenuity, says: “We help members such as John at Lir to engage with their customers and markets and grow successful businesses.
“We’re delighted to see Lir go from strength to strength and equally gratified to know John has learned from, and been supported by, the other businesses in Engenuity. This support makes a real difference to a company’s bottom line.”
Main image at top: John Cogan beside one of his wrought iron gates.