Going for Growth: Mary B Walsh, Ire Wel Pallets

Mary B Walsh and her husband saw an opportunity, decided to go for it and Ire Wel Pallets was born. She talks about take the entrepreneurial plunge and her Going for Growth journey.

In this new series we talk to women entrepreneurs who have taken part in the Going for Growth programme. Going for Growth is a six-month part-time programme, supported by Enterprise Ireland and KPMG, which assists ambitious female entrepreneurs to achieve their growth aspirations.

Applications are currently being sought from ambitious female entrepreneurs for the 14th cycle of the popular programme.

“I now have a more structured approach to the business: concentrating more on the strategy and direction I want to bring the company in”

Mary B Walsh began her career in banking in the 1980s, having studied Businessand Accountancy in Waterford Institute of Technology and later Accountancy through CIMA.

Coming from a family of entrepreneurs, however, Mary always knew that she was destined to run her own business, but did not know what area it would be in.

Going for it

The Walsh family run a sawmill/hardware business in Enniscorthy, Co Wexford. Often, they were asked if they could supply packaging and pallets to local manufacturing businesses but the family didn’t want to go down the packaging business route.

“My husband Shay and I thought it was a mistake to refuse any business,” says Mary.

“Almost overnight, we decided to go for it ourselves and set up on our own. Shay left the family business and I left AIB. We formed Ire Wel Pallets in May 1990.”

Ire Wel Pallets is Ireland’s leading pallet and packaging manufacturer, supplying pallets, boxes and crates to specifications for their customers. The company’s customer base is made up of companies in the medical devices, pharmaceutical, electronic, food and drinks industries. Mary and Shay celebrated 30 years in business in 2020.

Based near Gorey, Co Wexford, the company leased a premises for their first ten years in business. Twenty years ago, they bought a ten-acre site and developed the first purpose-built pallet manufacturing facility in Ireland.

“We have grown steadily year on year to where we are today. We now have 200,000 sq. ft. ventilated store for ideal storage of kiln dried timber and pallets.”

Ire Wel Pallets (IWP) grew fast initially with the support of their customers, local bank and Wexford County Council. Coming out of the recession in 2013, Mary felt that Ire Wel Pallets could survive anything and truly believed it was the right time to focus on growing the business.

Mary successfully applied for a place on the 6th cycle of Going for Growth. “The programme was perfect timing. We were looking to bring the company to the next level and we wanted to explore potential export markets.”

Getting accepted onto the programme was a ‘game changer’ for the company. Speaking of her experience on Going for Growth, Mary says that she discovered a new way of doing business.

“Going for Growth has generated new ideas and possibilities for my company. I now have a more structured approach to the business: concentrating more on the strategy and direction I want to bring the company in. The programme allowed me to engage with like-minded people, in a confidential and safe environment, who were themselves on their own growth journey.”

At times Mary has found running her own business isolating. “It can be quite a lonely place when making difficult decisions. Being part of the Going for Growth Community allows you to connect with other business women to brainstorm, network, share ideas and get advice from like-minded equally successful business women.”

Over the past four years €4.5m has been invested into Ire Wel Pallets, with further investments planned. New technology on site has given the company more control of their production quality and stock. Recent solar panel investments are delivering immediate return on that investment, together with delivering a green energy power solution for the entire business.

The solar panel project is a continuation of IWP’s strategy to minimise the company’s carbon footprint. Mary now hopes to focus on export markets.

With customers nationwide throughout the island of Ireland, she believes Ire Wel Pallets’ presence in Northern Ireland is a key stepping stone into the UK market. “Over the next five years, we want to keep the business growing and begin exporting into mainland UK. We also aim to be the most successful pallet manufacturing company in Europe.”

To help achieve their goals, Ire Wel Pallets currently employ a team of 50 staff and are expanding. “The team are extremely supportive. Many have been with us for years, while others have joined more recently.”

Mary believes in giving back and is a voluntary Lead Entrepreneur on the highly successful ACORNS Programme, a Board Member on TIMCON (The UK Pallet & Packaging Association) since 2015, on Hospice Homecare, LoveGorey, and County Wexford Chamber. Mary was the Wexford Ambassador on NWED in 2019.

The call is open for applications from female entrepreneurs who would welcome peer support to take their businesses to the next level by taking part in the Going for Growth programme. This is the 14th year of Going for Growth and more than 800 female entrepreneurs have so far taken part in the programme. Up to 60 places will be available for the 14th cycle of Going for Growth, which will run from January to June 2022 and the deadline for applications is Thursday 16 December 2021. There is no charge for those selected.

Anyone interested is encouraged to register on the website goingforgrowth.com and a link to the application form will be sent to them.