‘It’s always your customers who give the best advice’

Seamus Reilly set up emergency medical supply company Critical Healthcare in 2000 with his wife, Anne. Three years later he fell from a horse and broke his back, resulting in permanent injury. Despite this, the couple went on to grow the Kilbeggan-based business both nationally and internationally.

We are market leaders in Ireland with contract customers such as the National Irish Ambulance Service, Dublin Fire Brigade, and the Irish Coast Guard. In the UK, we hold contracts as the single supplier to customers such as ERS Medical and Medical Services Ltd. Our core products include MediQuilt, a range of disposable linen, Duramedic, a variety of medical consumables and Medlogistix, a web-based procurement and management information system.

Critical Healthcare

Achievement for me is to have grown turnover at over 20% each year, including through a recession, and to have grown staff to the point that we are now a significant employer in a region badly hit with job losses.

My lowest point was the accident 12 years ago. It happened in early February, and I got back into work in late July. On the business front, I recall heading home from work one day and getting a call to say a large customer had gone into liquidation, owing us the equivalent of one month’s turnover.

In business, mistakes are something you don’t plan for. In business you try to learn from them to ensure they will not happen again. When my accident happened I carried the entire business in my head – I was the king and shared nothing. But that all changed very quickly and thankfully my wife, who is a partner in the company, kept things going despite being pregnant and dealing with our family and my accident. We also had a great manager (Avril) who is still with us and together they helped keep the business on track and profitable.

“Risk is necessary, but it should be calculated. Don’t jump into an opportunity, think it through and see it from all angles.”

As we became more focused with the direction we were taking, we had to say no to some opportunities and drop some areas within our existing business. These were nice safe areas and profitable but not growing.

Our focus is within the pre-hospital/ambulance sector. We are the leaders now in Ireland and over the past two years have become our UK presence to the point that 50% of our turnover is made there. We have started into some other European markets. Becoming focused helped us do this. But becoming so focused is scary too because, if it doesn’t work, then you no longer have those other safety nets. But that makes you more determined to succeed.

“Motivation is easy, my wife and family. As a small business, our only salary is from the company. So it just can’t fail.”

It is tough to switch off. I have learned and try more (with the aid of technology) to take more down time at the weekends. During holidays keeping in touch helps me relax as I know all is going well. I need to try harder, but my accident has left me with a disability which has impacted on what I can do. My wife would argue that I didn’t do much before then. I love to ski, try some shooting and much to my horror I now seem to be gardening. I am also attempting to give back to my disability sector, working with Spinal Injuries Ireland.

“If I was starting again I’d think bigger sooner and go for it.”


During visits to China and the Middle East, you see that everything is built to cater for the future, where we seem to plan with caution. All their factories are four times the size of what they first need but it looks impressive, and it is easier to fill those spaces rather than not having the space to grow.

Some years ago we looked at buying a company which, from the outside, looked great. What sticks with me is that it was the owner’s fourth attempt to sell. He was desperate to sell and retire, but everyone walked away, including – on advice – us. From that day on I made it a mission to ensure that we had not just a profitable but a transparent company. Make sure you understand the financial side of your business, look at every line of your accounts, know what each means and how it all impacts on the growth of your business.

As for advice I’d give others in business? Believe in yourself but do not become obsessed with your original idea. At some stage, you will need to go in a slightly different direction.

“Remember it is always your customers who give you the best advice on choosing your product or service, or not.”

Images from Rihardzz / Shutterstock.com.