6th February 2017

Posted In: The Interview

It was 2012 and smack in the middle of an excoriating global recession, but that didn’t stop two old friends abandoning good jobs for the uncertain territory of self-employment: “It may have seemed like a strange move for both of us to leave our jobs and set up a business, but we wanted the challenge,” recalls Fiona Craul who set up successful sourcing and consultancy firm Sweetspot Sourcing Ltd with co-founder Susan Dempsey.  The two had been friends for many years, and had always suspected they’d work well as a business team:
 “Sometimes you just feel that it’s time to jump off the cliff and start again. That’s what we did,” she recalls now.

Áilín Quinlan

They established Sweetspot in Naas, Co Kildare in 2012: “The name is about sourcing products with a high perceived value that will ultimately hit our customers’ ‘sweetspot’! 
“It was something that we were both able to do and there were not that many companies servicing businesses in this way,” recalls Fiona. The pair hit the ground running, attracting a broad range of customers, and within 12 months established a base in China.

Solid support from their Local Enterprise Office and from Enterprise Ireland helped:
 “We availed of an innovation voucher, and Sue participated in the Enterprise Ireland Going for Growth programme in 2015,” recalls Fiona who explains that more backing, this time from InterTradeIreland located in North, provided the duo with a consultant based in that region – something which is helping Sweetspot build an ever-stronger sales pipeline both into the North, where its customer base is growing steadily, and into the UK.
“What we do is product sourcing for both the promotion and the retail industry,” Fiona explains.
 “For example, a business may run a promotion for its customers that involves a ‘reward’ of some kind – we source the ‘reward.’ This will likely be a product relevant to the company’s core product – for example, a lunch-box for ham or a mini-fridge for a beer brand.

The second element of the sourcing side of the business is working closely with retailers seeking own-brand items: “We work with a lot of well-known Irish brands creating own-label products that are used either in a promotion or in their own retail business.

“We do the sourcing from start to finish; from the design of the product to sampling the manufacturing and taking care of the logistics surrounding importation, for example.
 “It’s very much a beginning to end service. “For example, you might have a fruit manufacturer who wants to offer customers a giveaway. “We source the product for them because they don’t necessarily have the expertise to source and organise something like this – it’s out of their core range because their business is focused on something else entirely.
 “Sometimes a company might have an idea about a giveaway but they may not know just how to bring the product to life.”

Sweetspot uses factories in Asia, Europe and Turkey to make the products its clients need.
 “We opened the office in China in 2013 because it was necessary to have an on-the-ground presence there with a full-time employee who manages the office, makes factory visits and carries out quality control,” explains Fiona, who has a background in organisational psychology and business and worked in the Irish importation sector before leaving to co-found Sweetspot.
The company she worked for had a particular interest in China, where she actually lived and worked for six months. Sue who also hails from a business background, worked for a lighting manufacturer in Ireland which had a factory in China.

Business has been strong and Sweetspot has grown since its establishment, attracting ever-larger brands and carving out a good reputation in the industry: 
“We are now working with multi-national and national brands as well as charities, start-ups and small business.”

But that’s not enough for this dynamic duo who also have another side – the company also offers a business consultancy service:
 “A start-up sports brand came to us recently. The company was creating a brand from scratch. We helped them find a manufacturer and go through the whole process. They’re receiving their first shipment this month.
 “It’s very satisfying for us to see a process like that all the way through.”
 These women are certainly not about to allow any grass to grow under their feet – over the next few years, Fiona explains, their focus is on strong sales growth:
 “Throughout 2017 we plan to build our profile in the UK.”
 And yes, the biggest challenge they, like many other Irish companies face is what Brexit will mean for the export /import side to the business.
 “Yes it’s a concern but you just have to crack on,” Fiona says pragmatically.

As of now Sweetspot, not surprisingly, is among the nominees for the Small Firms Association Awards in March – Fiona and Susan are up for the Outstanding Small Business Award.
 “We’re very excited about that. It would be great to win. We were also nominated for this same Award last year so it’s a case of fingers crossed this time round!”

For more information visit:http://sweetspot.ie/

(Image: Sweetspot Sourcing Directors: Susan Dempsey and Fiona Craul. Photo: Michael Donnelly)