FSB Northern Ireland Member Case Study #9: Fearghas Quinn, Quinn Hearse & Limousine

  • 12 Oct 2020

Some background details on Fearghas & Quinn Hearse & Limousine

Quinn Hearse and Limousine were established in 1995 when Fearghas Quinn built his first hearse based on a Ford Granada. Prior to this Fearghas was a specialist in collision repair, while helping part-time with his father’s funeral business, and based on that background it seemed like a logical project! The first hearse was sold quite quickly, and 2 other funeral directors placed orders for ones exactly the same, and so Fearghas Quinn Specialist Vehicles was born.

 

In the early 2000’s, after experimenting with various different makes and models, Fearghas streamlined production and moved factory to the current premises in Portglenone. The name became Hearse and Limousine and vehicles were sold throughout the British Isles and further afield, most notably to Jamaica, where former Governor General Florizel Glasspole was buried in a Quinn Hearse. Since 2009, his son Patrick and daughter Deborah have joined the business and today hearses and limousines are exported to 4 continents.

Why did you join the FSB & has it been helpful?

We joined FSB in 2017. It was around this time that we began to see a fair bit of growth both in turnover and staff numbers, and we began to look for support through that process. There was a lot of uncertainty surrounding our industry with Brexit and we felt that we didn’t have much of a voice. By joining FSB we gained access to lots of practical help and advice for many aspects of running a small business. Things like HR and legal support, contract templates and even the connections available have been priceless as we have navigated the past few years. Our membership has also enabled us to have our voice heard, most recently during the covid-19 crisis when certain issues within our sector were raised on our behalf by FSB to the executive.

How did Covid-19 impacted your business?

Covid-19 has a serious impact on all sectors. Immediately we had to take into consideration the safety of our staff, and we closed on 23rd March to undertake a full risk assessment of the factory. After making the necessary changes for a safe reopening we were hit by 2 major issues. Disruption to supply chains, particularly for PPE, and inability to have vehicles IVA type approved before delivery due to government test centres being closed in Northern Ireland. We were very lucky in that we had made preparations for a disruptive Brexit (supply chain issues, and issues with export) and we had some mitigating measures in place, such as a small emergency stock of vital supplies.

We were also incredibly lucky that we had such good relationships with clients and suppliers as we all helped each other through the hardest economic period. There was an opportunity to innovate, and we developed a retrofit hygiene partition screen for limousines. They keep driver and passengers separate enabling safe transportation at funerals, and these products actually became mandatory in the last couple of months. Looking forward, we have tried to invest in the long-term stability of the business using government backed loans, as we have to assume potential disruption in the next 6-12 months and the business needs to be resilient enough to cope with that. We’ve invested in marketing and sales to ensure a steady income stream, and also in our manufacturing processes to enable us to continue to produce even if we are short-staffed or have to close for a brief period.

 

What is single greatest challenge for any SME at the minute?

At the moment, I would say that uncertainty is the biggest issue for SME’s. Business is always uncertain to a degree, however 2020 has multiplied that! It’s very difficult to plan ahead when we are all as yet unsure what rules we will be playing under come January 2021. What paperwork do we need in order to export to GB? Will we need any? Will we need paperwork to export to Ireland from N.I.? What will this look like? What can I expect to pay? Are my suppliers on the ball with their imports? Will my customers accept potential delays? Can civil servants navigate the post-Brexit world to make an easy transition? Will there be an economic downturn and how will that affect my business? How will changing currency rates affect my business? All these questions are more still lie unanswered to varying degrees, and at the moment are unanswerable, which makes it near impossible to plan effectively. Coupled with covid-19 and the additional strain on many sectors, this has almost had the effect of amplifying those questions, with added ones like “Can I keep myself and my employees safe?”.  Uncertainty makes it really difficult to take any kind of risk. If it weren’t for the Bounce Back Loan Scheme, we would have found it difficult to take the risk to make the investment necessary to keep our business moving forwards, but not everyone is in a position to take advantage of that.

What are the opportunities and positives for SMEs at the minute and how are you embracing recovery?

The biggest positive I can take out of it is that if the business is going to come through this, it must be an incredibly resilient one, and that bodes well long-term. We had some time towards the beginning of the covid crisis to study our business and see where we should be doing some housekeeping. Lots of things that tend to get overlooked when you’re in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. As a result we’ve made some changes to set us up better long-term and I believe the company is stronger as a result. In times like these as well, relationships become very important, and its fair to say that relationships with other local businesses, council, suppliers and clients have strengthened as we’ve tried to navigate the past few months. We’re really grateful for some of the personalities of the people we engage with on a daily basis and the willingness between everyone to try and work with each other.

 

Of FSB’s key campaign issues at the minute. Which is most important to you and your business at present and why?

I would say that the End of the transition period, Supply Chains and Post Covid Recovery are interconnected. For us, our Post Covid Recovery is very much dependent on how our supply chains can manage with the end of the transition period. It’s a little early to talk about post-covid in my opinion, as were are still living with it, still trying to see what the impact might actually be medium term. The transition period is a little more concrete. We know when it will end and, at the moment, it does look like there will be hurdles to trade with the EU, it’s just that we don’t know what they are. What we can do at our end is try to create time and space to meet issues when they arrive, prime our customers for the fact that there may be delays, and possibly try and make our supply chain more robust by increasing our own stock or strengthening the relationship there so that we can at least be kept abreast of any issues at that end. The work of FSB will be vital in making sure that companies involved in supply chains here have the support they need from the Executive to continue to trade as easily as will be possible.

 

Have you any Words of advice to anyone starting a small business?

The first thing is research. Research the market to make sure that your product or service is viable. I have seen someone start a small business where he was selling a product that you only ever needed one of, and it was a niche market. Needless to say his customer pool dried up fairly quickly. You must ask if your idea is sustainable long-term. Look at your potential competitors and be honest about where your idea comes in and how it measures up. If you’re satisfied that there is a need, then a strong business plan is essential. Have a best-case and worst-case scenario in mind.

Can you cope with both? Can your business? And finally, be prepared to work. 70-80 hour weeks are not uncommon in the early days of a business and you should be prepared to sacrifice a lot if you want it to get off the ground. Throughout all of this, the advice of those around you is really important. From people around the industry, from friends and colleagues, and from groups like FSB. There is a lot of help and support out there, much more than when I started and it would be silly not to take advantage of it.