Ciara Troy has run Oishii Foods Ltd in Co. Wicklow since 2006, now employing over 10 people in Bray. Winner of the 2011 IMAGE Magazine Young Businesswoman of the Year, Ciara’s wonderful sushi creations can be found in over 80 retail outlets in the Leinster area – for fish lovers and vegetarians alike!
What led you to starting your business?
Studying in Japan as part of my Business degree was a huge turning point for me. I absolutely loved it, the language, the people I met & most of all…the food. My commitments here meant that I couldn’t return to Japan long term so I decided to bring a taste of Japan to Ireland! I had just finished the degree and had no job lined up so with encouragement from family & friends, I set up a food stall at farmers markets and started selling my homemade Japanese cuisine.
How did you raise the start-up funds you needed?
I jumped into the food venture so quickly I didn’t raise start-up funds straight away. I had worked my way through college and used whatever money I had to buy second hand equipment. It was definitely a good way to test the market and it’s amazing what you can do with very little! But it’s not a good way to get where you want to really go long term – it was a real struggle and I felt a lot of pressure. Any money made from sales was going straight back in to buy ingredients and packaging for the following week. I got quite caught up in surviving week to week and the markets are very physically demanding. It was only when I took a step back from it all and made a plan of where I wanted to go with my business idea and what was needed to get there that I could move forward with confidence. Over the years I formed good relationships with the bank, the credit union and the local enterprise Board (Wicklow). I took out personal loans, then business development loans and also received capital grant funding from WCEB once my business plan had been completed and reviewed.
What was the most significant lesson you learned in starting your business?
The meaning of hard work!
What’s the best book you’ve ever read, business or non-business?
Nearly finished reading ‘Jack’ by Blaise Brosnan, very good and not preachy! Also liked ‘Women Mean Business’ by Rosemary Delaney.
Who is the entrepreneur you admire the most?
A controversial choice perhaps…but I’m a Michael O’Leary fan! He gets a lot of stick but I think he revolutionised air travel for Irish people and most of Europe. He opened up access to so many different locations and he’s a feisty character, challenging the status quo.
What have been the biggest challenges in your business to date?
Money…making it, getting it in, holding on to it! The retail arena is tough so there have been some stiff lessons there. It’s quite male dominated, margins are tight and outlets demanding.
What has been the proudest moment in your business so far?
In July 2011 we had a staff dinner as one member was leaving. I looked around the table, there were 10 of us. I just couldn’t believe the Oishii team had grown so much. 2 staff members are still with me from when we were in our first kitchen in Kilcoole and we were reminiscing about all the things that have happened over the years. It hit me then, how far we had come and I felt proud of myself and of everyone at that table.
Other proud moments are when previous staff keep in touch and tell me that it was such a positive work experience to have been a part of Oishii Foods. Also being a finalist in SFA’s Outstanding Small Business Award, winning the Wicklow Company Award, winning Image Magazine’s Young Businesswoman of the Year Award – all proud moments.
What was the best piece of business advice you ever got?
I have found Blaise Brosnan’s advice invaluable from attending his Management Development Course (also funded by WCEB). He stressed the importance of working smarter, not harder; the importance of having a good team of people around you – that if they’re not making you money or saving you money, they’re costing you money!!
Can you recommend a good time management technique for other entrepreneurs out there?
Not really, I have to say I’m not the greatest with time management! I live my life by the diary, if it’s not written down, it doesn’t get done. It works well for me but then, I always was a lover of lists…
What magazine do you never miss each month?
Shelf Life! Image or some girly mag if I’m in the hairdressers
What is your favourite film?
I’m not one for watching films a second time. Recently I thought ‘The Trip’ was quite funny.
What is your favourite ad?
It’s an oldie but never fails to bring a smile to my face – it’s the ‘big ad’ for Carlton Beer…Really like to recent Skoda ads on tv too.
What advice would you give aspiring entrepreneurs thinking of starting a business?
I would advise them to research the area they’re thinking of getting into. I found tools like SWOT analysis to be simple to do and effective. Use the resources available to small / start up business (e.g.: Enterprise Ireland, local Enterprise Boards, other relevant government agencies – Bord Bia & the Food Safety Authority are brilliant resources for food companies) and put it down on paper what you plan to do. It’s true what they say: ‘if you don’t know where you’re going, how are you going to get there?!’
I’d also say to aspiring entrepreneurs that if they really believe in their idea and have the stamina and enthusiasm to push it through to fruition – calculated risks are good so Go For It! If you don’t, you’ll never know what might have been…
What do you like to do when you’re not running your business?
I’m an absolute book worm – love to read :) Love the outdoors: camping, surfing, skiing. Also look forward to my mid-week get together with friends where we take turns to cook and have a catch up.
Have you found the self-employed formula for a work/life balance?
For a long time I admit I didn’t have a balance, and this would apply whether self employed or not. For the first 3 years of setting up and running Oishii Foods, I felt like I didn’t come up for air. It was like trying to do everything and as fast as possible, foot to the floor with hands gripping the wheel. I blinked and I was about to turn 30! I thought, I can’t go on like this, not seeing friends, making time for the people I love. When things went wrong in the business, my reserves were running low and often thought about packing it all in for an easier life.
You actually need work/ life balance to keep you robust, to keep you loving what you do and to have the energy to keep doing it! So when I got engaged to be married, I started to approach the business in a different way, to put people and structures in place so that it could cope with my absence for a few weeks while I was on honeymoon. This was definitely a turning point and made the different areas of the business more self sufficient rather than relying on me 24 / 7.
I have kept those structures in place and although not perfect (what is in a constantly changing environment?!), it allows me to work on a more flexible basis and also enjoy spending time with my family. It also allows me some head space to think about the business rather than getting bogged down with the day to day stuff all the time.
What’s your website?
Do you have a Facebook page?
Are you on Twitter?
I have actually never been on Twitter…
How has Wicklow CEB helped you and/or your business?
Wicklow CEB has been such a support in numerous ways over the last few years. Initially it was financial support and then when I was struggling with a period of rapid business growth, business mentoring services were offered and I benefited greatly from the sessions. Taking part of the Wicklow Enterprise Awards and winning the Company Award in 2009 was a huge boost for the business and as part of the prize I was lucky to receive further mentoring with Lisa Cunningham who is an inspirational and motivating person.
If you could start up all over again, would you do anything differently?
I’d probably say I’d do a million things differently! But then if I changed the route I took, the decisions made, the hard lessons learnt…maybe I wouldn’t be where I am today When you look back at where you started and how far you’ve come, all you can say is that you made the best decisions possible at that particular time.
Oishii Foods make high quality, authentic Japanese food products, offering customers a true taste of Japan. The word ‘oishii’ means delicious or tasty in Japanese!
Oishii Sushi products are currently available in over 80 retail outlets and delicatessans in and around Dublin. Launched in 2009, the Oishii Teriyaki Sauce is also fat free, and coming soon to the market is the Oishii Spring Roll range: Duck Hoi Sin, Chicken Satay & Ebi Sweet Chilli – oishii!