Cillían & Lisa Johnston are a husband and wife team who run their award winning business from the beautiful location of Roundwood, Co. Wicklow. A bespoke furniture manufacturer for over 20 years, Cillían has recently developed a diverse range of mirrors and lamps – more info on the “Aran Beag” lamps at the end of this blog post! Many thanks to both Lisa and Cillían for taking the time to talk to us in this month’s Enterprise Hot Seat.
What led you to starting your business?
Cillían: The wife, a boss going bust & a new Mortgage
How did you raise the start-up funds you needed?
Cillían: I was really lucky, I had been collecting tools over the years and somebody I knew was willing to rent me a workbench so I didn’t have to raise any money immediately. When I went looking for capital a year later to buy machinery and rent my own premises my bank balance looked like it was heading in the right direction, so the bank were happy to talk. Oddly enough they’ve been really good to us in the high and low times.
What was the most significant lesson you learned in starting your business?
Cillían: Just because the “experts” say you should do something doesn’t mean you should. Trust your gut. We got advice from a mentor to invest in a large workshop. We didn’t think the business was growing that fast even though it looked it on paper. So we decided to catch our breath and manage with what we had and we looked for something realistic that would grow within with us in our own time frame. When the recession came I was really relieved that we weren’t so over exposed.
What’s the best book you’ve ever read, business or non-business?
Cillían: How to build your own boat. I read for pleasure, I need to get away from work.
Lisa: The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success – Deepak Chopra. This book isn’t a book about business, but it’s really good for keeping your head and gives you some perspective. If I get a bit stressed I always go back to it.
Who is the entrepreneur you admire the most?
Cillían: That’s easy, Michael O’Leary, he’s just got balls.
Lisa: Never liked him before but recently I’ve begun to admire Bill Cullen, for him it’s simple as he just loves working and I admire him for that honesty…Cillían can’t believe I gave that answer, he wants it to be known that he is distancing himself from this.
What have been the biggest challenges in your business to date?
Cillían: Working with Lisa without throttling her…I’m getting better or maybe she is!
Lisa: Hmmm! Working with Cill…! No, there are challenges every day, big & small ones. Momentum is the challenge; we have weeks where we’re really on top and a lot of stuff gets done and then weeks that are absolute duds. Our real challenge is taking time out.
What has been the proudest moment in your business so far?
Both: By far winning the Best New Product at Showcase Ireland this year. To be awarded something by your peers really validates what you’re doing and is a great encouragement to work further with it.
What was the best piece of business advice you ever got?
Cillían: Still waiting for that one.
Can you recommend a good time management technique for other entrepreneurs out there?
Cillían: Not time management one, just a list on Sunday evening, it sets me right for the week.
Lisa: Get up early, there’s nobody emailing you at 5.00am. It’s the only peaceful time to think clearly.
What magazine do you never miss each month?
Cillían: I don’t read magazines.
Lisa: Me neither. We read stuff online. I get an odd girlie one if I’m in the mood for bubble gum reading though.
What is your favourite film?
Cillían: Lisa says I like romantic comedies I’m not sure I would agree… I’d like to watch Where Eagles Dare but Lisa makes a lot of noise when it comes on, it’s very distracting…
Lisa: Cillian makes noises at everything I watch (no joke). This will sound like I have crush on Jack Lemmon, but I love Some Like it Hot, Avanti and The Odd Couple. They’re just pure silliness!
What is your favourite ad?
Cillían: It’s still the best, the Cadbury Gorilla!
Lisa: The Irish Pride bread ad on the radio is kind of good in a weird way. It sounds a bit creepy at the beginning but by the end when all the voices come together I do feel like having a slice of toast. That’s good advertising if it swings you over.
What advice would you give aspiring entrepreneurs thinking of starting a business?
Cillían: Marry someone who can do half your work for you, they’re nearly always willing… a gin usually works!
Lisa: I should have listened to my father and married a rich farmer with a delicate heart.
What do you like to do when you’re not running your business?
Have you found the self-employed formula for a work/life balance?
Cillían: Still working on that one, we’re never switched off. But I’d have to say the best way to stop thinking about work is our children – they can catch you in a moment and thankfully we can put everything down to be with them.
What’s your website?
Do you have a Facebook page?
Please give it a like! http://www.facebook.com/cillianjohnston
Are you on Twitter?
Oh big sin…no!
How has Wicklow CEB helped you and/or your business?
Cillían: The Wicklow CEB have been really supportive, they brought us to Showcase under the enterprise stand. We’ve attended a lot of workshops lately which have been really helpful. and they’re always there to talk to. They’re very much behind us in where we want to go with our products.
If you could start up all over again, would you do anything differently?
Lisa: There are lots of things we could have done differently, I think along the way the results would have been much the same. We’re the type of people who can only do what we’re comfortable with and ready to do. It has to be right for us at the time wither it’s a good decision or not.
“Aran Beag” (Little Aran) is the name of a new range of wood crafted products from the Cillían Johnston Furniture company. Cillían has incorporated a soft woollen knitted sleeve into each design; a modern contemporary use of an ancient craft to warm today’s home. These lamps are crafted from Irish Oak felled in the Kilruddery Estate in County Wicklow, Ireland. The oak is naturally felled and carefully prepared with minimum processing by the time it arrives at our workshop. The knitted yarn is then carefully chosen to suit the lamp design.As in the past when Aran Cable stitch was used to identify families so too does the knitted Aran cable distinguish one lamp range from another.