Cross Border Tax Advice | Meet Enda Byrne and MJ Lomax
The story surrounding the rapid growth of Carlow Concrete, part of the Burren Precast Group is exceptional. Recognised as a high potential start up by Enterprise Ireland, company founders Enda Byrne and MJ Lomax, won the National Enterprise Award for best export in 2018.
Founded in 2016, Carlow Concrete have just moved into their third year in business. Exceeding their own expectations for growth they achieved sales of more than €5m in their second year of trading. Beating their own personal best in the last tax year with €7m turnover, they have achieved high growth status in record time.
The Carlow Concrete brand took the UK Water market by storm with a range of innovative precast solutions in storm water attenuation and waste water storage solutions.
But innovations haven’t stopped there. This year they have turned their attention to the housing crisis in Ireland. The modular housing solution they have developed has been described as a game changer for the residential market.
I interviewed Enda Byrne for our Client Profile feature. As a client company trading in the UK they represent the importance of how tax consultancy on cross border trade can help meet business objectives.
On-Site at Carlow Concrete in Garryhill, Co Carlow, Ireland
I met Enda Byrne on-site at their factory in Garryhill. While waiting I watched articulated lorries roll out of the factory with what looked to be the side of a house as their cargo.
The yards surrounding the office were filled with precast u-shaped structures. Enda explained that they don’t hold stock but these megalithic structures were in fact part of a pre-order for an attenuation tank. Each unit was optimally designed and stacked to make the best use of the limited space available on road and sea freight. Immediately their reputation for economies in production became apparent.
Taking The UK Water Market By Storm
We started our client feature by discussing their entry into the UK market. In just two short years, Carlow Concrete has developed a name and reputation in the UK for the design, production and installation of large scale storm water attenuation tanks. These are large, holding tanks for storm water that are placed on housing estates and satisfy mandatory Sustainable Urban Drainage (SUDS) requirements.
Enda explained the difference between storm water attenuation tanks and flood alleviation solutions. ‘Flood alleviation tanks work on the same principle but on a much larger scale and are commissioned not to provide solutions for residential estates but for towns and cities.’
To date Carlow Concrete have completed over 190 water projects for companies such as Yorkshire Water, Northumbrian Water, Severn Trent and Southern Water.
Burren Precast Group are involved in the development of some of the largest infrastructural projects in the UK. Their first project was the design, build and installation of a large storm water tank at Whitby Bay in early 2016.
The demand continues to grow as Carlow Concrete move into the delivery of capital projects and the provision of waste water and water treatment infrastructure solutions at national level. With rainfall decreasing and becoming more erratic, there is an increased focus in the UK to provide for the treatment of clean water, or potable water as it’s called. Negotiations are underway with local councils for the development of clean water reservoirs.
New Technology to Help Solve the Irish Housing Crisis
Carlow Concrete has now turned their talent for innovation towards the domestic housing crisis. They have engineered a cost effective and quick-to-install solution for the current housing shortage that introduces new technology to the construction industry.
Hybrid Modular Building System
Enda described the process. ‘For the past three years I’ve been working on developing a modular system for residential housing. Our hybrid building system consists of structurally insulated panels. The wall panels are comprised of a light gauge steel internal framework, a panelised wall system, with external cladding and an insulated core all combined in one single panel. These panels interlock and are joined up with intermediate floors and roof structures that are also made in a similar way.
The light gauge steel we use in the process is very new both to Ireland and to the residential construction industry. Likewise the connecting systems we use to bring everything together is also very different. We use a combination of technologies from New Zealand, Australia, the US and our own technology to design a very unique product.’
Although Carlow Concrete have developed a reputation for excellence with their precast products, the hybrid building system for the residential market can’t be described as a traditional precast nor would it fit the definition of pre-fabricated as understood in common usage.
From Pre-Fabricated to Pre-Cast to Hybrid Modular Design
Enda explained, ‘pre-fabricated buildings have historically been viewed as inferior. They are seen as cheap, substandard structures with a short life span. What we have developed is a housing system that to the untrained eye, looks identical to a conventional build or a traditional building. With our patent pending technology, modular construction or pre-fabricated construction can be delivered to a very high specification with long product life cycles’.
We took a walk on the factory floor and the sheer scale of the operation and streamlined engineering process is impressive. Wall panels for the modular houses were being constructed. Light gauge steel panels were being assembled on massive assembly tables. Within the wall panel openings for vents, doors, windows, lifting apparatus and joints were incorporated. Highly efficient insulation was fitted to provide a thermal layer. Enda demonstrated how a massive hydraulic press raised the completed panel into an upright position, ready to be lifted onto one of the articulated lorries I had seen leaving the factory earlier that morning.
Barriers to Building Homes
Without doubt, the current housing crisis is getting a lot of media attention. The estimated number of homes needed to meet that shortage is estimated to be in the region of build between 30-40,000 houses. I asked Enda, what are the barriers that are preventing progress being made?
‘Innovation within the housing sector is very slow. There are a lot of barriers for new systems and these barriers are there for a good reason. Mostly because so many of those new systems have failed. In particular a lot of them would have been too lean or focused on being a little bit too cheap to pass stringent regulations.’
Enda explained, ‘we asked the question, what is the crisis? Is it cost? Or is it actually just getting homes on the ground? So our initial focus was on speed of build. Then we looked at how we could make the production of that system more efficient and in doing so bring down the production costs.’
Cost Certainty for Clients Whatever the Weather
In contrast to the uncertainty surrounding land costs, planning issues and extreme weather, Enda explained, ‘when it comes to building and delivery of our final product, we can give our clients cost certainty. There are very few variables. That’s rare in the construction industry. If you are building in Ireland or the UK, you’ll always fall victim to the weather. We had a big project in Birmingham at the start of March 2018. There was a lot of snow on the ground and a lot of people in construction were staying home because they couldn’t work but our site was still active.
Efficiencies Start At Factory Level
Because 90% of the project is carried out in the factory environment, once you can manage the factory properly we can gain greater efficiencies. Also, the speed of installation on site is also very important and we can have a modular home built in just four days.’
Benefits of Modular Housing
I asked Enda to highlight the benefits of building homes using their hybrid building system over a traditional build. He focused in on five key areas.
LOW CONSTRUCTION COSTS
ON SITE HEALTH & SAFETY BENEFITS
REGID ADHERENCE TO BUILDING REGULATION COMPLIANCE
HIGH THERMAL EFFICIENCY
The Keys to Success
With so much success already under their belt I thought it would be beneficial for other businesses to understand what Carlow Concrete believed were the key factors that contributed to their success.
#Get It Right
Confine yourself initially to what you’re good at. Don’t try to expand too quickly. Whilst Enda agreed that the Burren Precast Group has expanded extremely quickly he points out the importance of confining oneself to what you’re good at when starting out. The key, he said, is ‘to get it right’.
#Be Better Than Everyone Else
Deliver a very good level of service and just be better than everyone else.
#Build Sustainable Relationships
Remember it needs to work for everybody, including your supply chain and never forget that. Supply chain is vital. When it comes to supply chain, the cheapest price isn’t always the best option. Focus on building sustainable relationships.
Advice for Irish Start-Ups
It’s often quoted that up to 80% of start-ups fail to make break even within the first few years of business and up to 80% don’t make it past their fifth year in business. So, I asked Enda what advice he would give to Irish start-ups. He brought it down to three key areas.
#1 Research, Research, Research
Firstly, focus on the importance of research at every phase of start-up. Research your product, your customers and your route to market.
#2 Design Led Solutions
Secondly focus on design. ‘You don’t necessarily have to design a new product, nor do you have to invent something new. You can take what is already there and perfect it. The key attributes behind the success of our brand are design led solutions, quality production and rapid installation.’
#3 Ask Questions Others Don’t Ask
Thirdly, focus on getting your message out there. ‘We are very involved with a number of technical forums. We are strong believers in sitting down with clients and asking them what do you need? Where has everyone else fallen down? Doing that level of market research with your clients and staying in constant contact with your clients is another attribute behind our success.’
How Did Your Relationship Start with Lalor O’Shea McQuillan?
I explained to Enda that I was new to the firm and I was curious about how the relationship started with the firm. ‘MJ knew John O’Shea. Because we are involved in the UK market our group structure had to also have a UK based company. We needed consultancy that could do cross border work, and there aren’t that many firms out there that are well in tune with both Irish and UK legislation and tax law. We found Lalor O’Shea McQuillan to be a fountain of knowledge and we are really happy with the work they do.
What’s Next for Carlow Concrete
Right now Carlow Concrete are rolling out the production plan and getting the approvals in place for both Ireland and the UK. With their first contract agreed, they have started the construction of 198 social and affordable homes in Carlow. The building of 60 homes is already underway and a further 138 homes are planned to be built next year.
The short-term plan is to deliver a thousand homes per year. That would break down to twenty new homes per week at factory level.
Looking further afield, there is an opportunity for Carlow Concrete to cross sell to some of their existing customers in the UK. Plus plans are underway to open a sales office in Brussels within the next two years and bring modular homes to markets in Belgium, Holland, Germany and France.