Bó Steel has won a national design award for its unique suckler shed it built in Headford, Co. Galway.
The company is an agricultural engineering enterprise specialising in cattle handling solutions to help enhance safety on Irish farms for both farmers and animals.
The award formed part of the Irish Business Design Challenge 2021. Bó Steel, from Athenry, Co. Galway, was the joint winner in the small and medium category.
The competition is an initiative of Design & Crafts Council Ireland in partnership with Enterprise Ireland and the Local Enterprise Offices. It is supported by the Department of Enterprise, Trade & Employment.
According to Paul Lyons, Bó Steel’s founder and technical director, he found out about the competition from his local enterprise board.
Speaking to That’s Farming, he said:
“When I read the criteria for the competition, I realised that it is exactly what we have been doing with a project for our one customer, Sean McDonagh, a farmer from Headford.”
“We have been trying to innovate, trying to solve a few problems for him. Initially, we were sitting on the fence a bit. Was this a product we could offer? is this a once-off?”
“But, the more we got into it, the more we realised there was a need in the market for a bit more innovative thinking when it comes to farm construction.”
Paul adds that they believed they had done something of merit and wanted to see if they could get recognition for it.
“And at the same time, we thought we could get a bit of publicity out of it as well.”
Paul will invest their winning prize of €15,000 in R&D. The firm has earmarked an older on-site building which it is doing up and dedicating for this purpose.
“In the normal running of a business, it is not always possible to carve out funds for R&D.”
Elaborating about the shed itself, he says construction started in October 2020, and it was completed in March this year.
“Sean is a good customer of ours. He bought a number of products from us over a couple of years. I met him a few times, and he struck me as someone with good ideas. He really thinks them through.”
“Also, he has a lot of contact with farmers themselves, and they all talk. He had this idea for a shed, and at that time, we did not construct agricultural buildings.”
Paul says he initially refused the offer but eventually took on the project, building the structure and cattle-handling solutions.
It was important that everything in the shed as far as possible had to be able to be operated single-handedly.
“Furthermore, he needed to be safe. If he had an aggressive animal, there had to be exits or gates to protect him.”
“He has an ageing family. His father and mother are on the farm with him. If, for any reason, they entered the shed, they had to be safe. This all guided us through our design decisions.”
Regarding designs for the one-person farm, Paul says this has become more pertinent in the last ten years or so, especially with the shortage in farm labour.
“We have done it successfully for customers a few times. It just needs some careful planning.”
Safety is top of mind in all designs and work Bó Steel undertakes.
“I’ve seen and heard about my fair share of farm accidents. I suppose with growing up on a farm, you are always going to be embroiled in a few incidents, although, thankfully, nothing serious ever happened.”
“We tend to hear first-hand stories of near misses and tragedies. It really focuses the mind to try and improve your product or try and solve a problem.”
Paul says the design and construction of the shed really brought home the fact of what can be achieved with a bit of thinking outside of the box.
“Taking a standard feature and modifying it slightly, you get a totally different product. Something people can use safely; is simple to use and they are comfortable and happy with.”
Moreover, after the win, Bó Steel expects more custom construction to follow. They already have “quite a bit of interest for a few jobs”, Paul continues.
“Farmers normally come to us when the shed is in construction or already completed. But in the future, we will engage farmers from the beginning with the inception phase.”
Shedding more light on the win, Paul says what makes it special is that it is great for agriculture, more so because it is a farm shed.
“Agriculture often gets mentioned for all the wrong reasons. Hence, it is good that an award is given for something positive, and that is good for farm safety.
“It is a good news story for agriculture. We badly need one.”
Personally, Paul feels it is great to be recognised after starting the business in 2007 and building it up from scratch.
“We started in the recession. I have always tried to design new products, and it is just great to win something.”
Paul is from a farming background and has been involved in farmyard repairs and fabrication from a young age.
He studied mechanical engineering, whereafter he worked in the military as an engineer before founding Bó Steel.
In the last couple of years, he completed a master’s degree in innovation at the National University of Ireland Galway.
“It was actually focused on innovation in agriculture, which really resonated with me and has helped me immensely.”
The largest part of Bó Steel’s revenue comes from the sale of calving gates. This is followed by their division for structured steel for industry and construction.
The group’s focus is on growing the agricultural side of their business and product development.
As far as growth is concerned, Paul says their UK exports probably doubled this year.
“Because we are a small, agile company, we can quickly adapt our products to a different market if we need to, whereas a larger company may struggle.”
About 70% of the group’s revenue is earned locally. Other than the UK, it is also receiving interest in its products from Europe and as far afield as Australia.
Bó Steel also conducts business online, although it is mainly complementary. Paul says many of their products are quite large and not easy to sell online.
“But some of our smaller safety items like anti-backing bars and some gate hangers are sold there.”
“In an ideal world, we would like to sell more online, but farmers are very tactile. They like to see and feel the product before they buy. And they certainly like to speak to the person who made the product beforehand.”
Commenting on what he sees as key in running a successful business, Paul says it is important to listen to your customer. “Much of the thinking behind our design process is listening to the customer.”
As far as what he still wants to achieve with Bó Steel, Paul concludes: “We want to be market leaders in our field. This is one of the reasons I founded the company.”
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