It takes a matter of moments of speaking to Paul Lyons - the founder and owner of Bó Steel - to realise that this man has led a very interesting life and contains much more than you might expect of his forty years.
Having grown up in on his father’s farm in Ballyhaunis, Co. Mayo, Paul has always shown an interest in engineering, steelworks and mechanics. He was often found in the library, reading books on welding and manufacturing.
At just sixteen, Paul took up a summer job, welding for his neighbour - Richard Gallagher - who was constructing slatted sheds at the time.
Even then, Paul thought that design processes on-site could be better, he often thought about what could be done to make the work more efficient.
Later, Paul attended Dublin City University to study Mechanical Electrical Engineering and graduated to become an engineer on the line for a medical device factory in Galway. In the meantime, Paul had shown an interest in the FCA (Fórsa Cosanta Áitiúil) and had become a member of the Castlebar Infantry unit.
All these different experiences helped shape Paul’s path forward, although, he wasn’t 100% clear on where he was headed himself. “I was sitting at a desk of papers at work one day after coming back from a week's training with the FCA and thought, I can’t do this,” said Paul.
That was enough to make up his mind, so he decided that maybe the army was the best answer. Paul set about joining the army as a Cadet, but unfortunately, the fitness test proved too difficult.
At this point, Paul started working for himself, doing small jobs such as fixing gates and the occasional welding job.
A nine-month stint with Longford Architectural Metalwork followed and all the while, Paul continued to look towards the army for his career. This time his sights were set on the Ordnance Corps; this company looks after all the weapons, armour and ammunition.
The application was successful, and a delighted Paul started training with them in 2001.
During his seven years with the Ordnance Corps, Paul served abroad in countries such as Kosovo, Liberia, and other African countries. His engineering skills played an important role throughout this time and he would be the person put to task if there was a problem with weapons and artillery.
Paul added in a very casual tone that “there was a certain amount of bomb disposal as well”.
As you might not expect, Paul ended up working with the Swedish Army - The Nordic Battle Group - in an Irish unit based in Athlone.
Although Paul seemed to be living the life of an action-man, the thoughts of home were never far away. Settling down in Ireland became the thing that Paul wanted for his life.
Further offers of being stationed abroad no longer held the same appeal. The compromise of a year’s leave-of-absence proved to Paul that a change was the right decision, so he never went back.
Happy to have returned home, Paul started working for himself as LCI Engineering, making custom gates, but business wasn't doing as well as he had initially expected. Paul had picked the name in the hope of looking bigger than a one-man operation.
It was during a holiday in Japan that Paul thought of rebranding his business. Without any marketing experience, he really thought about his product and services and knew that he needed to relate to Irish farmers.
“That’s when Bó steel was born” Paul laughed. As much as he puts it down to luck, he quite liked the name and decided to go with it.
“The Bó Steel thing was almost out of frustration,” said Paul, as he explained that the demise of LCI Engineering was probably borne out of the recession, as a lot of the work had come from construction sites, along with creating house and farm gates.
Paul knew that the farmers were the people that were going to keep the business afloat. Although Bó Steel does still construct domestic interest gates, the market is hugely competitive.
The company’s first real product for the market was a bracket to hold a JFC drinking bowl, and it was suggested to him that Paul should contact John F Concannon - Managing Director - JFC Manufacturing Co. LTD. A connection was made, and they spent time learning about each other's businesses.
Paul still thanks JFC for giving him a great opportunity to connect. “I learned a lot from them, and it was great to do it,” said Paul.
It took just one farmer from Co. Wicklow to request a calving gate before there was a call for ten more in the first year. Now, a good spring season's calving could see Bó Steel sell two-hundred calving gates and that number is increasing all the time. The gates are now Bó Steel’s primary product.
Starting out from two-bay hay shed at home, the company has grown to employ eleven staff and has relocated to Loughrea, Co. Galway, where the company is currently based. Paul is driven by problem solution and relies on his customers for feedback to make the best product possible.
Paul enjoys showcasing his products at agricultural shows and the National Ploughing Championships where “people can kick and lift it and see for themselves what we have” he laughed. “That’s where the best feedback comes from, and that’s invaluable in business,” concluded Paul.
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