Quick success for new firm is child's play with Invest NI's help

Invest Northern Ireland has helped fledgling Ballynahinch company Garden Escapes to achieve significant growth and export success by supporting an investment of almost £100,000 over three years.

The company designs and manufactures innovative sound and multi-sensory outdoor play equipment aimed at the school, nursery and playground markets.

The investment enabled owner and first-time entrepreneur Richard Stuart to leave his previous employment and dedicate his efforts to the business on a full-time basis. As a result, the company tripled sales in the final quarter of 2007, and 70 per cent of turnover is now generated from outside Northern Ireland.

Mr Stuart, who established the company in January 2007 as a part-time venture, said: “It is now widely recognised that play is an important aspect of a child’s learning and development. While working in the playground industry, I identified a gap in the market for play equipment which stimulates a range of senses.

“I now design a range of products which provide an exciting environment and combine diverse audio, visual and tactile experiences, helping children to learn from, and positively respond to, their surroundings.

“Invest NI’s support was invaluable in helping me to grow the business and have the confidence to take it forward as a viable full time venture.

“Invest NI’s assistance has also enabled me to market Garden Escapes NI through an attractive website, promotional literature and attendance at trade shows. This helped me to quickly gain a foothold in the Great Britain and Republic of Ireland markets.

“In addition, improvements in manufacturing processes have significantly increased productivity which will enable us to take advantage of new export opportunities in Europe.”

Mark Bleakney, Invest NI’s Southern Regional Office Manager, said: “Garden Escapes is an excellent example of a first-time entrepreneur identifying a gap in the market and exploiting it. Mr Stuart is to be congratulated on turning an innovative part-time venture into a profitable and competitive full-time business. The company is making a valuable contribution to the local economy and is in a good position to continue its current growth.”

Mr Bleakney continued: “There is a wealth of untapped entrepreneurial talent in Northern Ireland. I would encourage anyone with a viable business idea to contact their nearest Invest NI Regional Office where they can access a range of practical advice and guidance.”