Cheetah Electric Fencing was founded in 1973 by a young Jim George and his friend Des Keppel, who worked as an electronic engineer at Teagasc’s Oak Park Research Centre at the time. The pair designed and manufactured the first Cheetah electric fencer in their home town of Ballon. And to this day Cheetah remains the only Irish made mains electric fencer.
Thanks to the 1974 Irish Farmers Journal newspaper archives we can trace the beginning of the Cheetah brand, but it is Jim’s son and successor Padraic who updates us on the family’s business 48 years later.
“I remember when I was young there were people up in the attic of our house making and repairing fencers. Then we converted a shed in the yard to a workshop; which over the years became a factory.
“I did electronics in DCU and, about 15 years ago, I came back to the family business. My father started doing less; I started doing more and that was the transition,” Padraic explains.
Two traits which are fundamental to both Cheetah’s products and business reputation are reliability and consistency, he continues.
We started out with one fencer and then year by year, we built a range. That slow incremental growth was to ensure quality and reliability for every product
“Our business has been a consistent slow burner. We did not go from rags to riches overnight. We started out with one fencer and then year by year, we built a range. That slow incremental growth was to ensure quality and reliability for every product.”
Getting the balance right
Work-life balance was always prerogative to Jim – and Padraic now too advises that life shouldn’t be overrun by self-employment.
“Maybe looking back, my father could have taken bigger jumps with the business, but he had a good work-life balance. He had a family to look after too and decided to take things slow and steady. And he was right.”
Now I have to go fence cattle and sheep myself it keeps me grounded
Padraic works part time on his wife Brigid’s mixed sheep and beef farm too. This, he says, has been an eye-opening experience.
“Now I have to go fence cattle and sheep myself it keeps me grounded and shows that you cannot come up with these impractical ideas. When you are trudging around in the muck, you get to know what people want fairly quickly,” he explains.
Padraic also recalls his work experience in the US – independent from the family business – something he recommends to all aspiring entrepreneurs.
“I definitely think you need to work elsewhere. It broadens your horizons and lets you see how others do things. When I worked in America, I learned the importance of commercial business life; marketing, merchandising, promotion and sales – which I would never have at home. If you go away, you will be a more rounded business person coming back.”
My father was meticulous about quality, but there wasn’t enough emphasis on the retail end of things
During his time abroad Padraic also learned that business production and sales are of equal importance.
“My father was meticulous about quality, but there wasn’t enough emphasis on the retail end of things. Over the last 10 years we have really worked on that – traditional farm store sales, with online promotion – and there has been a huge jump in turnover as a result,” he says.
And from humble beginnings, this Carlow businessman advises that you remain just that; humble, no matter how well established you think your business is.
“After 30 years of going to the Ploughing, people still approach the stand and say, ‘Oh we didn’t know that Cheetah was Irish-made’. So don’t assume your work is done, that everybody knows you.”
Visit cheetah.ie to find your nearest stockist.