Joe and Carmel O’Brien in one of their Room Outdoors constructions at their home in Lisnagry Picture: Dave Gaynor
Tell us a little about Room Outdoors:
Joe O’Brien: Room Outdoors was born out of necessity really. We are offering very bespoke, contemporary covered solutions to your barbecue and patio area. I farm at my home in Lisnagry, and days were often spent outside baling silage, hay or whatever, and not having to have an opportunity to have a barbecue.
We build aluminium framing, poly-carbonate roofing, or glass roofing. We can take it a step further and make it into a complete glass garden room, so you have maximum light, maximum views, no intrusions of walls or anything like this.
It’s a very vast system to build -but can take from just two days to a week to construct. Based in Lisnagry, the company is run by myself and my wife Carmel.
Where did the idea for the business come from?
Carmel O’Brien: We were tired of waiting for the barbecue which could only start at seven o’clock at night when Joe had finished work. You wanted to be outside - the sun was still up, but it was too windy to be outside. So now we have a system where a barbecue can be used indoors.
What do your own roles entail?
Joe: It’s a 50/50 effort really. I would handle sales, quotations, meeting clients and visiting on-site, and also oversee the construction myself with our staff. That’s my end of it, whereas Carmel would look after the marketing and social media of the business.
Carmel: The Limerick Enterprise Office have given me great ideas on that. They have helped train me on it. It’s okay to do social media for yourself, but when you’re doing it for business, it’s different. So we’re using that as a platform.
Where were you born and raised?
Joe: I am born and bred in Lisnagry, and there are four generations of O’Briens now. I was raised on a farm, looking after cows. I always had construction skills, so setting up this company was a natural progression.
Necessity compels the person. We found a product, we could see its potential. It was fantastic for the Irish weather. So we just thought let’s go for it.
Carmel: I was born in Thurles, and moved to Limerick at a young age. I was working with the Ivernia West mining company as secretary.
What is your educational background?
Joe: I completed my Leaving Cert at secondary school in Newport and qualified in agriculture at the Salesians College in Pallaskenry.
Carmel: I did a secretarial course in Limerick when I was 18. As I said I moved to Ivernia West as a secretary. They were taken over by a South African firm. So then I moved and went into construction.
Then I had three children so I stayed at home and set up a childminding service. Then my own children grew up, so I was looking for something else which led me to this company.
How did you get to where you are today?
Joe: After I graduated, I was farming at home with my father, who sadly passed away. I always had construction skills on my side.
I ran a property management company and signage business in Limerick city, as well as done some work in Dublin, Kildare, Cork and Galway.
But the recession hit and that all stopped. Farming kept me going, but I was always leaning towards getting back into something a bit different, hence this came along. The rest is history.
Why did you decide to start your own company?
Carmel: I wanted to do something that I could work around my family life. Farming takes up a lot of Joe’s time so a lot of day-to-day stuff falls back on me. I need to be at the kids’ beck and call, to be their taxi driver!
I needed something I could get involved in part-time so I could get involved in something else. The idea of being able to work in bookkeeping area suited me best.
What are your goals for the next 12 months?
Carmel: In 12 months, I would hope we would be fully nationwide. At the moment, the Munster area is what we have. We cannot bite off more than we can chew. We want to build it slowly and grow organically. If we were to go nationwide, we could create up to ten jobs on a contract basis.
Joe: We know there is a commercial side too. We know there are areas waiting to be tapped but we are just taking time to develop it, and look at more closely. There are definitely exciting times in the next 12 months - it’s just about the time to get it all done! We are looking at six to eight high-end dealers to link up with.
In business and life, who do you admire?
Joe: Michael O'Leary, without a doubt. He is brash, out there, he is opinionated, but gets on with it. He doesn’t believe in gently minding people - he delivers his approach, and that’s it. He is forward and brash.
Carmel: I’d have a softer approach! There is no-one I’d look up to in particular!
Are you guided by any particular motto?
Carmel: “Live every day, because tomorrow is not guaranteed to anybody”.
Joe: “Work hard and play hard”. “Don’t be waiting for things to happen - get out there and take your chances.”
Away from work, what are your pastimes and hobbies?
Carmel: I like to go for a run - that’s about it really. We obviously enjoy following the GAA too.
Joe: My time out is spent baking and cooking. Sunday is my day to treat the family. That’s my hobby, that’s my passion.