Future Proof: Aró Digital Strategy in the Gaeltacht

Triona Mac Giolla Rí and Alan Rowe were studying and working in the UK before moving back to Galway in 1991. At that time, finding employment proved difficult for Triona so she set up Triskele Design, a desktop publishing agency. Rowe worked as a consultant in Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) where he was exposed to the newly developing internet.

When DEC Galway closed, the couple began developing new business in the internet space and that business became a limited company in 1996.

“The internet was new, so it was an exciting time with lots of opportunities. We didn’t think too much about setting up the business but rather forged ahead,” Triona says. “They spotted a niche in the independent hotel market and made a significant difference to their client’s bottom line, when they started to invest in Aró’s strategies.

“Having a commission model linking their growth to our own made sense and formed the basis for our future growth plan. Their success guarantees ours,” she says.

Growth for Aró Digital Strategy – which is based in the Gaeltacht village of Furbo, outside Galway – has come in three cycles over the past 20 years. Starting with two people in 1996, the company grew quickly to employ 20 by 2000.

“Following the dot.com bubble burst, we subsequently dropped down to 15 staff. We worked very hard to keep at this number until 2003, choosing to focus on the travel and hotel industry.”

The company grew organically over the next four to five years and managed to hold on to its staff of 30 during the recession.

High-quality design

In Ireland, the company’s strongest competitors are booking engine providers that base their model on template websites. Aró differentiates through high-quality design with a strong service element.

“We invest time in building strong relationships to really understand our client’s business. Fundamentally, this leads to better success for our clients, which then leads to a better reputation and more opportunities.”

The need to cut staff during the dot.com burst made the team more cautious but it did mean they were better prepared for the recent recession.

“During the recession, many of our hotel customers went out of business and left us with bad debt but we didn’t have to make anyone redundant, which we are very pleased about.”

More recently, the significant drop in the value of sterling after the UK vote on Brexit meant the company had to put growth plans on hold. Forty per cent of Aró’s business is in the UK and the dramatic drop has had a negative impact on the business over the past 18 months.

“In 2015, we introduced a lean programme. While this was challenging and expensive to implement, it has put in place best practice as well as further developing a success-orientated culture in our company. A quality system was also introduced more recently.”

High-end bespoke design that excites and engages users is now central to Aró’s offering. “This differentiates our clients from the rest and leads to an increase in business – and of course customer satisfaction.”

Ballynahinch Castle in Connemara and London’s Cavendish Hotel have both been clients for many years. Others stretch further afield, including the upmarket Hotel D’Angleterre in Copenhagen.

Failure and strength

Triona’s advice to other businesses is to use time working with a variety of companies to learn new skills.

“Each failure makes you stronger. Learn from your mistakes and keep your focus on three key ingredients of success: 1. be the best at looking after your clients; 2. be the best at winning new clients; and 3. look after your staff.”

She says you need to bring your people along if you are going to succeed,

“Many of our staff have been with us for a long time. We’ve seen them meet partners, marry and have babies. We have worked with some through personal and family illness and struggles. Our team is very supportive of each other. If that means staying back to show someone how to approach a problem or picking up some work to free a colleague to do something else either business or personal or organising lunchtime yoga, it’s good for us all! Our team makes Aró a special place to work.”

Focusing on strengths and finding a solution to manage weakness as soon as possible is another word of advice from Mac Giolla Rí.

“We see the next five years as strong growth years and plan to double our business size during this period,” she says. “We’ve analysed our existing client base and identified the ideal profile of our most successful clients. Armed with this information, we have put a sales and marketing process in place to identify and win new suitable clients in our key markets that fit this profile.” aro.ie

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