Ballinamore is a beautiful town surrounded by 40 or so of Leitrims 140 lakes and mountains.
It has a canal running through it that sees the bustle of boats during the spring and summer … and is always a wonderful place to wander.
Our population is under 1000 people and we seem to be playing waaaay above our weight when it comes to entrepreneurs.
I’ve lived here for nearly 2 years and have met many many great people. Some of them are developing very interesting small businesses.
We have an ice cream maker … a confectioner … a sustainable energy consultancy … a wine bar … musicians … artists … wood workers … web designers … and more.
I thought it would be a great idea to interview them and tell their stories.
Along the way I’ll also get to eat chocolate, ice cream, and cakes … learn more about sustainable energy … drink some wine …
What’s not to like?
I am passionate about Ballinamore … it’s people and it’s potential.
This community will thrive on the work and enterprise of small businesses.
Ballinamore has an interesting mix of local born people and people like me who moved here … people who want a certain quality of life that involves doing work they love and feeling like part of a community.
That’s what Ballinamore is … a place where you work to live not vice versa.
I will be doing an interview every month and if you have any questions or suggestions please leave a comment.
August Ballinamore Entrepreneur – Sharon Sweeny – Cannaboe Confectionery
‘I’ve grown up here and I am extremely happy to have been able to watch my family and business grow here also.’ Sharon Sweeney.
I had the pleasure of chatting with Sharon Sweeney (Cannaboe Confectionery) during the week about her business.
Sharon was born and reared in Ballinamore.
Cannaboe Confectionery is a delight.
Sharon’s husband Alan bakes the cakes and Sharon does the truly artistic design.
Sharon says Alan has a great eye and that helps with the ‘engineering’ aspects of some of the cakes.
That would make sense as Alan worked for Smith’s Monumental for 22 years.
And when they aren’t flat out creating edible sculpture (yum … cake and creativity all in one) for weddings, birthdays, xmas, communions … they also make the best chocolates I’ve ever tasted.
So … how did it all start?
Like most good enterprises, Sharon’s business evolved from a passion.
Sharon was the only person doing Art for her Leaving Cert … and to make it more interesting … there wasn’t an art teacher … how did she learn?
She took a book on art from the library and taught herself (so … there’s a few entrepreneurial skills … initiative and persistence) and got a B … even when she ignored the theory question and wrote about a completely different art era (there’s another skill folks … ignoring the rules and finding a new solution).
She worked for many years in the Law Library Dublin and loved it.
Somewhere around 2000 Sharon did a night class on Art and Sugar Craft in Enniskillen.
She was hooked and later did a City and Guilds Sugar Craft course … and the rest as they say … is cake and chocolates.
Sharon worked part time in our Credit Union (great place … and the women working at the counter are a delight.) and sold her edible delights to friends and family.
In 2002 she and Alan built premises on the side of their home … a great investment according to Sharon as it meant she could mind the kids and also be doing the work.
In 2004 Sharon went fulltime into Cannaboe Confectionery.
Now before I chatted with Sharon I’d thought that cake was just cake.
I do love when my perceptions are challenged … keeps me on my toes.
Sharon showed me a pile of photos of her creations … and I was so impressed I’ve asked her to design all the cakes for my birthday celebrations next year.
Sharon’s creations have been recognised by other people and organisations.
Here are a few of her recent achievements:
- She designed Michael O’Leary’s wedding cake.
- A Bridgestone Award from John & Sally McKenna.
- 2008 County Leitrim Enterprise manufacturer of the Year.
I was impressed by Sharon’s focus on customer service (something we all talk about and rarely get in many parts of our lives).
She has been known to drive to Donegal, Tralee and places even further away … to deliver her cakes.
Sharon is a perfectionist.
She takes a kind of cake emergency medical kit to wedding and other celebration venues … and will do emergency fixes if there are any minor marks on the cake from travel.
Sharon is very keen to keep expanding her skills and does training every year in areas of confectionery and design.
In November last year she did a model making course and I could see the difference.
She will create figures of the bride and groom (with their actual outfits) to stand resplendent on the wedding cake.
My fave bride and groom are these 2 Gardai in their car … instead of standing on the top of the cake.
Although the standing couples also look fab.
And did I mention the chocolate cakes … oh yeh!
And then there’s the classic and elegant cake.
One design that Sharon created involved taking a sample of the brides lace and then recreating it on her wedding cake.
The design that made me croon was this christening cake …. ooohhh.
And if that doesn’t do it for you then there’s all these designs on Sharon’s Flickr site … she set it up straight after I had mentioned how easy Flickr is to use during our chat.
As I was leaving Sharon gave me a selection of her chocolates … more than yum.
My family and friends will be getting chocs from Cannaboe for Xmas.
The ones I tasted were:
The milk choc – one filled with an orange flavoured ganache and the other a whiskey or brandy (whatever is handy) ganache.
The white choc – one filled with a Irish cream liquour ganache and the other a coffee and whiskey ganache (I call it an Irish coffee flavour).
The dark choc – one with a mint fondant and the other a rum ganache with a raisin. The chocolate itself is Belgian.
If your mouth isn’t watering … your probably dead.
I’ll add the prices at the end of this post … folks … really do yourself a favour and get your hands on these chocs.
Sharon had to leave to meet with a client so I emailed her a few more questions … here are her replies.
What are the challenges in running your business?
I find that the challenges are having enough hours in the day for business while still finding the time for the kids.
What delights you about running your own business?
Getting a call from a bride the day after a wedding to say how much they loved their wedding cake. One bride dropped in to say thanks on the way to her honeymoon.
Dealing direct with customers and designing something with them.
I love markets.
How important is your relationship with the client?
I would put my relationship with our customers as key in the business.
When I deal with a new customer I tend to spend quite a while communicating with them either by phone or email.
If its a birthday cake order I try to get a little information about the person the cake is for. This gives me an idea of their interests and I can bring this into the cake.
Addition from Liz … Sharon’s emphasis on client delight is really impressive and can be seen in both the end result and the huge number of return customers.
I mentioned to a friend that I had interviewed Sharon … Mary said that they always get cakes from Sharon for every celebration in their family.
How do you promote and market your business? Would you like to expand the marketing of your business?
Cannaboe is promoted and marketed by placing adverts in the local papers when they have wedding features.
I attend all the local wedding fairs every year.
The website and blog does a lot of the work also and word of mouth is really the best advertisement. We get a lot of return business.
Cannaboe Confectionery has joined a Professional Wedding Circle which is made up of a group of like minded professionals providing wedding services. www.professionalweddingcircle.com
Have you received any funding from agencies or mentoring support?
We got funding from Leitrim Partnership (brochure years ago) and when we built our production unit Leitrim Co Enterprise Board helped us out there.
We also received mentoring from Leitrim Co Enterprise Board in chocolate making, finance, blog design and business skills in general.
Do you feel that there is an optimal size to your business – is it fine as it is or do you want to grow it further?
The business keeps us quite busy during the wedding season which is stretching a little every year.
I try to keep up with any changes in the wedding cake sector and upskill if I need to.
We can grow further and will in the future.
Any plans for new products or promotion in the future?
We have dabbled in cupcakes recently and I would love to have you try our delicious carrot cupcakes. They are toooo nice.
Liz addition – I’ve offered to be Official Taster of any new cakes and chocs … tough job … but I’ll do anything to support local enterprise!
Tell me more about the chocolate side of the business … how did it start? How do you sell it – by orders or through retail?
The chocolate side of the business started when I did a course on chocolate wedding cakes.
A few year ago brides starting asking about these type of cakes so to keep up with the trends I did a course.
The guy giving the course had another the following week called ‘chocolate wedding favours’. I decided to do this course too and got totally caught up in messy but delicious chocolate making.
I sell the chocolate at our premises.
I supply brides with chocolate favours for their wedding day. It’s normally two in a box with the name of the bride and groom on top.
You are a great example of a woman who started a business built around a passion and a skill. What advice would you give other women thinking of turning an interest into a paying business?
If I was to give advice to any other woman starting a business it would be to know your product and also know what your customer wants.
There is no point providing a product no one wants just because you think its great.
Be prepared to fail an odd time but be prepared to enjoy the satisfaction of working for yourself and providing an excellent product or service your customers can enjoy.
What 3 or 4 skills/traits do you think a person needs to be a successful entrepreneur?
I think you must believe passionately in both yourself and your product or service.
You have to be very committed and determined.
You need an open mind and you need to be able to develop your ideas.
You can’t wait for things to happen.
Make goals and aim to reach them.
Last words from Liz.
It was a real pleasure chatting with Sharon and I’m very impressed with her creativity and initiative …as well as her focus on customer delight (that’s going beyond basic customer service)
I’m passionate about Ballinamore and believe that enterprising people not only build a community economically … but also creatively. They are ‘can do’ kind of people and tend to be very solution focused.
That’s what communities need … in good times and not so good.
Sharon makes the chocolates up in boxes of 6, 12, 18, and 24. The box of 24 costs 20 euro. The box of 18 costs 15 euro, the box of 12 costs 10 euro and the box of 6 costs 5 euro.
Important note – Sharon can make as many chocs as needed because they are truly Hand Made (not like factory ‘hand made’ chocs) and she can also change the flavours to meet a customers needs.
Me? I see a lot of chocolate moments coming on ...
Many thanks to Sharon for giving her time to do this interview and answer all my questions … and … for developing such a creative and tasty enterprise.
Here’s to many many successful years of cake and chocolates.