Having left school at 14, Robert Byrne had several unique and interesting careers, before putting together a Sensory Room for his autistic son, he put an image on social media and was blown away from the response of other parents wanting one in their house. After deciding to create a company, he stepped away from his job, but his employers Murray Medical decided to become investors from day 1. Now selling across Ireland and The UK and selling to the like of Daubi, Saudi Arabia and America Robert now has a plan to get a sensory room into everyschool in Ireland:
- What’s your background? How did you get to opening this business?
I’ve been working since i was 14.I left school early due to my dyslexia which wasn’t identified until several years later. I went through many different jobs, from working in restaurants to retail. But i was always big into horses. One day a former teacher called in to my mother, saying I had the perfect job for Robert working out with Conor Swall an International Show Jumper. I wanted to buy a horse in the yard, but I couldn’t afford it. So I started cleaning windows, cutting grass round my neighbourhood, and made £250 in one day. I built a great network over a couple of years and I ended up selling the business. Spent te money quickly and went back to square one. I then got a job in PC World in sales; I became the best sales person in Ireland and the Uk. I spent 9 years there, but didn’t like it at all. One November I was on the shop floor, and got a call from Murray Medical. I had applied for a job there 2 years previously. I went for the interview and spoke for 2 hours. At the end of it he said I’ll take a chance and I got the job. I started in Murray’s and did an evening course in mechanical engineering. I had a special needs child and I was renting.I wanted to put in a sensory room. I’d love to create a Ikea style sensory room and built a prototype. I put it together and it work very well. I posted it on Facebook and demand was huge. But it wasn’t a company yet. I gave my notice but Murray Medical ended up investing in the business and that was 6 years ago.
- What drove you to creating The Sensory Pod?
Having a child with sensory issues drove the business, I saw the effect it had on him and how this could impact other families. Since then I had another boy and I now own my house with a sensory room in it; it’s changed our lives and I want it to change others too.
- How long does it usually take between the initial interest to installation of the pod? What are some of the steps involved?
Depends who’s purchasing it. If it’s a School/University it’s generally 4 weeks between contact to installation. If it’s personal it could be shorter depending on how busy we are. It’s one size only but then you get to decide what goes in it.
- What would be some of your biggest markets in terms of businesses, education or selling abroad?
Export to 7 different countries. Biggest market is the middle east. Run some fantastic contacts in the Middle East. So far we’ve put Sensory Pods in some of the Fifa World Cup stadiums, Expo 2020, some of Shaka Mohamad buildings and several airports in the region to name a few.
- You sell a lot in the Middle East. How did this link begin, what are some of your favourite Pod’s out there?
I went looking for the business. I didn’t just want to find a partner, I wanted to find the right partner. We have a company called Superwire, Enzyme Medical, Reach Solution in Saudi Arabia. I spend a lot of time out there and manage the project myself. Takes a lot of work and everything needs to have red tape certificate – They call me the white arab
- What do you find best in terms of marketing? Have you done much in the way of social media or PR?
We have a full time marketing person, we do radio advertsand bit of TV. We’re very busy in terms of social media and encourage our customers to share our experience. We have 5K on Facebook, that we haven’t paid for but they’ve found us. We keep the market very tight.
- How has the pandemic affected the company? Were there any benefits of this time?
The pandemic was our busiest time ever for us. Everyone’s kids were at home so they needed additional needs in terms of sensory issues. Our business is seeing enormous growth and it didn’t really affect us.
- How did you go about building out your staff? Do you have any expansion plans for 2022?
I’m very fortunate in terms of staff. I partnered with Murray Medical, so I had a full team that I could call on and we now have about 30ish staff. We have huge expansion plans, enter into new markets and grow our team as well. Grow new products and services. We’ve partnered with NLN, partnered with Fresh Today and ensure that every school on the island has a sensory pod.
- What were some of the highlights of 2021?
I’ve now been out to Saudi Arabia so much I’ve become friends with the King of Saudi Arabia and we do business regularly. We hada room handstand at Expo in Daubi 2020 which was put back to 2021. In terms of partners, our partnership with Fresh Today is really exciting.
- Are there any other companies or organisations in the Diversity and Inclusion space in Ireland that you are a fan of?
David O’Caoimh and Nook Pod are great. Gearoid Kearney and My Access Hub. I love AsIAm and Safe Care ad their CEO Conor Quigley in Cork are great too.