WHEN his garden centre was ravaged by Storm Ophelia last October, a despairing Fin Hayes admits he spent six weeks “ready to pack in my business”.
The 22-year-old had built up his own garden centre in Macroom as well as a wholesale plant nursery in Aherla. When he was named Cork’s ‘Young Entrepreneur of the Year’ last year, it put the icing on the cake for this ambitious entrepreneur.
But ‘Fin’s Garden Centre’ and ‘Fin’s Nursery’ were badly damaged in what Met Eireann described as the most severe weather event to hit Ireland in 50 years, when Ophelia’s hurricane-strength winds of up to 175km swept through Cork last autumn.
Now, thanks to the kindness and encouragement of his family and the wider community, Fin is getting back on his feet and has launched a crowd-funding campaign. He hopes to raise €45,000 between February 1 and March 7 because his insurance company wouldn’t compensate him for the storm damage.
“That was another kick in the gut,” says Fin. “The insurers said that the only property covered for storm damage would be concrete structures.”
Fin and his employee, John O’Connor, had prepared in advance for Storm Ophelia.
“We spent the best part of a day and a half moving stock and sheltering stuff. In total, we had stock worth €70,000. Most of it was fine because we had taken precautions.
“We put water tanks under the structure, tying it down to secure it. When full, the two tanks can carry one and a half tonnes of water. But that didn’t help. The structure and the tanks were lifted by the wind.”
“When we went into the centre after the storm, the tanks had moved two and a half metres. The overhead canopy of the garden centre was destroyed. It was a metal structure with a thick PVC cover on it. The metal bent as if it were twigs.
“It was mainly the canopy and benches that got damaged. We lost a bit of stock, but not much, thankfully.”
Fin remembers watching the storm unleash itself on TV.
“I got a phone call halfway through that Monday from a neighbour to say that the garden centre was getting a fair battering,” he recalls.
At the wholesale nursery, one of the poly-tunnel greenhouses “just lifted out of the ground,”.
Fin adds: “It didn’t move very far. To get it back into the ground, we had to get in diggers and equipment.”
In the shop area of the garden centre, the door had to be replaced. Also, one of the windows smashed.
“At the moment, we’re doing our best to get back on track and to start repairing damage,” says Fin.
“Thankfully, we have very loyal customers. Some came in the week after the storm to help clean up. We had 160 offers of help. That gives you faith again. It lifted our spirits.”
Fin says that crowd-funding was suggested to him “10 or 15 times before I looked into it properly”.
He has designed a system that rewards customers with free coffee, discounts and member-only offers, in return for supporting his business in its hour of need.
As well as paying for repairing the damage, Fin plans to invest some of the money raised into his Sunday market.
“A lot of our customers have said they’re very happy that we’re crowd-funding,” he adds. “People won’t feel they’re giving money for nothing. They’ll get something in return.”
Fin’s Garden Centre means a lot to the local community. Some customers were in tears when they saw the storm damage.
“People come into the garden centre and socialise in the cafe. The cafe wasn’t too badly affected and is up and running.”
Fin, who was named ‘Young Entrepreneur’ of the year at the Cork Business Awards last year, has been gardening since he was a boy of eight.
“My grandfather in Berrings was a big gardener,” he says. “I was born into it really.
“I’ve been self-employed since I was 15 when I started with a small, 20ft x 10ft greenhouse in my home place in Berrings.
“I continued at school and after I did my Leaving Certificate, I spent a year studying horticulture at Colaiste Stiofán Naofa.
“Gardening is something I’ve always enjoyed doing. From a young age, I said I’d run my own company. Thankfully, I have a supportive family behind me to help me out.”
But nothing could have prepared Fin for Storm Ophelia, which had a red alert warning. He says that while the weather forecasting service from Met Eireann “was very good”, he adds: “I don’t think Irish people took it very seriously. We closed for the afternoon the day before the storm. People thought we were mad.”
What about future storms?
“That is something that will always be at the back of my mind. It could happen again.
“In terms of insurance, we learned our lesson. We just have to prepare for any future storms financially and do the ground-work. We’ll make sure to put money away for a rainy day.
“Realistically, to sustain the business, we’d have to go four or five years without having another bad storm.”
Fin says that from meeting with insurance companies, there is the perception “that the storms we hear of seem to be getting worse and worse. I think things are changing maybe faster than we realise.”
His green fingers had always served him well — until Storm Ophelia. But he is not going to lie down in the face of it.
“The fact that we grow a lot of our own stuff means we can grow a wider variety of plants. We have lots of different coloured unusual plants. Some of our flowers have polka dots and stripes.”
For the crowd-funding details, go to www.finsgardencentre.com or see Fins’s Garden Centre Facebook page.