New £9m Carn coldstore will mark evolution for Patrick and DRT

The EY Entrepreneur of the Year gala awards take place in Dublin on November 21. This year, five Northern Ireland- based entrepreneurs are listed among the 24 finalists. In first in a series of profiles on the local quintet, we chat to Patrick Derry of Derry Refrigerated Transport in Craigavon

Patrick Derry

The EY Entrepreneur of the Year Gala Awards take place in Dublin on November 21. This year, five Northern Ireland- based entrepreneurs are listed among the 24 finalists. In first in a series of profiles on the local quintet, we chat to Patrick Derry of Derry Refrigerated Transport in Craigavon

PATRICK Derry is managing director of DRT (NI) Ltd, a leading food storage and distribution company based outside Portadown, supplying all major food service and wholesalers in Ireland.

He grew up experiencing the buzz of buying and selling in the Belfast fruit market. He left school at 15 to work full time in the markets, and by the age of 19 he identified an opening in distribution, with larger UK supermarkets replacing the conventional food markets.

Today his company is one of the major distributors of fresh and frozen goods on the island, boasting a fleet of 70 lorries, along with 127 fridges and 200 staff.

Brexit presents its own challenges, but the acquisition of a majority shareholding in Brennan Transport in Co Waterford two years ago has seen the company go from strength to strength and give customers the reassurance that any challenges can be overcome.

This month DRT will open the first phase of its £9 million investment in a state of the art coldstore at Carn, which will create 50 jobs and cement DRT’s position as one of the leading distributors of chilled and frozen food on the island of Ireland. Goods will be dispatched daily to end users in Ireland and the rest of Europe. It's the first facility of its kind in Ireland and represents the next evolution for DRT.

1 What vision/lightbulb moment prompted you to start-up in business?

After spending my teenage years in Belfast fruit market it was clear by 1999, when I was 19 years old, that UK supermarkets had established themselves in Northern Ireland, slowly squeezing out the middle man at the market stalls. Recognising this progression I seized an opportunity to transport goods from the producers to the supermarkets having gained vast experience dealing with those key players in the food chain.

2 What is your greatest business achievement to date?

By far the new Carn coldstore, which is near completion. It is a big investment for the company but one that sees us slightly diversify the business and will allow us to offer more value to our customers.

This coldstore will change not only the way we do business but how we can service our customers. It has the added advantage of bringing new jobs to the area and assisting the local economy.

3 What was your "back-to-the-wall" moment and how did you overcome it?

In 2012, the company owed a substantial amount of money, the future wasn’t looking very bright and there were difficult choices ahead including the possibility of the company going to the wall.

That wasn’t a decision that I was going to take for me or my company. We talked to our suppliers, we brought on new customers, we expanded and honesty and hard work paid off as the money was recuperated and our business has since trebled as a result.

4 How will your market look in three years and where would you like your business to be?

As the food market continues to grow, we intend to grow with it. In three years, we will plan to open phase two of Carn Coldstore and have a cold store located in Dublin.

The transport and food industry are growing rapidly and technology will be a key player in streamlining efficiencies and we intend to be at the forefront of that movement.

5 How has Brexit impacted your business? Are you still feeling the effects?

In the first quarter we saw some customers react to Brexit and its effect with orders slowing, however in the second quarter we have seen surprising little effect. The unknown and thus the uncertainty is the single biggest issue we are dealing with when it comes to Brexit. The fact that we are located in County Armagh and have a location in Waterford has given our customers some certainty and thus confidence in our ability to move forward through Brexit and its effects.

6 What motivates you to keep performing at your best?

My family. My wife Fiona is instrumental in the business and someone who I rely on each and every day. She is a qualified solicitor and is originally from Leixlip in Co. Kildare. When I first met Fiona I had a small number of lorries, and she has been a constant source of sound advice as I have pushed the business forward, particularly south of the country, and this has become even more relevant in recent years with the uncertainties that Brexit has raised.

We have three children, Rachel (8), Daniel (6) and Thomas (2), and it’s important to me that I create a legacy for them.

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