There are not too many indigenous companies operating in the West of Ireland who can count the dotcom bubble of the 1990s and the global financial crisis in 2007 among the challenges they have overcome during almost 40 years in existence – but retail technology firm CBE can do just that.
Indeed, CBE’s consistent success in the ever-changing world of retail payments technology suggests that this business situated at the heart of the Atlantic Economic Corridor is well placed to thrive for another 40 years.
Based in Claremorris, Co Mayo, CBE is one of Europe’s leading innovators in retail technology, serving the supermarket, convenience, forecourt and hospitality sectors. It has a staff of almost 150 people, having started out with just three in 1980.
“In the early days we were just buying third-party software from UK suppliers,” says Sean Kenna, chief executive of CBE. “But it didn’t fit all customer requirements, so we decided to set up our own software development company in 1995.”
CBE is now a one-stop shop for anything to do with retail technology. Every day, shoppers throughout the UK and Ireland routinely use their products when making purchases at cash registers, self-checkouts or card readers in local shops, supermarkets, restaurants, bars, hotels and a host of other outlets.
“We take on all the various areas around the technology of a retail unit – development of the software, supply of the hardware, project management, training, on-field support, consultancy and ongoing software support. We like to come in at the start and offer a complete partnership approach.”
The company employs 146 people between its offices in Ireland and the UK, with 70 percent of them based in head office in Claremorris. Recruitment of additional sales staff and software developers should see staff numbers rise to 150 soon.
Sean joined CBE as a sales rep in 1980 and was its managing director for 15 years before becoming CEO in late 2016 – after company founder and chairman Gerry Concannon stepped back from the role.
Claremorris was initially selected as the location for CBE because it was well positioned for a company aiming to drive sales across Connacht, but the town has continued to serve CBE well even after its business horizons took on global dimensions.
The opening of Knock Airport in 1985 – as well as its ongoing expansion ever since – was a major boon for the company as it built its UK operations and motorway access to Dublin has also been a benefit.
“Then, Claremorris was one of the first towns to get high-speed fibreoptic which meant we could expand our support hub here and not have to move to a bigger centre,” Sean says. “We have over 30,000 terminals that we support every day, so we need very fast communications infrastructure.”
During the dotcom era it could be difficult to attract staff as software developers were drawn to the cities, and it took tenacity to negotiate the financial crisis. A determination to retain staff through that difficult time paid dividends. “When the recovery came around, we didn’t have to recruit or retrain. We had some very high calibre people ready to hit the ground running,” Sean says.
Fast forward to 2019 and CBE is well established in its main markets of the UK and Ireland. It also has a nationwide contract with KFC in Denmark and is increasing its reach through consultancy services in Europe and Asia.
CBE is currently recruiting as it develops large projects with companies in the global oil industry and Sean is confident that its ongoing success and attractive and affordable location will draw in high-quality candidates as people increasingly look West to combine challenging careers with a better quality of life.
Claremorris was an ideal location for CBE when their commercial ambitions were limited to Connacht – it still is as they continue to expand around the world.