Posted on Saturday 9 April 2011 by Ulster Business

Benny O'Hanlon - Todds Leap

A lot of business owners talk about the passion they have for their business and the buzz they get from it, but often you are not sure if you believe them.

Benny O'Hanlon certainly doesn't leave you in any doubt. It's clear from the first time you meet the founder and Managing Director of outdoor activity company Todds Leap that he lives and breathes what he does, and that he gets a massive kick out of seeing the effect that coming to the centre has on his customers. O'Hanlon started the business near Ballygawley some 20 years ago as a means of combining his passions for off road driving and the outdoors with his love of meeting people. Today, Todds Leap boasts a wide array of attractions including off road driving, blindfold driving, quad biking, paintball, clay pigeon shooting, climbing walls, a 100ft inflatable super slide, an even higher zip line, and much more. Its customers too are extremely varied, from corporate team building to school/youth groups, stag and hen parties and family fun days. While he says there are some outdoor activity centres out there which do certain elements of it well, Todds Leap stands out because it has a great location, great product and great staff. "When we started up I felt the corporate entertainment market in particular was over priced, under nourished, and essentially a rip-off. That was not the way I wanted to do business. We put our customers first because if there are happy customers they tell people about us and come back. There's no other way to grow this sort of business. You can't grow a business under false pretences. You can sell DelBoy watches for £5 a piece all day long. But you can't do DelBoy toasters the next day because the watches didn't work," he explains. "We would rather under-describe and over-deliver." Located 45 minutes from Belfast and two hours from Dublin, O'Hanlon says that, despite the recession, the company has continued to get business from both local and national companies who have seen the benefit in sending their managers and sales teams on team building trips. "If you look at our client list in the last 12 to 18 months, you'll see some of the cleverest companies in Northern Ireland and the UK. They are progressive, go ahead companies. They don't come here to complain about the recession. They come here to consolidate their position and to build strength for the growth that's coming," he says. "One of our very early slogans in the 1990s was no phone, no fax, no fuss. That was where we were coming from. We encourage people when they are here, especially business people, to switch their phones off and enjoy themselves." While he knows many people view team building as a waste of time he says his office is full of thank you letters from companies who have been amazed at the effect on sales performance that a structured day or weekend out of the office has had in terms of building trust between employees and helping them get to know one another better. O'Hanlon notes that a structured programme that involves a sense of achievement is essential if an organisation is to get anything out of teambuilding. "There's no point sending everybody to the pub, because somebody will get a black eye," he jokes. "Our activities are largely motorised and adrenaline fuelled. We have a zip-line of 497 metres. We take what the ordinary person considers extreme activities and we talk them through it and get them to do it successfully. What that does is change their mindset." Unlike many companies O'Hanlon doesn't base his own hiring policy just on qualifications, but rather how staff get on with customers, deliver the product, and buy in to the ethos of the business. He tells the story of an employee – still hobbling around the centre when I visit – who showed up at work on a Monday despite breaking his ankle on the weekend as evidence of the commitment his 56 staff have. "Once you get a brand and a certain size of company, the business owner doesn't own it, the employees own it. The staff here have a job to do, and how well they do it ascertains the certainty of their future, and I tell them that," he adds. It's also apparent that the Todds Leap founder has a straightforward approach to life as well as business. He gives talks to many of the groups of young people that come to the centre and aims to convey the message that by taking responsibility for themselves there is no reason they can't achieve what they want in life. O'Hanlon also has high hopes for the future of his own business, and there's noticeable excitement in his voice when he talks about a new attraction that is planned. Though the details are being kept under wraps he tells me it will be "0-60 in less than two seconds" and better than a bungy jump or a skydive. "You have to keep thinking ahead," he says. "Business changes, customers change, so you have to keep things fresh, keep moving and give things a facelift once in a while. You have to stay in front."


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