Paul Higgins, Cuil Beat Cajons

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From Peru to Portarlington, music lover Paul Higgins took his passion for music and turned it into a successful business called Cuil-Beat Cajons. Paul has been in business now for over two years and has been handcrafting cajon percussion instruments for customers, which can be customised from sound to size. “We were always a musical family”, says Paul. “I can remember as a child always hearing music in the house.” Paul started playing the bodhran at aged 11 and has won the under-18 and Over-18 Bodhran Championships. He has also won the Leinster Championships for the bodhran nine years in a row. He just loves percussion and this puts him in a great place, as he knows exactly what his customers are looking for.
 
Why Cajons? Paul is fascinated with this instrument for a number of reasons. He explains its origins in Peru from the 17th century when tribes used the drum beat of the cajon to communicate with each other. This was during Spanish rule and the cajon became the SMART phone of today for the tribal communities. Paul goes onto to explain that the Spanish took the instrument back to Spain and its use became synonymous with Flamenco dance, music, etc. In Spain, the cajon is widely used by music lovers. “In Ireland, it has increased in popularity”, says Paul. “Particularly with buskers and also bands when they do live recordings in radio studios where there is limited space and the cajon can reproduce the sound of a full drum kit.”
Prior to setting up Cúil Beat, Paul worked in the family business for a number of years as a Plasterer. When the downturn came, like all businesses in this sector, he searched around for other business opportunities because he had a young family. Paul had designed and made up his own cajon and decided to set up Cúil Beat because of the great response he was getting from his fellow musicians when he was out playing gigs. Like him, they were fascinated with the cajon.
“Starting from scratch was daunting”, Paul said. He knew he had to create some kind of a brand for his business but did not have a clue where to begin. He had been working in the family business for a number of years, which was set up by his father. They were well established in the construction industry and he knew he had to start all over again in trying to build a brand.
His start-up funds were raised from loans from family and friends to get him going initially. He was also successful in getting a grant from the Laois Partnership Company, which has helped him enormously to buy the necessary equipment for his business. He has a spacious workshop at the Portarlington Enterprise Centre which is ideal for growing his business.
His daughter Áine came up with the name Cúil Beat one day when he was teaching her the back beat on cajon as Cúil in Irish means back. He thought it was a great name and this for him was the impetus to start building a brand. Paul admits that he had to learn as he went along how best to market his business, as he did not know anything about Marketing. His dream break came when he was asked by Artur Graczyk, former drummer with Ryan Sheridan to make him a drum. Being associated with Ryan and Artur at that time helped to increase the popularity of the cajon. In their television appearances, Artur can be seen playing the Cúil Beat cajon, which was amazing publicity for a small business in their first year. “You could not buy this publicity”, says Paul. “I was over the moon and it was so exciting for me and my family to see our cajon being played on national television”.
Because of this exposure, the popularity of the Cúil Beat cajon increased and Facebook was a great way to keep the conversation going. Music Maker was the first music store to sell the Cúil Beat cajon and they took 12 initially which sold out very quickly due to high demand. They continue to stock the product. Paul has a very good relationship with Music Maker and believes that in business it is all about building solid relationships and always delivering what you say you are going to do.
Although he got a great break with Ryan Sheridan and Artur Graczyk, marketing his business was one of the biggest challenges for Paul in his first year. He was very aware that he needed to be out there all time, letting people know what he was doing, playing the cajon himself and educating music lovers and the public about this amazing instrument.

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Building on from the success of working with Artur, he started to target other well-known bands. “I made a lot of phone calls and while it took time and persistence, I did manage to finally get to the right person”, said Paul. It really paid off for him in the end as the Cúil Beat cajon is played by lead percussionists in some of Ireland most successful bands like Kodaline, Republic of Loose, Dedannan, Walking on Cars. The Academics and Key West. He also works with Ian McTigue who is the percussionist with the Women of Ireland Tour.
 
Paul is very happy with the response from the music industry so far, but admits that he is unsure how to capitalise on these marketing opportunities. Like any small business, his focus is on building the best cajon for his customers as they are all handmade and quality tested by him before they leave his workshop. He also has to focus on getting in more business and this leaves very little time for Marketing so this is his biggest challenge.
Paul contributes his success so far to the quality of his product. With his love of music, he wants to produce only the best sound for his customers. Music lovers are very particular about their musical instrument and are very discerning purchasers. He is so proud of the fact that no Cúil Beat cajons have every been returned to him. In fact, he gets a lot of his business from other musicians referring him on to other musicians. He also contributes his success to Artur Graczyk brand endorsement of the Cúil Beat cajon.
 
What makes Paul different is that he is the only Irish maker of cajons and he offers a lifetime guarantee, as he is so confident about the quality of his product. Not many companies offer this type of guarantee but Paul is very happy to do so. He can also customise the sound and design to exactly what the musician wants. ‘”There is no one offering this type of customisation”, says Paul. “Not even globally as most cajons are mass produced”.
              
Paul is very aware that having the best product and offering a lifetime guarantee does not mean that business will just come in the door without any effort to market what he does. Online Marketing, particularly on platforms like Facebook, when he gets the time to work on it, really works for him. He gets many leads from Facebook. He understands the importance of engagement with his music community and tries to make the FB Page fun as well as posting about his business. While it does take time, Paul believes that it is worth it as most of his target are actively engaging on this platform and sharing information.
He also gets sales from posting an advertisement on DoneDeal and gets very good value for money from this advertisement. He does not have a website at the moment but wants to wait to do it right and in the interim he will continue to use Social Media. He admits that he has not really taken advantage of YouTube, which is ideal for him, as it is the second most popular search engine after Google. He has some ideas to use this platform to create a community of Cúil Beat advocates. “I need a Marketing Manager.” Paul laughs. “I have so many ideas on how to market the business online but so little time to do so’”.
 
Despite Paul saying that he is spending more time working in his business and not on his business, he has been busy building up his retail network. He currently is in 20 stores nationwide and wants to build on this even further. He is delighted that the Cúil Beat brand is getting well known now and this makes the sales process so much easier. It was very different when he started out, as people were not aware of the Cúil Beat brand but this is changing. Paul also, when time permits, visits a number of music festivals and plays his cajon. While he might be working to create awareness, Paul really enjoys being part of the music community and joining in with them.
 
When asked about which Entrepreneur he admires most and why, Paul said Seamus Lannigan, a local businessman from Tipperary. Seamus started out in the crane hire businesses but was always passionate about aviation. Paul remembers meeting him some years ago when Seamus had a vision for a new business and a solid Plan to go with it. Paul said he has a great attitude and he worked systematically through his Plan step-by-step to make it happen. Seamus now runs a successful aviation business. Paul does see similarities between him and Seamus as they both followed their love of something and turned it into a business. Paul knows he needs a blueprint for his business and this is a continual work in progress as the business evolves and expands.

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The best advice Paul ever got was from his mother. He was not keen initially on sales when he started out and found it challenging. His mother told him he just needed to ‘be himself and not try to be someone else. This sound advice helped him to understand that people buy from people and it also helped him realise that just being himself was so much easier and less stressful. This advice has worked for him, he continues to build strong relationships, and he is now more confident about his ability to sell.
“There are many proud moments for me”, says Paul. “Every time I am at a music event, whether it is indoor or outdoor and I see someone playing a Cúil Beat cajon, I feel very proud. Sometimes I go up to them to get their feedback and I come away ten feet tall”.
 
Paul is optimistic about the future of Cúil Beat. He sees real opportunities online because he can still offer the customised service either via YouTube or email on their exact sound requirements. There are many ways he can explore online opportunities through Skype, On-Line lessons, which will help to establish the Cúil Beat brand worldwide. He also wants to build on from the great free publicity he has got from some of the amazing Irish bands who are now performing on the world stage. Their brand endorsement alone by playing his Cúil Beat cajon has inspired him to take his business on to the next level.

ONE piece of advice he would give to someone starting out in business. “Never give up”, says Paul. “If you are trying to get business and someone says they are ‘not interested’ it is not always a NO. You have to get to meet them in person as you can convince them more. I have found in business that no matter what you are selling ‘people buy people’ at the end of the day”.
 
Paul can be contacted at cuilbeatcajones@eircom.net or on his mobile
087 3698965. Check out and Like his Facebook page on www.facebook.com/cuilbeat.cajons

 

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