ENTREPRENEUR
PROFILE

Brian Comer and Luke Comer

The Comer Group

Business Purpose

The Comer Group are a leading property group, who have residential and commercial interests in Germany, Ireland and UK. They have expanded their portfolio over the past thirty years with substantial development and commercial interests in a number of market sectors, including: luxury residential homes, office, retail, hotels, leisure and retirement homes. The Group is involved directly from pre-planning all the way through to sales and property management.

 

Personal Bio

Luke and Brian Comer were born in Glenamaddy, Co. Galway in 1957 and 1960 respectively. They were two of eight children in their family. They embarked on their journey into the construction industry in Ireland in the 1970’s when they completed apprenticeships in plastering. Their determination, hard work and exceptional skills ensured that they progressed rapidly in their employment. They used these skills along with the wealth of practical “hands-on” construction experience to establish their own plastering business and rapidly developed a country-wide reputation for their high quality plastering. This resulted in the Comers being awarded major contract work on many of Ireland’s largest construction projects in both the public and private sectors. They moved to London in 1984 and entered the UK market where they have been extremely active ever since, whilst expanding to Germany and Ireland.

Luke currently resides in Monte Carlo, Monaco and is married with three sons and two daughters. He has one grandson and one granddaughter.  Brian currently resides in Hertfordshire, England and is married with three daughters. He has one granddaughter.

 

Company Profile

Luke and Brian are directors of the Comer Group. They began their remarkable journey in the 1970’s when they completed apprenticeships in plastering. Their determination, hard work and exceptional skills ensured that they progressed rapidly in their employment. They used these skills and wealth of practical construction experience to establish their own plastering business and rapidly developed a country-wide reputation for their high quality plastering. This resulted in being awarded major contract work on many of Ireland’s largest construction projects.

On arrival in London in 1984, their first year was spent plastering several residential schemes while gaining valuable knowledge and insight into the UK market. Following a great deal of tenacity and hard work, they have created a leading property group with substantial development and investment interests in a number of market sectors, including: luxury residential homes, office, retail, hotels, leisure and retirement homes. The Group has acquired numerous assets and, after gaining planning permission, have used their established construction team to develop them. The Group is involved directly from pre-planning all the way through to sales and property management.

Luke and Brian have been instrumental in recruiting and shaping a highly skilled and valuable senior management team of designers, architects and construction professionals. The corporate ethos nurtures and encourages both creativity and innovation, which are hallmarks of the Comer brand.

The success of the Comer Group in the UK undoubtedly speaks for itself and high quality developments such as Princess Park Manor and Royal Connaught Park are a testament to the high standards and work ethic of the brothers. Luke and Brian continue to keep an active role in the development process as well as the day-to-day running of the organisation.

In 2006, they expanded the Group to the German market where they purchased residential development sites and commercial premises including shopping centres and office blocks.

In 2010, they made what may have appeared as a bold move by becoming the first major property company to enter the Irish market after the economic downturn. Many experts and economists predicted a long and difficult recovery for the Irish market, yet Luke and Brian used their experience and knowledge to spot an opportunity to acquire various mixed use developments. Following their lead, many established international property funds followed suit. Comer Group purchased developed, part developed and undeveloped sites. This turned out to be an extremely astute move by the Comer brothers as it transpired that they entered the market at a perfect time.  In a short space of time, they became the market leader in quality rented residential accommodation as well as receiving all round praise for the rejuvenation of Palmerstown House Estate. The recent commencement of their development in Ballsbridge has assured the market that property development in Dublin is active once again. Through their various ventures they are responsible for the employment of over 350 people worldwide.

 

– ENTREPRENEURIAL INSIGHTS –

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

We noticed that we had more skill, greater leadership skills and more productive work ethic than our employers. We saw a gap for entrepreneurs such as ourselves and knew it would make sense to set up in business and be rewarded for our strengths.

 

How did you secure your first investment?

We made significant profits from our plastering ventures that allowed us to enter into a JV arrangement with a partner on a development. From then on we tended to complete projects ourselves rather than enter into JV arrangements as we had sufficient resources to do so.

 

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

The UK recession of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s was a tough time for developers. We worked our way out of the recession by putting in long hours on our developments thus ensuring we kept build costs to a minimum. This in turn allowed us to be flexible on our sales prices to ensure sufficient sales revenue was generated.

 

What moment/deal would you cite as the “game changer” or turning point for the company?

We came out of the UK recession of the 1980’s and 1990’s with all of our assets intact and free from bank finance. During the recession we were able to purchase a massive site for a fraction of its value and we were able to convert that into significant profits. This put us on an excellent standing going forward and we subsequently reinvested these profits and went from strength to strength. The purchase of this site set a benchmark for buying assets at the bottom of the market in Germany and Ireland.

 

Were there any interesting or unusual circumstances surrounding the inception of the company or its evolution?

We were involved in a bad car accident in 1992 and Brian was in a coma for four weeks. On his return to work he concentrated on the sales side of the business and in the coming months was able to drive up sales at a phenomenal rate. He has since maintained a key role in the sales department.

 

What are the biggest challenges you face now?

Despite the enormous increase in the size of the Group, we need to keep all departments focused and motivated to continue our strong performance.

 

What is your biggest business achievement to date?

There have been a couple. In the UK and Germany we purchased a number of fantastic land sites without planning permission. In a number of these we obtained planning permission and converted them into luxurious residential developments. In 2010 we entered the Irish market and became the first major player to do so. We purchased some quality assets at fantastic value.

 

What were the best & the worst pieces of advice you received when starting out?

Best: When we were assured by our secondary level teacher that further education was not the only way to succeed and that some successful businesses prosper from hard work and determination.

Thankfully, we never listened to the bad advice.

 

What top tips would you give entrepreneurs starting out today?

There is no substitute for hard work but you need to ensure you have a clear goal so that you receive a suitable reward for the hard work. No doubt throughout your venture you will experience some knocks, but the important thing is to keep getting up and, with enough hard work and determination, eventually you will always succeed.

 

Were there any early signs that you would eventually follow an entrepreneurial path?

We both worked on our parents’ farm from a young age and showed productive qualities beyond our years. We began our plastering careers at 13 and showed strong leadership skills within a short time period.

 

Has anyone acted as a mentor to you?

Our father acted as a mentor from a young age. Later we were mentored by Sean McKeown formally of Sheelin Homes. We always admired his approach and the quality and flair of their developments.

 

Has your “Irish-ness” contributed to your success?

Yes, we believe it has contributed enormously to our hard work and down to earth attitude.

 

How do you generate new ideas to stay ahead of the curve?

We always build homes to suit the market trend at the time and purchase development sites in solid, well tested areas.

 

When making a new hire, what key characteristics do you look for?

We seek individuals who are willing to be flexible, work hard and use their common sense and initiative to improve their relevant departments.

 

Have you started to feel the effects of the economic upturn within your sector/industry?

We definitely have. We have seen a strong rent demand coupled with increased interest and sales in our residential development sites. Our land bank assets have increased in value and this ensures our gearing remains extremely low.

 

What do you believe it takes to be a successful entrepreneur?

You need to have a clear objective with the necessary fearless determination, ability and hard work attitude to achieve it.

 

If you were to invest in a sector, what would you consider the next “big thing”?

We believe there will be a massive move towards eco-friendly homes in the coming years and every developer will need to be flexible and adjust to the market trend.

 

What do you believe is your company’s competitive advantage?

We have a hands-on approach and have amassed a substantial portfolio of development sites and income producing assets. Our ability to control build costs ensures that our sales listings remain competitive.

 

What sacrifices have you had to make to get your business where it is today?

We worked extremely long hours during our youth at productive levels – often 7 days a week for long periods, without any holiday breaks throughout the year. We also moved to the UK at a relatively young age in order to take advantage of the larger London market and this resulted in long periods away from our immediate family.

 

How do you recharge your batteries?

Brian: Playing golf and farming.

Luke: Breeding and training horses and farming.

 

Year: 2014
Category: International
Sector: Property