The current business landscape for companies involved in building and design is improving and becoming profitable despite issues surrounding capital investment, housing output etc. Survival during the past decade was success.
One company which has shown the resilience and determination needed to move forward through the peaks and troughs of the building industry is Irish Fencing Services. Founder and present Chairman Terry Hobdell, recalls that Irish Fencing and Products as it was then, manufactured a plastic covered concrete post and Chainlink fence system called Plastacon – essentially a green Wavin Pipe with specially vibrated concrete infill.
“We were based in a farmyard in Ballyboughal in North County Dublin and we worked with Merck Sharpe and Dohme in Tipperary, Nitrigin Eireann in Cobh and Levi Jeans in Galway, all with top builders, engineers and contractors in our first year,” he recalls.
We tried to be inventive from the start and we broke new ground as a specialist fence installation company,” “We had to learn on our feet,” he continues, “and worked in every County in Ireland North and South as probably the only show in town.
“I remember we also worked at Pat Quinn ‘s Club in Kilternan where we got our first bounced cheque which virtually wiped us out!”
“Our next big event was the advent of Palisade Fencing which in the mid-70s became the market leading product – and remained so for 15 years or so.
“Always looking for an opportunity, we adapted the system, invested in the first commercial welding robot in Ireland, and went on to develop powder coated finishes over hot dipped galvanising. This was a major milestone in our development as it was a first in Britain or Ireland, and we went on to export to the US and Continental Europe.”
The marketplace was expanding rapidly and Irish Fencing’s reputation was being firmly established. “All the time the fencing market was expanding and other contractors were opening. At one stage at the height of the boom in 2008 there were 400 companies with the word fence in their name. A far cry from the 2 in the 1973 Golden Pages,” remarks Terry. But the industry’s rapid expansion posed problems. “Anyone in construction knows how standards fell and corners were cut at that time, We have had 4 site visits this month alone to inspect rusting mesh fencing were the contractor had vanished, was not known or was refusing to engage. Thankfully we have not had this problem because our policy of using only proven suppliers”.
“We have examples of powder coated products over 30 years old with no problems except a bit of weathering. We have the comfort of knowing that every single piece of steel that has been made in our works has gone to Galco Steel for full hot dipped galvanising protecting the base for up to 50 years before it requires maintenance.”
This is one of the many relationships we see as a key factor in the success of Irish Fencing. Why? Terry Hobdell explains: “our relationship with Galco Steel goes back over 40 years and having a company that has had a policy of constant development and service improvement has been hugely important to us. It is important to have a domestic supplier with competitive pricing for galvanising and a certified production process up to the best international standards.
“Our loyalty to suppliers and, in return, the excellent service they provide in exchange has always been part of our business philosophy. A few pence saved on a product or service that is not of high standard is shooting yourself in the foot.
The road was not without its major bumps and challenges. Terry looks back and admits: “in common with the rest of the industry, our world collapsed in mid-2008. We were in the process of investing in the construction of a new plant and mercifully we were able pull out of the site purchase, if it had gone ahead we would have been gone by 2010.
“As it was, we lost money for 6 years and had it not been for our strong reserves and ability to downsize to a turnover 50% of what it was in 2008, we would have failed.”
“In the middle of the recession, the poison chalice of owning the company passed to Managing Director Shane Winters and Financial Director Sarah Wilson. Shane and Sarah obviously had the number one objective of returning the company to profitability and to this end they took some brave decisions. No one was made redundant during this period, as much work was brought back in-house.
The loyalty of the workforce some of whom are with us since 1973 was immense”. Says Shane “A secondly objective Shane and Sarah aimed for was to bring the business to a different level regarding documentation, health and safety, production and customer service. To achieve these goals extra specialised personnel were recruited to these areas to improve standards,”.
“Outside accreditation was considered essential firstly because of the demands of larger customers, secondly because it set internal disciplines, and thirdly because it hugely reduced the amount of paperwork necessary at tender stage or commencement of a project.”
To this end, CIRI and Safe-T-Cert accreditation have been obtained and CE Marking for those products requiring it and production is now adopting and operating many Lean Systems and this creates efficiencies and improves work flow.
Thinking strategically had paid off for the company so many times in the past and again such dynamic management resulted in a major commitment to try to relocate the company’s premises. “the 2008 ambition to move was now an imperative. We desperately needed to get a property with extensive yard space as our supply only business was growing rapidly. Loading and unloading in our cramped space was a nightmare continues Shane
“In 2016, we purchased and equipped new premises with state of the art equipment, with over 6000 sq. metres of space, convenient access and egress and more than ample parking 500 metres from The Naas Rd in Inchicore.
“We now handle over 400 inward and outward movements per week, with speedy turnaround for our suppliers and customers,”
“As the supply side of our business has grown, we needed to assess our delivery strategy. After examining the pros and cons of having our own transport we determined that we are far better off using a specialised logistics company and opted for C.A.B Freight Services who provide us with a wide range of specialised vehicles with Cranes or other lifting equipment, as well as different sizes and design of truck giving us total exibility. “They can service our onsite personnel as well as supply customers and provide an amazing service” adds Anthony Smyth, Transport Co-ordinator.
The evolution of Irish Fencing was happening apace. “The change of emphasis in its business model the new location and a desire to refresh under the new ownership of Shane and Sarah resulted in the company rebranding to Irish Fencing Services.
Sarah Wilson takes up the story: “the new branding was important in refreshing the company at many levels, to move forward into the better period we anticipated after the pressure years from 2008 to 2014. The help we got in this exercise from Garrett Mc Keagney of Goldfinch Design & Strategy was incredible.
“Our normal initial point of contact with a project is usually the Architect or Engineer where we provide specifications drawings and samples, and often visiting site to determine specialist solutions. Eventually, when a contractor is appointed, there will often be ways that we can assist in improving productivity with alternate installation methods or possibly simplified products. Our objective is to work as closely and as early as possible on a project to provide the speediest installation and the most appropriate product, and to leave the site with all parties including ourselves having made a fair and reasonable profit,” says Sarah.
“We are looking forward to a very good 2017,” she says, “and the signs for 2018 are looking positive. Foreign direct investment is always a major market for us and since 1973 we have been involved on so many multinational projects. Data Centres are currently very big business, as well as schools, indigenous companies and private individuals. However,” continues Sarah, “the effects of Brexit could cause major problems to the economy and are certainly a very worrying issue.
“Whilst the main business of Irish Fencing Services is the manufacture of Fences Gates and Railings, we are also distributors for the Iconic Kee Klamp product which is over 80 years old and is still the world’s most popular tube assembly system.”
We are also The Fencing Partners for South West Microwave and their Micropoint perimeter detection system. Micropoint has recently been used on remote unmanned perimeters by ESB Networks as well as The Dublin Port Authority, She adds: “a fully working Micropoint System is on display in our premises in Inchicore it is xed to samples of all the different fences and railings we provide to show its performance in all scenarios. Micropoint enables monitoring of an intrusion attempt before the intruder has accessed the perimeter allowing those precious extra minutes for reaction.
“The ability to offer the widest range of fencing products with the highest on-site professionalism is our hallmark and we intend to confirm our position as the go-to fencing contractor from our Dublin Cork and Newry locations.”