Monday 19 November 2018

Belfast fitout startup that's reshaping the look of Dublin nightlife

The Dean Hotel, owned by key client the Press Up Group
The Dean Hotel, owned by key client the Press Up Group
Louise Kelly

Louise Kelly

Whether you're meeting pals for cocktails in Sophie's, having a romantic steak for two in Tomahawk, checking out the latest movies in The Stella Theatre - or even picking up a burrito bowl in Boojum - Belfast's Pure Fitout is behind many of Dublin's trendiest new venues.

The design may scream Brooklyn but the workmanship is all Belfast.

Pure Fitout is a bespoke joinery and metal fabrication fitout company for the commercial sector. The firm has been behind the renovation and creation of a string of hotspots across Dublin, often in collaboration with key client the Press Up Group.

Pure Fitout also boast the likes of chains such as student-popular Boojum and Dermot Desmond's sons' Five Guys in Dundrum on its client list.

The firm is currently working on the refurbishing the Residence club on St Stephen's Green and the new The Devlin hotel in Ranelagh. Rapid growth at the business, which only began trading in September 2015, has seen turnover hit €10m in 2017.

Managing director Ronan Higham puts that trajectory down to high standards and firm relationships.

Stella cinema cocktail club in Dublin
Stella cinema cocktail club in Dublin

"By December 2015, we'd done a few jobs in Belfast and a few jobs in Dublin and those jobs set us up fairly well. Those jobs were finished to quite a high standard," he said. Pure Fitout now has close to 50 employees, between the workshop tradesmen, office teams, on-site staff and drivers, but originally embarked on projects with a "pretty tight" team of just three.

"By the end of that year, we had the two jobs in Belfast and one was in Dublin, the projects were for a Boojum, a Five Guys and another Press Up project, which was Angelina's. It has really snowballed since," said Higham.

"We've kept those clients because of the good quality of our work but also due to the good relationships we've developed. We're a pretty can-do people, if there's a problem, we'll just get around it and find a solution.

"Key to that is working alongside the designers; if we couldn't work with them, we wouldn't be successful in the projects. The most important people are obviously the clients but the designers are so, so important; we try to keep them happy."

Angelina’s restaurant in the capital
Angelina’s restaurant in the capital

Higham worked for another fit-out firm before striking out to set up Pure Fitout. An early employee organised an introduction with Belfast brothers David and Andrew Maxwell, who had bought the Boojum burrito chain earlier that year.

"We got talking one day over a coffee and they came to us two weeks later with a set of drawings. They asked could we price it and we did so they asked us how quickly we could start. We started about a week later," said Higham.

"It was a pretty rapid turnaround but it's always like that with a fitting. A lot of clients ring you on a Friday and hope that you will start on the Monday."

The first few months set the stage for Pure Fitout.

The first Five Guys (burger chain) project, in Victoria Square in Belfast, helped catapult its success.

"This was probably one of my favourites. While we love all of our clients, The Five Guys is very corporate, it's a huge machine.

"For a company like us, who were only going a few months, we got the opportunity to do that project and we did it really, really well.

"The owners were over and highly commending the job we had done and the time we completed it in. I think we had it finished in seven weeks, working 24/7 in order to get it open for Christmas. That made us."

Brexit is a concern for many firms that work on both sides of the Border, but Higham says he has no such worries.

"Brexit is a bit of a crystal ball for everyone. Who knows what will happen. I'm forever optimistic, we can all live in the doom and gloom, but I expect good things from it," he said.

"There's a lot of companies going to Dublin, there's a huge market in Dublin for the business we're in. We've a few office projects on the go in Belfast and in Dublin. There's a vast amount of work there, a great pipeline and it's only going to get busier."

As the face of Dublin changes, creating contemporary and aesthetically pleasing venues that compete with on-trend places in cities like New York or London, Mr Higham acknowledges the desire for unique design.

"Everything we do in the workshop, in the metal and the joinery workshop and in the in-house spray shop; every single thing for every project is bespoke.

"There's no production line," he said. "But it's the designers that make us look good. We can take all the glory as we're doing the work but they make us look brilliant as it's their designs that we bring to life."

Irish Independent

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