Wednesday 21 August 2019

WaterWipes eyes expansion as revenue soars

Drogheda company may establish a manufacturing site overseas and is opening a Singapore sales office

Chief commercial officer Xavier Renaux. Photo: Brian Connolly
Chief commercial officer Xavier Renaux. Photo: Brian Connolly
John Mulligan

John Mulligan

Breakneck expansion by Drogheda brand WaterWipes will see it open an office in Singapore in weeks, while it is also considering opening its first manufacturing plant outside Ireland to meet a surge in demand that has pushed annual sales over €50m.

The firm makes hypo-allergenic wipes for newborns. Part of the Irish Breeze business owned and headed by Edward McCloskey, it has doubled sales in the past three years, taking on the might of multinationals including Pampers owner Procter & Gamble.

Chief commercial officer Xavier Renaux told the Irish Independent that the group is now producing a few million packets of wipes every week at its Drogheda facility, and will have to make a decision by next spring about where additional manufacturing facilities might be sited. He said expansion in Drogheda is one option, as is locating a factory in the United States.

"We could manage our future demand from this facility, probably until 2021," said Mr Renaux, adding that the firm is also about to sign a new distribution contract in China, and intends to establish a bricks-and-mortar retail presence in the country at the end of next year. It already has an online sales presence there.

"After that, we have to make a choice: is it expanding and making a big investment here, or opening somewhere else? And that is a decision we are currently working on."

He said that while expansion has so far been fuelled from cashflow, the company will also have to assess how best to finance future growth.

The firm makes hypo-allergenic wipes for newborns
The firm makes hypo-allergenic wipes for newborns

Irish Breeze is an unlimited company, meaning it does not have to file publicly available accounts. However, the most recent set of accounts from 2016 show that it had a relatively low amount of bank debt - just €1m of loans.

"At this stage, we are self-funded," said Mr Renaux. "If everything could be financed from cashflow, I would say yes. But it will all depend on the size of the capex we have to do, and of course we are going to explore what the best options are to finance the investments."

He said a stock market flotation is not on the agenda for the firm. "There is no ambition to go public," he said.

And despite its rapid growth and given that it has muscled into a market largely dominated by big players, Mr Renaux said that Mr McCloskey has no plans to sell the business.

"Never say never, but it's certainly not on the agenda," he said. "We are on a journey to bring the company to the next level. Edward is absolutely passionate about that journey."

The company's overall headcount has ballooned from 25 a few years ago to 250, and it has 30 roles to fill by the end of this year, according to Mr Renaux, who was headhunted to join WaterWipes from Danone in 2016.

He added that the Drogheda-based business is also exploring ways to use its technology - developed specifically to manufacture its water-based wipes - for other uses.

"We are exploring how we can potentially leverage our technology outside wipes," he said. But he stressed that it would be more of a long-term project.

"It will require a different kind of investment and a different kind of production capability," Mr Renaux added.

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