Thursday 19 July 2018

Fire safety firm reels in clients

Sean Gallagher meets owners of small and medium-sized businesses and shares the lessons they've learnt in building their companies

Sean Gallagher with Apex Fire managing director Declan Kelly and finance director Adrian McCabe. Photo Lorraine Tevan
Sean Gallagher with Apex Fire managing director Declan Kelly and finance director Adrian McCabe. Photo Lorraine Tevan
Sean Gallagher

Sean Gallagher

Apex Fire specialises in the supply and servicing of fire protection and fire detection equipment. Headquartered in Moynehall in Cavan town, the company has offices in Dublin and Cork as well as depots in Athlone, Sligo, Limerick and Derry. It employs 101 staff and are on target to achieve annual revenues of more than €8m before the end of the year.

"Our core business involves the provision of a one-stop shop for all fire protection and detection needs including everything from fire alarm systems, emergency lighting systems, fire hose reels and portable fire extinguishers as well as fire hydrants, escape equipment and safety signage.

"In addition, we provide a comprehensive range of health and safety training for our clients," says Declan Kelly, the company's managing director.

"Our target market is diverse and includes everyone with a public building from a small shop and bar to warehouse owners, Garda stations, military barracks, distilleries and even ships," adds Adrian McCabe, the firm's finance director.

The company has an interesting back story. Set up originally in 1973 by former Dublin TD and junior minister Chris Flood, it was taken over by its current owners, brothers David and Andrew Cosgrove in 2008.

Today it is part of their larger international parent business, Moyne Roberts, a leading global manufacturers of fire hose reels and fire equipment.

"Moyne Roberts was set up as Moyne Engineering in 1984 by David and Andrew's parents Pat and Ann.

"A plumber by trade, Pat had been installing hose reels and fire extinguishers when he spotted a gap in the market for a new design of hose reel made from injection-moulded plastic as the core body encased in two steel discs," says Declan.

"Incredibly innovative in design, the company is now on its sixth version of that first core design and we continue to export these to the UK, Europe, Middle East and Thailand," he adds.

In 1990, as part of their strategy to grow the business, the couple bought over two similar UK-based fire services and equipment businesses -H Walker and Eric Roberts - and merged both with Moyne Engineering to create Moyne Roberts Ltd.

Pat and Ann's sons, David and Andrew, joined the business in the mid 1990s. Having studied business in college, David joined straight from university while Andrew, who had studied accounting, worked internationally with a large accounting firm before he joined.

In 2004, with an eye on breaking into the mainstream European market, the company acquired Smeba BV, a leading Dutch manufacturer of fire extinguishers and fire hose reels.

Later in 2008, by which time Pat and Ann had retired, David and Andrew went on to acquire Apex Fire.

"Today the overall company, Moyne Roberts, employs more than 350 staff between its operations in Ireland, the UK and the Netherlands and has a combined annual turnover of almost €40m.

"David looks after the UK business while Andrew is based in the Netherlands and I look after the Irish operation," says Declan.

Declan joined the company in 1989 as store manager at a time when the company was still known as Moyne Engineering and was employing just seven staff.

By 1997 he had progressed to become production manager and shortly afterwards, operations manager. When the company bought Apex Fire, he was appointed managing director.

Adrian joined Moyne Roberts in 1993 as an office manager and he too quickly progressed up the ranks before being appointed finance director of Apex Fire.

Both men were subsequently appointed directors of the parent company.

"Like most companies focused on growth, our two key challenges when we took over Apex Fire were finance and people," says Declan.

"We focused hard on quality, invested in a full-time quality assurance manager and proceeded to achieve the ISO 9001 standard as well as quality marks such as the Kitemark and NSAI certification. The guarantee of assurance of compliance in the field of fire protection and detection quickly became our USP.

"Today, achieving the highest quality standards in the industry remains central to our ongoing success," he adds.

Soon after buying the business, however, the recession hit and the company's turnover dropped by over 60pc.

It was a challenging time for Declan and his team. He was called upon to make some difficult decisions including down-sizing, or right-sizing, the company in line with the then market opportunity. As a result, staff numbers dropped from 140 to 60.

In line with the market's recovery over the last three years, the company began expanding again and today its numbers are back up over the 100 mark. Turnover too is on the up, however, the challenge now is one of sourcing qualified electricians.

"Finding skilled electricians has proved so difficult for us that we have now begun our own apprenticeship programme," says Declan.

"In addition, we invest in the training and development of our existing staff and have also participated in Investors In People (IIP), an accreditation mark for performance in business and people management.

"These types of initiatives have definitely helped drive staff engagement and retention within the business," he adds.

"We continue to be on the lookout for further acquisition opportunities both here and abroad that can help us grow our market share as well as help us diversify into complementary areas such as CCTV, access control and fire alarms."

Business: Supply and servicing of fire protection and detection equipment; health & safety training

Set up: 1973

Founder: Chris Flood, ex-TD and junior minister — taken over by David and Andrew Cosgrove in 2008

Turnover: €8m

No of Employees: 101 (350 in the overall Moyne Roberts Group)

Location: Headquartered in Moynehall, Cavan Town, with offices in Dublin and Cork and depots in Athlone, Sligo, Limerick and Derry

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