Tuesday 18 December 2018

Flatpack firm makes connections

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

Sean Gallagher with Brendan Phillips, CEO of OVVO, in Dundalk. Photo: Tom Conachy
Sean Gallagher with Brendan Phillips, CEO of OVVO, in Dundalk. Photo: Tom Conachy
Sean Gallagher

Sean Gallagher

Ovvo co-founder and CEO Brendan Phillips explains it simply: "The OVVO Connection system is a unique, patented solution that allows two pieces of material, mostly furniture, to join together invisibly without the use of tools, glues or screws."

The company, which he set up in 2014 along with his cousin Sean Phillips, is based in Dundalk, Co Louth, employs seven staff and has an annual turnover of €700,000.

Manufactured in Co Louth, their innovative designs have won the company many awards, including the Best of the Best Award at Interzum, the world's leading trade fair for furniture production and interior design.

"People can instantly see the benefits of our connector systems as soon as they see them, with most commenting that 'It makes perfect sense' followed immediately after with the question 'Why isn't everyone using them?'" says Brendan.

"The connectors are made from high-quality engineering-grade plastic and consist of three pieces, two female and one male.

"The female pieces are recessed into cutouts in the timber or other materials that require joining. The male plastic piece is then inserted into one of these and then effectively snapped into the other thereby securing a robust connection which pulls both sides together," says Brendan.

"We make two main types of connectors, one which is releasable and can slide apart easily when required or a permanent one designed as a one-time connection. We also make three different sizes of connector to facilitate different board thicknesses and variety of applications."

Used for assembling everything from bookcases and bedside lockers to chests of drawers and desks and office furniture, their innovative solution is gaining traction around the world.

Timber and carpentry have been a big part of both men's backstories.

Brendan Phillips grew up in Ravensdale just north of Dundalk, Co Louth.

His grandfather owned a timber sawmill while his father taught carpentry in the Newry Technical College.

"After retiring from teaching he became the chief expert for the carpentry division of the world skill Olympics and now travels the world judging and grading carpentry apprentices," says Brendan.

After school, Brendan completed a Master's degree in electronic engineering in Queen's University, Belfast and later an MBA from the Open University. Starting out his working career, he landed a role with Seagate before moving on to work with the Xerox Corporation.

Having spent 17 years with the company he became a senior director. His cousin Sean - who looks after product innovation, development and testing for the company - grew up in nearby Jonesboro.

Having served an apprenticeship as a joiner with a local construction firm, he went on to set up his own joinery business where he specialised in manufacturing high-end furniture for the residential market.

"Sean had been looking for many years for a product that would take the frustration out of assembling flatpacked furniture and, because none existed, he decided to design his own. Running his own business, however, left little time to work on his idea," says Brendan.

That was until the economic downturn in 2008 saw demand for Sean's bespoke furniture drop dramatically.

The upside was that he now had the space and time to focus on his new invention. In 2014, having spent two years developing the product and filing the application for the patent, they launched their new innovation at W14, the largest furniture accessory trade show in the UK.

The reaction was overwhelmingly positive and provided them with an understanding of how large manufacturers would need to invest in changing their manufacturing processes if they were to integrate these new connectors into their design and production processes.

In addition to flatpack manufacturers, they also received interest from kitchen cabinet firms, those installing cabins on luxury cruise liners, medical fit-out companies using flat surfaces to minimise infection risks and shop fit-out companies. That was when they realised the potential size of their market.

The following year, having made some further refinements, they successfully entered their product into the Interzum awards in Germany, the world's largest furniture and interior design trade fair. Again the feedback was hugely positive and in 2017, they went on to scoop the 'Best of the Best' award at the same show.

"As a result, we have already shipped samples to more than 70 countries worldwide and have begun trading in a number of European markets such as Germany, Belgium, France, Spain, Poland and Eastern Europe," says Brendan.

"We have also attended North America's largest woodworking and furniture manufacturing trade shows in Atlanta and Las Vegas which have led to conversations with leading industry players, including Hafele US and Richelieu, who are the largest distributors of furniture accessories in the US and Canada as well as leading furniture manufacturers such as Home Depot and MasterBrand.

"We also launched a partnership arrangement with distributor, EB Bradley, who will act for us on the US West Coast and expect that it will be necessary for us to establish a presence on the East Coast later this year."

It's an exciting time for the Louth-based entrepreneurs.

However, given the length of the sales cycle they are now seeking to raise investment to fund the gap.

An exciting company that has developed a hugely innovative solution, OVVO looks set to become a global industry leader in the woodworking and manufacturing industry. No doubt in time, their connectors will become the world standard.




Business: Furniture components/hardware

Set up: 2014

Founders: Brendan Phillips and Sean Phillips

Turnover: €700,000

No of Employees: 7

Location: Oriel Hub, Finnabair Technology Park, Dundalk, Co Louth



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