Growing chain has it all covered
Sean Gallagher meets owners of small and medium-sized businesses and shares the lessons they have learnt in building their companies
Headquartered in Walkinstown, Dublin 12, TC Matthews is well established as a leading brand in the carpet and flooring industry. Bought out in 2003 by Louth man Brendan Cumiskey, the business has grown to 11 shops across Dublin, Louth and Meath, as compared to five shops when he took it over. Employing 55 staff directly and 20 sub-contractors, it is on target to achieve annual revenues of €12m this year.
"We specialise in all types of flooring, carpets, wood flooring, rugs and luxury vinyl tiles," explains Brendan, as he shows me around the company's extensive warehouse and showrooms. "We are an Irish-owned business with more than 100 years' experience in the business. Our focus is on delighting our customers with the most comprehensive choice of floor covering, superior levels of customer service and all at competitive prices."
Some 60pc of customers are private home owners while the remaining are commercial clients drawn from sectors as diverse as leisure and hospitality, healthcare, financial and property development, as well as a large number of local and national government departments and agencies.
Brendan grew up in Dundalk, Co Louth, where his family ran a very successful furniture and flooring business. Working weekends and summer holidays became a natural part of his teenage years and he learnt much from watching his father at work. From a young age too, Brendan developed a keen interest in all types of interior and product design, something that motivated him to study mechanical engineering in Dundalk Institute of Technology. From there he joined the family business, and worked alongside his siblings for the next 14 years until selling his shares in the business in order to strike out on his own.
"In 2003, I opened my own carpet showroom in Dundalk, but because I was competing directly with a number of established businesses in the area, suppliers were slow to work with me," admits Brendan. "At the time, a friend, who also worked in the industry, suggested that I meet with the owner of TC Matthews, who was planning to retire and was looking for an exit.
"TC Matthews was a long-standing flooring business with five shops at that stage and had a well-recognised brand in the business. With youth on my side and fire in my belly, it seemed like buying the business was the right thing to do. So I sold the Dundalk shop and focused on building the TC Matthews business instead."
However, Brendan's main challenge turned out to be his own lack of self-confidence and self-belief. "It was quite a daunting challenge for me initially because I moved quickly to managing multiple locations, larger numbers of staff and dealing with bigger budgets," admits Brendan.
"However, 'must do' is a hard task master and once I began to focus my energies on driving the business forward, everything else fell into place. I had to admit to myself too that I didn't have all the answers. No one does. It was then that I drew on the support of a coaching company, Action Coach, who turned out to be an excellent catalyst for change. And I was fortunate too that at that time, Ireland was in the midst of the Celtic Tiger, so consumer spending was buoyant and the banks were lending to growing businesses."
While business was growing steadily, Brendan had learnt from his previous experience and in order to differentiate his flooring products from what was already available on the market, he began travelling to visit flooring manufacturers abroad and began specifying different colours and better yarn to those of his competitors.
"As innovators in our sector, we spend a lot of time researching what the next trend is, what's new and what's selling in the way of other home materials and furnishings, not just in Ireland but on the world stage. We listen to our clients, many of whom are leading interior designers, as to what we should include in our product offering. We bring these ideas to our suppliers and often have exclusive ranges made specifically for us. We then give them commitments on specific amounts of stock so as to achieve better prices which we can then pass on to our customers," explains Brendan. "I'm happy to confirm that we buy more rolls of quality carpet from our key suppliers than anyone else in the entire UK and Ireland, including a number of well-known UK multiple retail chains. Not a bad achievement for an indigenous Irish family-owned company," he adds.
Like all small businesses though, Brendan felt the impact of the 2008 economic downturn. His greatest challenge was to keep the shops open and staff in employment. "When I took over TC Matthews it was during the boom and that gave us a strong foothold in the Irish market. However, when the recession kicked in, our shops became so quiet, it was like tumbleweed city," admits Brendan. "We made tough, aggressive and necessary cuts in the business with suppliers, landlords and staff and worked harder than ever to stay afloat. Thankfully we survived without closing any shops and in fact, bucked the trend by opening two new locations during the recession."
The company recently opened a new shop in Malahide, bringing the total number of shops to 11 including a flagship store in Arnotts. "Much of our success is down to our remarkable team," insists Brendan. "As a company known for our excellent customer service, our staff are vital to ensuring a positive experience for our customers. To maintain these high standards, we hold numerous training workshops and team meetings throughout the year and I am constantly overwhelmed by the genuine enthusiasm of our people. It is truly uplifting".
Not content to sit back, and with a rise in sales of wooden floors, he will open a new rug department in their Lucan showrooms, including an online store and home delivery option.
"We are also looking at expanding our existing portfolio of products to include more than just floors and carpets and are considering expanding into complementary products such as fabrics and ceramics," says Brendan. "In time, I wouldn't rule out venturing further afield to the UK or even looking at franchising as a model for growth. One thing is for sure, we are focused on continued growth."
Sunday Indo Business