Ventura's designs on expansion
Sean Gallagher meets owners of small and medium-sized businesses and shares the lessons they've learnt in building their companies
The downturn in the construction sector from 2007 onwards led to the demise of many businesses involved in the area of interior design and furniture manufacture. However, Ventura - led by Arlene McIntyre and Juergen Riedel - developed a business model that has seen them continue to grow and thrive.
Set up in 2005 by partners Arlene McIntyre and Juergen Riedel, Ventura is Ireland's leading interior design firm and bespoke furniture manufacturer. With their head office and showrooms located in the Blanchardstown Corporate Park, Ballycoolin, Dublin 15 and further showrooms in Deansgrange Business Park and Kinsale, Co Cork, the company employs 40 staff and has an annual turnover of more than €4.5m.
Among their growing client base are a mix of property developers such as Glenveagh Homes, Park Developments, Castlethorn and McGarrell Reilly; estate agents Sherry Fitz, Knight Frank, Savills and Lisneys; as well as hotels Adare Manor, Luttrelstown Castle, The Johnstown Estate and Kilkea Castle; bars and restaurants including the Golden Ball, in Kilternan and a host of individual private clients.
"Our signature look is classic contemporary but we don't just design. We craft," explains Arlene. "In addition to our design service, we have established our own furniture manufacturing facility where we create our very own pieces. In fact, 70pc of everything we install is now made by us here in Ireland. Having a highly-skilled team of sofa makers, upholsterers, curtain makers, joiners, floor fitters and painters all under one roof, allows us offer a full 360-degree turnkey service, from conception to completion," she adds.
"While we work with individual home owners where we do everything from a single room to full house fit outs, the scale of our operation also positions us to undertake large-scale projects which is important for clients such as property developers, estate agents and hotel operators," says Juergen. The company even offers clients 3D visuals of their proposed designs as well as CGI's (computer generated images) providing a view of the finished product before it's started.
It's been an interesting and passion-filled journey for the couple. Arlene McIntyre grew up in Ventura, California but moved to Ireland when she was 18. Her first job was working in administration in Holles Street Hospital. However, her true passion was design. Having begun visiting furniture shows in London and Paris for pleasure, she quickly managed to turn her passion into a career when she became an agent sourcing quality furniture, fabrics and home accessories from the US and Europe for architects, designers and high-end retailers such as BT and Arnotts.
In 2005, she set up her own interior design company, Ventura Design and was soon joined in the business by her partner, Juergen Riedel. Originally from Germany, Juergen began his career in the telecommunications sector before going on to set up his own HVAC installation business in Italy. His next business, Bath Systems, specialised in the off-site construction sector and the manufacture of PODs or prefabricated bathrooms.
In 1997, he became the first person to supply these to leading developers of hotels and apartment projects in the Irish market. And it was here, while working on the same development of show apartments, that he and Arlene first met.
"What makes us unique is that we don't just design or buy and sell other peoples' products. We design and manufacture our own product lines," explains Arlene. "I manage the design and interior project side of the business with my team while Juergen uses his experience to look after the production and logistics side of the business with his team. It's a perfect combination," she adds.
While both have a good knowledge of the sector, their initial challenges in setting up their own business was finding staff who shared their vision and who were prepared to work as hard as they did. "However, we are now blessed to have built up a wonderfully committed team," says Juergen. "We believe in hiring for talent and then teaching and developing the specific skills they need for this business," he adds.
"We see our international team as one big Ventura family and besides our Irish employees, we have 10 other nationalities represented on our staff," adds Arlene. "It's this mix of talents that enables us offer such a unique and international perspective."
The decision to start their own manufacturing operation has been crucial in differentiating themselves from others in the sector while at the same time putting them in control, not only of the quality and design of their products but also their margins. Something that now allows them operate without any debt in the business. "And because we both design and manufacture our own furniture in Ireland, these are exclusive to us and can't be found elsewhere," adds Arlene.
As the pair look to the future, they tell me they love what they do. "We love the creative nature of our work. There is great excitement in starting with a blank canvass and then gradually watching as the process unfolds and everything comes together, complete with our own bespoke pieces," says Arlene. In particular, they love to travel to shows around the world to find new design ideas to bring home to their customers.
"Looking after our customers and building strong relationships with them continues to be at the heart of everything we do and has been key to our success to date," insists Juergen. The pair are currently expanding the retail side of their business and are at contract signing stage with a well-known Irish fashion designer to collaborate on the creation of a new collection of furniture and accessories to be launched shortly in both the Irish and UK markets. They are also planning the expansion of their customised luxury nursery furniture line called Baby Ventura during 2018.
In addition, they are scouting for a suitable location to open up a Ventura showroom in London and are planning on expanding into the UK market. "We are also in discussions with a number of potential partners in Germany and Italy with a view to franchising our model into these regions," adds Juergen.
While many others in their sector struggled in recent years, Arlene and Juergen's focus on customer service and quality design, combined with their own range of bespoke furniture has enabled them to continue to grow their business and now leaves them well positioned for international success.
Sunday Indo Business