How to use tiles to build a brand
Sean Gallagher meets owners of small and medium-sized businesses and shares the lessons they’ve learnt in building their companies
Located in Camolin in Co Wexford, Halo Tiles is a specialist tile, flooring and bathroom retail and distribution business. Set up in 1972 by husband and wife team Tom and Sheila Doyle, and now run by their son Patrick, the company employs 23 staff and has an annual turnover of €6m.
"We operate across a number of key market segments," explains Patrick, as he shows me around the company's attractive showrooms. Professionally designed and with a huge range of tiles, baths, mirrors, showers and sanitary ware, it's easy to see why this was recently selected as one of the top 30 stores in the country.
"We have a retail side of the business which sells direct to customers who are building or renovating their home, as well as a commercial arm that sells through architects, interior designers and developers for use in larger-scale projects such as hotels, offices and housing developments.
"Some recent projects we have worked on include the Iveagh Gardens and Skylon hotels in Dublin, Ferrycarrig and Talbot hotels in Wexford and the Hotel Kilkenny as well as a number of Applegreen stores in both Ireland and the UK. And we have also completed a number of government swimming pools in Northern Ireland including Downpatrick, Newry and Omagh," he adds.
The company also operates a thriving distribution business selling through large builders' providers including Haldane Fisher, HPC Group, Topline (AMG), Ganlys of Athlone and Morris DIY.
The business initially traded under the name Tom Doyle Supplies, before being rebranded to Halo Tiles. "My father had been working in the haulage sector and became interested in travelling to liquidation sales where he would buy and sell all sorts of goods. Having bought a consignment of tiles in one such auction, he began selling these from a small warehouse when he realised that there might actually be an opening for a dedicated tile and bathroom business," says Patrick.
Patrick's father also continued to operate the haulage business and Patrick remembers spending his school summer holidays helping to deliver tiles to customers.
By the age of 18 he had secured a haulage driving licence. After school he studied business in the Dublin Institute of Technology and later accounting in Carlow IT before joining the family business full time in 2004.
Recognising the emergence of the building boom in the mid-2000s, Patrick set up the commercial arm of the business and began tapping into the growing demand from builders and developers. By 2008, he had grown the company's turnover to over €8.5m.
"That all fell apart in the first three months of 2009, when the crash came. It was as if someone somewhere had pushed a button," he says. "By 2012 turnover had dropped to around €1.5m and we were forced to reduce our staff numbers from 26 to just 13 in order to survive. We were fortunate, however, that we had little debt in the business at the time which helped us greatly," he adds.
"To grow the business, we knew the challenge was to expand what was a regional company into a national brand, but on a modest budget."
It was then that Patrick decided to rebrand the company as Halo Tiles. By that time the family had branched into other businesses and were running a successful petrol station and convenience store under the Gala brand.
"Understanding how these type of brands work became instrumental in helping us develop a similar model in our own business," says Patrick.
"Having studied the market internationally, we saw that hardware stores across Europe had tile departments so we then moved to partner with local hardware and builders' providers stores around Ireland. We then set up local showrooms in each store that are run by the local stores but with delivery coming from our central warehouse.
"And within a short time we had successfully grown from a local and regional business to a nationally recognised brand."
With the infrastructure now in place to deliver volume sales, the company took over the distribution rights for Vitra Tiles, the world's leading brand of ceramic tiles, further driving sales.
"I then began to understand that while I had been in the tile and bathroom business all my life and had a depth of knowledge about the sector, there was no way I could know it all. So in order to broaden out my experience and to gain an external perspective, I appointed an advisory board under the chairmanship of Jim Coffey.
"His experience and background in the hardware distribution sector helped greatly in shaping our future direction and expansion plans," says Patrick.
Recently Halo began investing in key hires such as a new finance director and new sales and marketing manager to support a future growth strategy and to build upon the strengths of the existing core team. It also plans to announce a new partnership with a leading global sanitary distribution company which will give it access to a whole new range of products.
"We also recently began focusing on attracting the DIY/white-van market of small builders, tilers and plumbers through a new trade brand or concept which we call Protile. Starting with a small range of attractive yet affordable tiles, we are now rolling this out across the country with great success," says Patrick.
"Dynamic and ever changing, I still love the business. In particular, I love working with our staff and our customers and at the heart of it all. I still love sales," he insists.
Looking to the future, Patrick is committed to continuing to grow the business and aims to double turnover within the next five years
"We aim to achieve this through continuing to invest in our team and our existing partnerships. We will continue to develop new market opportunities and expanding our product offering by sourcing the leading tile and bathroom ware products around the world and bringing them to the Irish market. We also hope to change the face of the business by successfully retailing online, a rare concept within this industry," he adds.
Sunday Indo Business