Business restoration and building renovation at Chadwicks on Thomas Street in Dublin.
The recent renovation of the monumental arch at Chadwicks’ Thomas Street branch also symbolises the store’s successful business restoration post-recession. Located at Thomas Street, directly across from St John’s Lane Church, the iconic Chadwicks’ arch is synonymous with Dublin City Centre’s historical builders merchant trade. Formerly Kelly’s timber merchants, there has been a merchanting business on the
site since the 19th century. It was purchased by Chadwicks in the 1980s. Chadwicks have 20 branches, and is part of Grafton Merchanting RoI, Ireland’s largest Builders and Plumbers Merchant Group.
On a 1.86 acres site, Chadwicks is divided into a shop area, the yard with parking facilities, and the warehousing areas, which are managed and supervised by 22 staff members. The shop area incorporates three different departments – the plumbing and heating supplies area; the SAM Hire area, which offers a range of Tool and Plant Hire; a Builders’ Merchant; a Self Selection Area; and a Trade Counter.
The main five storage buildings in the yard stock cover:
- Building Materials;
- Plaster and Cement;
- Sheet Material and Doors.
Padraic Horgan, Store Manager, who has worked at Chadwicks for over two decades, describes the branch’s large store and yard facilities as ‘its own little industry’ on Thomas Street. “There is so much history in this branch and we have long established relationships with well-known local businesses, such as Guinness, which is just around the corner,” he says. “When William Thomas Chadwick founded the company in the early 20th century, he brought in heavier materials (both Irish and imported), cement, plasterboard and plywood to supply builders merchants and major building contractors.” Since then, Padraic says, Chadwicks has become a unique builders merchants in terms of location and visibility in the city centre.
“During the 1980s and 1990s, when apartments, office blocks and hotels were being built during the property boom in Dublin, Chadwicks was in a privileged position in terms of being the ‘go to one-stop-shop’ for developers in and around the Dublin area. As part of Concrete Products Ireland (CPI) before we became part of Grafton Group plc, which also distributes building materials to the UK, Netherlands and Belgium, we had a long-standing reputation of having a wealth of knowledge and experience in the industry, as well as offering competitive and market-friendly prices. In addition to this, as Thomas Street is in the heart of the Liberties, Chadwicks has the added bonus of having parking facilities for its clients. “With over 25 dedicated parking spots, customers don’t have to concern themselves with stressful city-centre parking,” Padraic says, “which, in turn, lends to a more efficient store experience.”
Overcoming industry challenges
In the aftermath of the Celtic Tiger, loyalty was a key factor to the continued success of Chadwicks. “Although, we had a large number of regular customers and clients,” says Padraic, “the expansion in online product shops meant customers were drawing price comparisons that we had to learn to compete with, while delivering the same services.”
The recession influenced the Chadwicks business model to evolve with the economy and re-evaluate its digital and marketing strategies as an overall brand. In particular, Chadwicks, as a whole, has diversified, with major investment in the technological and recruitment side of the business. “In 1977, Chadwicks was one of the first computerised companies in Europe, with a fully computerised building supply operation, so, we have a long history of improving and investing in technology, as well as continuously upskilling our workforce. We now have a dedicated digital marketing team in Ashfield and our online ‘Click and Collect’ service is growing steadily with major promotional campaigns taking place in spring and autumn and also one-day madness sales, where branches promote product discounts,” Padraic says. There was a gap in building merchant expertise during the recession as many employees left Chadwicks to pursue other interests, while Grafton Group plc expanded its advertising campaigns and moved direction towards attracting the DIY customer and householder. According to Padraic, Chadwicks has maintained such a steady foothold in the Irish builders merchant sector, withstanding the ‘boom, bust and now the incoming Brexit’.
“Nobody knows what Brexit will bring or the impact it will have. We are looking at it in a positive way as financial institutions are already looking to set up their offices over here. There is a demand for more apartments, student accommodation and hotel developments in the offing so, only time will tell.
“Chadwicks is undergoing a major recruitment drive. Even though 60-70% of our clientele is the ‘white-van man’, there has been a resurgence of the larger builders and entrepreneurs, who are now back on their feet post-recession. Therefore, we need more expert personnel, who have specialised industry and product knowledge and also those, who have just graduated and are young and enthusiastic to learn about the trade,” he says.
“Since 2010, our business has been growing steadily, with the plumbing and heating supplies section performing particularly well. At the end of 2016, our Thomas Street sales were well ahead of total sales in 2010 and so far, in 2017 growth continues. I would say, in general, our sheet boards, plumbing and heating supplies are performing well which is always a positive indicator of how the year will continue.” This successful restoration of the business post-recession is juxtaposed with the recent renovation of Chadwick’s eye-catching archway, which leads into the builders merchant centre.
Gateway to a new era
Built in 1861, the arch, which took three months to renovate, with work undertaken by Acol Ltd, the company responsible for refurbishing the scaffolding and façade at another Dublin landmark – the Shelbourne Hotel – is the first part of an ongoing project of expansion and redevelopment within Chadwicks. The arch renovation project involved repairing the Roman stucco cement in the existing Doris columns, which had water seeping into the main structure. The restoration revealed older lettering on the arch pointing to its past, which is now visible. The work was funded by Chadwicks and supported by Dublin City Council‘s Shopfront Improvement Scheme.
“The arch project is one of a number of refurbishment projects taking place on Thomas Street at present, which is a positive step from Dublin City Council as footfall has increased 10-fold around this area,” Padraic says. “We are directly located on the Trinity College Dublin, Christchurch Cathedral and Guinness Storehouse tourist trail, so we need to take advantage of being at the heart of one of Dublin’s oldest commercial streets. With further phases being considered, including new archway gates being installed, in essence this is a new era for this historic Thomas Street branch.”