Conference celebrates hardware community in style

This year’s HAI Conference has set the bar high, with over 270 delegates enjoying a jam-packed day of speeches, seminars and networking opportunities in the heart of Galway City.

Tuesday 1st May saw Galway City play host to the 2nd biennial Hardware Conference. Building on the success of the inaugural 2016 Conference, together with the HAI’s Tradeshow in 2017, this year’s Hardware Conference 2018 was eagerly anticipated across the entire industry as builders merchants, retailers and industry professionals descended on the Galmont Hotel overlooking Lough Atalia by Galway Bay.

Delegates began arriving from early in the morning, as more than 270 attendees collected their goody bags at the registration desk before making their way to the main conference hall. En route, they passed the open area where the Conference’s headline sponsor (Intact Software), gold sponsors (Ames True Temper, Bostik, Glennon Brothers, Saint Gobain [Gyproc Isover], Irish Cement, Kingspan, Tegral and Wavin) and support sponsors (AIB Merchant Services, Credit Risk Brokers, Enprova, IE Domain Registry and Repak) all displayed stands with which to interact with the delegates.

As the hall quickly filled and hotel staff arranged additional seating, HAI President Kieran Burke took to the stage to welcome all those attending and to introduce the Master of Ceremonies for the day – political affairs expert and TV3 presenter Sarah McInerney. Following Sarah’s brief introduction, the mic then passed to Justin Lawless – CEO of Intact Software and the Conference’s headline sponsor addressed the crowd.

Soon after, the day’s first main speaker approached the podium. Tony Foley – Associate Professor of Economics in DCU’s Business School – delivered an engaging presentation titled “Ireland’s Economic Future and Implications for the Hardware Sector”. During his presentation, he sought to temper excitement surrounding the economic recovery, balancing the positivity of employment levels equalling pre-crash levels with the reality that sales in Hardware are still 10% below those of that same pre-crash period. Foley wasn’t shy about drawing attention to discrepancies between the HAI Business Index figures and those of the CSO, questioning whether price decreases and differences between suppliers merit further investigation when assembling accurate figures surrounding the recovery. Overall, Foley predicted a potentially bright future for the industry, but much depends on the housing market as well as the unfolding Brexit saga.

Next up was one of the most anticipated and widely talked-about presentations from throughout the day – that of Steve Collinge and his dissection of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Beginning by telling an auditorium full to the brim with business owners that half of their business won’t exist in ten years is a bold opening line, but it was one that captivated the audience from the get-go. Speaking about the relentless pace at which technology is dictating business models, Steve highlighted the relatively low online sales penetration within the DIY and Garden sectors, and how the means are already there for companies to capitalise in anticipating an ever-increasingly technologically advanced customer base’s needs and adapting their business models to meet these needs head-on. Concepts such as click-and-collect seemed almost obsolete as Steve’s presentation discussed driverless delivery methods such as Amazon’s drones or Tesco’s grocery robots.

The growing prevalence of online methods of assessing potential purchases were married with scope to exploit rental niches, where customers can hire machinery instead of purchasing outright, and how retailers can adapt to absorb this transformation in the industry. Concluding with his unique insight into the Homebase/Bunnings situation, the crowd left the seminar deep in communal conversation.

CEO of Portwest and EY 2017 Entrepreneur of the Year Harry Hughes then stood before the assembled delegates as he narrated the engaging and inspirational story of his company’s humble beginnings to becoming the global leader in the construction clothing industry that it is today. Hughes shed light on a variety of topics directly relevant to his journey, such as employment in the West of Ireland and expanding on a global scale, with all the challenges and rewards brought along by such an ambitious project.

Chanelle, Lady McCoy then took to the stage to deliver her keynote speech – the final instalment before the break for lunch. Deciding it best to address the topic of her famous husband early on, she began by speaking about her family in general, and her own story, from the founding of her company to its early successes and awards, as well as her children. Later in her presentation she spoke about the key to a successful work-life balance, but in between she captivated the audience with a wonderfully detailed yet accessible breakdown of what it means to be a successful and effective leader in today’s business world. The valuing of staff and customers alike is a core element of her ethos, with KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) among the chief strategies employed at her company to bring the best out of her staff. For the customer, determining individual approaches based on a variety of factors (not least of all the generation from which they hail) can be combined with a clear outlining of a company’s values are all key elements of success in Lady McCoy’s eyes. Like Steve Collinge who spoke earlier, she also ended on a note of caution concerning the advancement of technology and what it could mean for businesses everywhere.

After lunch, there was an interactive session delivered by best-selling author, corporate speaker, world traveller and high-performance coach Pat Divilly, where he had the entire room on its feet, engaging in various physical activities, much to the bemusement but overall enjoyment of the audience. The day’s activities then took on a more innovative format, with various seminars taking place at different locations. Among these was an informative session hosted by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI), along with one hosted by Dave Gavin of KCR Builders Providers Ltd who spoke at length about a particularly challenging instance of gross staff misconduct, and the effects that such instances can have on a business. The third seminar was hosted by Celine Cummins and covered the varied topic of visual merchandising.

A Brexit Panel Discussion took place after the afternoon coffee break with panellists including Mike Glennon (Glennon Brothers), Ian Haldane (Haldane Fisher), Bob Boxwell (Tucks O’Brien) and Padraic Rogers (Topline Rogers) and chaired by Conference MC, Sarah McInerney. Mike Glennon discussed the significant impact on the timber industry given the country’s main market is the UK whilst Ian Haldane admitted that he had made no preparation for a border he didn’t think would materialise. Bob Boxwell had looked into the WTO tariffs on product that he imports from the UK and Padraic Rogers didn’t see the benefit of spending time on an issue that we still don’t know much more about than we did almost two years on from the vote.

The daytime events then concluded with a little prelude to those awaiting in the evening, as the rugby fans among those attending got to hear Connacht Rugby CEO Willie Ruane speak about his own path from player to banker to behind-the-scenes innovator as Connacht CEO. He talked about the vision that has recently been launched for Connacht Rugby entitled ‘Grassroots to Green Shirts’, which aims to inspire the people of Connacht through rugby success.

Later that evening, there was a palpable sense of relaxation among the attending delegates, as a festive pre-dinner soirée kicked off in the beautiful lobby of The Galmont Hotel. Live traditional Irish music filled the foyer as guests mingled and glasses of wine were convivially clinked in celebration of a very productive and informative day’s events. As everyone filed into the banquet hall to take their places, a sumptuous four-course meal was served. However, guests were made wait for the dessert course, but nobody minded much, as the legendary Mick Galwey grabbed the mic to sit down in conversation with the infectiously gregarious Bundee Aki – Grand Slam winner with Ireland and Pro12 winner with Connacht Rugby, who has made over 70 appearances for Connacht, scoring 55 points, and boasting seven caps for Ireland so far, scoring his first try in a green jersey against Italy in February this year. The pair were in great spirits, as were the crowd, and towards the end they were joined on stage by JJ Delaney – winner of nine All Irelands with Kilkenny – and Joe Connolly, who captained Galway’s All Ireland-winning team in 1980. The four then talked greatest sporting moments and answered questions to the delight of all those in attendance.

With the mood one of joy and celebration, the spectacular HAI birthday cake was brought out – celebrating the HAI’s 80th Anniversary – and the honour of cutting said cake was bestowed on the current HAI President Kieran Burke and HAI Past President Jimmy Donoghue who presided over the association from 1995 to 1996.

As the crowd migrated to the bar for some cake and a celebratory drink, it was clear that this year’s HAI Conference 2018 was a resounding success, with appetites now sufficiently whetted for the Hardware Show 2019, before the Conference comes around again.