Hardware Conference 2016

The Hardware Conference 2016 was a huge success, with HAI members from all around the country flocking to the Lyrath Estate Hotel, Kilkenny to hear a line up of insightful and inspirational speakers, network with colleagues from all sectors of the hardware industry and try their luck at the Casino tables on opening night!

Opening day

The inaugural Hardware Conference in the elegant surroundings of the Lyrath Hotel, Kilkenny kicked off on the afternoon of Wednesday, 6th April, with three well attended break-out sessions for those who could get away early from their businesses:
• an update on timber regulations;
• a Technology Clinic hosted by Intact Software; and,
• a legal update given by a regular contributor to The Hardware Journal, Siobhan Kenny.

These presentations kicked off the Conference with practical, no-nonsense advice on specific relevant topics. A couple of the sessions were still buzzing after 6pm and needed reminding that the pre-dinner drinks reception was starting in an hour, should they wish to relax before the evening of food, drink, entertainment and networking began.

Let the networking begin…it was standing room only for pre-dinner drinks on the opening night of the Conference.

By 7.15pm the lobby of the Lyrath was awash with delegates enjoying drinks and chatting like they hadn’t seen each other in some time and, indeed, in many instances, they hadn’t! It was clear from the start that the opportunity to network was going to be one of the biggest benefits for anyone attending.

Delegates relax and chat over a four-course dinner.

At the dinner, delegates were formally welcomed by HAI President, Hugh O’Donnell. After tucking into a four-course meal, they made their way back to the lobby for the evening’s entertainment. With $1,000 gifted to each delegate, the ‘gamblers’ (particularly, it was noted, the accountants!) took up their positions adjacent to the roulette and blackjack tables, while a musical duo played in the background into the small hours. The latest bed-time ‘officially’ recorded was 4.30am – a sure sign that the conference had got off to a successful and immensely enjoyable start. Although, it did raise some doubts as to whether everyone would make Thursday’s 9am start!

The blackjack table was busy into the small hours.

Selling, surviving and prospering in today’s hardware industry

Thursday’s information-packed schedule opened at 9am with a welcome from Hugh O’Donnell, who provided a guide to the day ahead and introduced the speaker line-up. The panel of expert speakers provided a comprehensive and informative overview of the key challenges facing the industry in an engrossing and highly informative day.

Tony Foley, Senior Lecturer and Head of the Economics, Finance and Entrepreneurship group, DCU.

Economic reality check Tony Foley, Senior Lecturer and Head of the Economics, Finance and Entrepreneurship group, DCU, was the first guest speaker and if there were any delegates feeling the effects of the night before, his sobering assessment of the state of the Irish economy would have blown the cobwebs away.

He began by acknowledging the achievements of the last few years, commenting: “The Irish economy has recovered from the dismal position and performance of 2008 to 2013 but there are significant risk factors. A negative scenario would see lower growth which would put increased pressure on the public finances which would require corrective action to meet EU fiscal rules. The promise held out by those who were successful in the recent General Election of a significantly fairer economy and society (however that is defined) and substantially improved public services, will require more resources than is likely to be available from the fiscal space over the next few years.”

Future economic management will be challenging as raised expectations will be difficult or impossible to meet, he concluded.

Google insights on online trends

Stephen Baker, Manager, Home Retail Team, Google.

In a dual presentation, James O’Dwyer, Senior Retail Consultant, Home Retail Team, and Stephen Baker, Manager, Home Retail Team, both with Google, outlined the most significant trends emerging online that builders merchants and hardware/DIY retailers should be paying attention to.

They noted that device accessibility is driving growth. According to their statistics, in Ireland, we own 3.2 devices per person on average. Deeper engagement is the new normal, they said.

From a builders merchant and hardware retailing perspective, they noted increasing online interest in matters relating to the home including: 31% year-on-year (y-o-y) growth in searches relating to home improvement and DIY; and 23% y-o-y growth in garden-related searches.

There are four key paths to purchase for home and hardware retailers now: online and offline media channels and online and offline purchase channels (i.e., digital and bricks-and-mortar purchase channels). The Google representatives reported that only 5% of retailers have executed an omni-channel strategy and 70% have no omni-channel strategy or are at the very beginning of execution.


A warm welcome greeted Joe Schmidt, Head Coach of the Ireland rugby team and

Head Coach of the Irish rugby team Joe Schmidt 

 the morning’s keynote speaker at the conference. His topic, unsurprisingly, was managing high performing teams. He said it’s important to get the right people from the start and that recruitment is vital: “If you can get an environment where people are self-led, where they are self-motivated, I think your ability to manage them is made so much more easy.”

Individual team members can be fantastic motivators of themselves and others. Having individuals like that in a team, he said, creates a positive, committed working environment that breeds confidence and commitment.

He also said that it’s important that a team leader has an energetic presence: “I know that if I don’t turn up every day with a passion and excitement about what I’m doing, it’s very difficult for me to ask that of others.”

In rugby, he said, passion, commitment and energy are essential: “Playing rugby you do things you don’t normally do. If a gigantic Number 8 walked in to this conference right now, there wouldn’t be a big queue of hands going up to volunteer to tackle him! In ordinary life, you’re not going to do the kind of things that are part and parcel of the game of rugby. That’s why passion and motivation are so important in the game and in all aspects of life.”

The difference

Alf Dunbar,Creator and Founder of the You Are The Difference sales training programme.

Alf Dunbar, creator and founder of the You Are The Difference Sales Training Programme, gave an energetic presentation, exhorting delegates to take on their online competition by providing excellence in customer service. Alf stressed the importance of delivering excellent face-to-face customer service and shared the principles of his training programme as well as giving everyone at the conference a free copy of his book Just Looking, Thanks – the straightforward guide to creating brilliant customer service. He told delegates what he considered to be a fundamental principle of selling: “People buy people first and the product second.

Customer service is all about treating others as you would like to be treated yourself and it hinges on the ability to provide a service or product in the way it has been promised.” In developing a positive attitude among sales staff, Alf said it is vital to bear in mind that the team will always follow the manager’s lead.

Where to now for housing?

After lunch, Hubert Fitzpatrick, Director, Construction Industry Federation looked at construction and housing trends, asking ‘where to from now?’ He outlined the constraints on the housing market. In the first instance, Ireland, he said, was no longer one housing market, but a series of contrasting markets. Replacement cost is higher than market values in some areas. On top of this, there are uncertainties and difficulties for purchasers obtaining adequate mortgage approval. Development finance is expensive and difficult to secure while there is limited availability of ready-to-go development land with adequate services and planning.

Hubert Fitzpatrick, Director, Construction Industry Federation.

Government has responded with new apartment guidelines to reduce construction cost in cities, the waiver of S48 development levies for certain schemes and the activation of capital, including the establishment of the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund (ISIF) of €7.4 billion. Other options are under consideration, he said, including the possibility of tweaking Central Bank policy, the replacement of S48 development levies by property tax and the adjustment of the VAT rate from 13.5% to a temporary rate of 9%, similar to the adjustment for the tourism sector.

Inside the customer’s head

Ken Hughes, Consumer and Shopper Behaviouralist.

Ken Hughes, Consumer and Shopper Behaviouralist, provided humorous and informative insights into the psychology of the consumer in a presentation that was an enlightening mix of stand-up comedy and evidence-based insights into customer behaviour. His main theme was how to bring shopper ‘centricity’ to life in builders merchant and DIY stores.

Ken asked merchants to ask themselves just how shopper centric they were? Does store layout take into account the shopper’s needs, the shopper’s journey through the store, the shopper’s convenience. How much do store displays feed into the shopper’s imagination and aspirations? He illustrated the effectiveness of this strategy by showing imagery of contrasting displays aimed at selling summer garden and barbecue products: one a dull display of shelved products; and, the other, a fully accessorised garden barbecue scene that feeds the shopper’s imagination of a perfect summer barbecue and drives the urge to buy the products that will help realise some approximation of that vision.

The afternoon was brought to a fitting close when HAI Past President and Tegral Managing Director, Paddy Kelly interviewed distinguished international industry leader, Peter Hindle, MBE, General Delegate, Saint-Gobain UK, Ireland & South Africa.

The conversation ranged across the four decades of Peter’s career, covering his varying roles culminating in his time as a key senior executive at Saint-Gobain. In late 2013, Peter was appointed to the World Green Building Council Advisory Board, representing Compaignie de Saint-Gobain and he told the Conference that he sees the environment and sustainability as key factors that will shape the future of our Industry.

At the end of the interview, he responded to a number of questions from the floor, including a query about his experience of receiving an MBE from the Queen. He recounted his memories of the day, including his encounter with another honoree, who turned out to be one of his teenage heroes, Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant.

To view the presentations and much more, log on to the The Hardware Education Hub at hardware-educationhub.ie