A firm grip on the PPE market

Having established itself as an importer of abrasives and personal protective equipment in the Irish market, Keypoint Abrasives now distributes to the UK from its warehouse in Ballycoolin, Co Dublin. According to key figures at the company, there is much to celebrate, writes Annemarie Harte, CEO of HAI.

Michael Kavanagh, Managing Director, Keypoint, pictured with the sales and customer service staff (l-r): Margaret English, Sean Currie, Jason Clifford, Richard Murphy, Maria O’Sullivan, Michael Kavanagh, Bob Kennedy, Fiona O’Brien, Claire Mahon, Tony Boyle, Kevin Behan and Turlough McNulty.

Established in 2002, Keypoint is an importer of personal protective equipment (PPE), with a primary focus on hand and foot protection, abrasives, industrial diamond and tapes, servicing markets in Ireland and the UK. Having established the business with abrasives, PPE has been a more recent success story for Keypoint. Having always been an agent for 3M respiratory products, it expanded further into PPE with footwear.

From there, it started distributing ATG gloves in Ireland in 2010 and, on the back of its success establishing the brand as the market leader in the sector, was appointed as the exclusive sales partner for ATG in the UK three years later. ATG develops premium-quality ‘intelligent glove solutions’ with an application-driven range of products to suit every need, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach. The gloves are pieces of technology and innovation, and Michael Kavanagh, Managing Director, says that their users certainly don’t have any complaints.

“In keeping with our philosophy, ATG is a premium-branded product that engenders brand loyalty and repeat purchases from both our distributors and, more importantly, their customers,” Michael says. “As with our other brands, Klingspor, 3M and Sixton, they are right at the top end of the quality spectrum, meaning our customers have the confidence that what they are selling really is the best available in the marketplace.”

An evolving business

Customer service is of paramount importance, and this is where Keypoint believes it stands out compared to the competition. While Keypoint represents numerous global brand leaders, support at local level is an integral part of its strategy. It provides next-day delivery service throughout Ireland and supports all of its brands with a range of in-store point of sale (POS) and marketing through a variety of channels.

Marketing Manager, Maria O’Sullivan, explains how the multifaceted POS offering for ATG evolved into what it is today: “We started out introducing MaxiFlex gloves in a counter-top unit which held a few packs of gloves. As the demand grew for the product, we introduced a cardboard floor dump, which held 12 packs of gloves. MaxiFlex proved to be hugely successful, as the brand became known for its quality, comfort and fit, as well as being 100% skinfriendly and breathable. On the back of this success, we introduced MaxiTherm gloves and MaxiDry (other brands within ATG), and these also proved to be very successful. As the demand grew for these brands, we decided to introduce a branded metal free-standing display unit (FSDU), which can hold more product as well as giving us a permanent position in-store. We have recently introduced interchangeable baskets, which provide space to hold additional stock of the more popular styles/sizes. This unit can now hold up to 36 packs of gloves. All POS is designed by us and manufactured in Ireland.” National Sales Manager, Claire Mahon, tells me that these creative ideas have been used globally by other ATG distributors. I’m intrigued about ATG gloves and ask why these gloves are so much better than the rest. Hugh O’Reilly, UK National Sales Manager, explains that they are dermatologically accredited by the Skin Health Alliance to the same standards as many consumer skincare brands and also allergy tested, which is completely unique to this sector. Impressively, the MaxiFlex Ultimate is the biggest-selling work glove, not only in Ireland, but the world, with 42 million sales annually in Europe alone.

Looking to the future

Keypoint distributes to the UK market from its warehouse based in Ballycoolin, Co Dublin, and has recently won a major account to distribute to over 600 Travis Perkins stores in the UK. Having established itself firmly in the Irish market, it’s heartwarming to see an Irish company distributing directly to the UK from here. However, as we now know, Brexit has happened, and the unknown is never a confidence booster for business. The immediate effect of a drop in sterling is worrying for Irish exports to Britain: will it mean the UK heads for recession, and what will the potential repercussions be for Keypoint? Michael comments: “The greatest concern surrounding Brexit is the uncertainty that it will cause. As we speak, the currency markets are in a state of flux and nobody knows what kind of trade deal will be struck between the UK and Europe. However, for all the uncertainty, Keypoint will continue to look to the future with a huge sense of optimism, as the strength of the brands we carry is significant, and we will continue to develop new channels and opportunities in what, for us, is still a huge developing market.”

Offering the very best brands is critical to Keypoint’s go-to-market philosophy. From ATG

Offering the very best brands is critical to Keypoint’s philosophy.

gloves, to Klingspor and 3M abrasives, to the Italian-designed and made Sixton footwear, its brand portfolio is a ‘who’s who’ of premium products in each sector. Claire Mahon believes passionately that the confidence which Keypoint’s product offering gives its customers was key to successfully navigating the recession. “Even when the market was all about price reductions, we continued to add quality products to our range and our customers very quickly saw that there was far more value in these lines than in the cheaper commodity products offered by a lot of the competition.” Maria tells me about some of Keypoint’s new products. “We have continued to add new and exciting products to our offering and will be coming to market in the coming weeks and months with some new products exclusive to Keypoint. We’ve just launched a range of diamond blades from Klingspor, a new venture from a brand with over 40 years of success in Ireland. Traditionally, they have focused on paper or cloth-based abrasives and cutting and grinding discs. So, to now have industrial diamond products from such a high-quality manufacturer, really completes the range. At our request, Sixton has just added stylish Nubuck dealer boots to its range and it continues to develop brilliant footwear utilising the fully waterproof and breathable technology from Outdry. On September 1st, we launched our own range of premium, disposable nitrile gloves with a unique tyre-tread pattern. And finally for now, one of America’s favourite masking tapes, ‘Frog Tape’, will soon be available from Keypoint also.”

In safe hands

Our hands are probably our most valuable working tool. They enable us to execute complex tasks that cannot be performed by any other part of the body. Without our hands, it would be extremely difficult to complete even the most routine jobs that we take for granted every day, so it is of utmost importance in an industry where hands are the working tools that they are kept safe and protected. The most recent Health and Safety Authority (HSA) statistics on workplace injuries show that more than one in three nonfatal industrial accidents relate to the hand and arm. Of these injuries, over 60% of recorded hand injuries are lacerations and cuts. A cut injury to the hand can require hospital treatment, stitches and three to four days lost time in cases of minor cuts. Serious injuries can, at worst, cause tendon damage, loss of hand mobility or, in extreme cases, amputation. The cost implications to business, especially those in the building industry, are huge, with costs per hand injury estimated at almost €25,000 per incident when lost time, medical and legal expenses and compensation are factored in. As a result, the demand for cut-resistant gloves has increased dramatically over the past three years. Cut-resistant glove manufacturers have responded by improving the quality of fibres they use, by reducing glove weight and by increasing flexibility and dexterity as well as overall comfort and wearability.

If you have a story to tell as a supplier or manufacturer in the Irish market, please contact Annemarie on 01 298 0969 or annemarie@hardwareassociation.ie for more information.