HAI CEO, Annemarie Harte, travelled to Kilcoole, Co. Wicklow to meet with Mick Smith, Managing Director of Hafele, the third member of the Smith family to take charge of the manufacturer and supplier’s UK and Ireland division.
Hafele supply all the components that hold furniture together. A typical customer would be a family-run kitchen company, and judging by the size of this year’s catalogue (which I couldn’t carry in one hand) that is no small business. When you consider that they are suppliers to flatpack furniture makers, it gives you an indication of the scale of product that the business supplies and manufactures.
Meeting Mick Smith with his soft Bristol accent, you’d find it hard to believe that he has been living in Ireland since the mid-80s. Now a resident of Gorey, he enjoys a stress-free daily drive up the N11 to Hafele Ireland’s base in Kilcoole, Co. Wicklow. Mick is the third member of the Smith family to manage the UK and Ireland division of the German headquartered international manufacturer and supplier of furniture fittings and architectural
hardware. The family run business has a worldwide turnover of €1.3 billion and is still family-run, almost 100 years later.
The EU headquarters gives the UK and Ireland division the scope to respond to the dynamics of the local customer bases. According to Mick: “Communication with the parent company is very relaxed, there is total autonomy to work in your own market and very little interference.” It makes a refreshing change to hear that customers in Ireland are handled with such care and individuality especially in a market that is still in recovery.
To hell and back
When Hafele moved into its premises in Kilcoole in the late ‘90s, there was plenty of room to expand, and expand they did. They added a warehouse in 2007 as the boom continued to test stock turnaround and customer service levels. And then? “We went to hell and back,” says Mick, recalling that year. The collapse of the economy meant that when the warehouse was finished, there was no need for it, he said.
The recession hit hard, from a staff of 60+, numbers went down to the mid-30s. Every department was downsized, most of Hafele’s customers dived into new build. Eventually, the day came in September of that year, when they were left with masses of stock with no business and prices through the floor. The company’s response was to open satellite showroom stores in Santry, Cork and Belfast with walk-in trade counters. The strategy worked and, today, there is approximately €50,000 to €100,000 worth of stock in each showroom and the displays exhibits all fixtures and fittings in situ in the kitchen.
The company’s product range has proven to be a core strength of the business. For example, Hafele supplies Smeg and Gorenje home appliances, both brands that place a huge emphasis on energy efficiency and power saving. Smeg operates in line with sustainability criteria, from the selection of eco-compatible suppliers to the use of recyclable packaging. Gorenje has won numerous awards for design, ease-of-use and environmental sensitivity and many of its appliances come with five-year guarantees.
Hafele offers a selection of waste disposal units which can be retro-fitted to almost any sink, allowing you to tip all your organic waste down the sink and watch it vanish. Anything except the largest of meat bones can be dealt with by these units. Mick notes that they are perfectly safe and also work with septic tanks. Once you have this product in your kitchen, Mick says, you will wonder how you ever managed without it. Despite the fact that they are not cheap, Mick says that they pay for themselves over a few years by reducing the user’s waste charges.
Hafele also offers a wide range of instant boiling water taps from many of the leading brand names in this sector. A kettle is the most inefficient appliance you have in your kitchen, as well as being one of the most expensive to run, Mick notes. You always boil more water than you need. You frequently forget you’ve boiled it and so have to switch the
kettle back on. An instant boiling tap allows you to have a tank full of boiling water available all day for a running cost of just a couple of cents. You will also save power when cooking (no more waiting for pots to boil) and it’s ideal for cleaning.
The renovations market in Ireland has been a boon for the business and Mick foresees steady growth over the next few years. Commenting on the Irish market today, Mick says: “It’s a nicer place to be. Confidence is back, but the easy finance isn’t there as it was in the past.”
As far as Brexit is concerned and assessing what it’s impact will be on the UK and Irish economies, Mick believes we’ll have to wait and see. In Mick’s view, the challenge for Hafele will remain the same – across its enormous product range it must continue to find new and exciting products for its customers.
If you have a story to tell as a supplier or manufacturer in the Irish market, please contact Annemarie on 01 298 0969 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.