The Hardware Journal Ireland editor Adam Byrne caught up with Gordon Clarke of Dublin’s TW Clarke to unlock the secrets to a successful family business.
TW Clarke is a family-run distributor of security, key cutting, hardware and engineering products. The company arose from informal beginnings in 1981, when Willie Clarke began
accumulating stock in the family home in Rathfarnham and later in a warehouse in Terenure. The progressive expansion of the business eventually led to the purchase of the current warehouse situated in Bluebell Industrial Estate; a location connecting the business to its nationwide customer base with its proximity to the motorway network.
Willie’s two sons, Gordon and Neville, now run the business. The pair share their father’s meticulous approach to organisation, which means that they can pinpoint the location of every item in the warehouse at a moment’s notice. “There are times when we have to act extremely quickly to get an order out the door as soon as possible, so knowing the exact location of every item in the 3,500ft warehouse is vital”, according to Gordon. It is clearly this dependability that has maintained their popularity with customers throughout the years. “I always get a buzz out of fulfilling last minute orders”, Gordon said.
The team currently consists solely of Neville and Gordon, meaning that there’s always action and pressure in their job, which they thrive on, said Gordon. Their small team also means that they have a very close connection with their customers, who receive an unmatched level of service and the added benefit of speaking to a member of the Clarke family each time they call. Gordon said that there are no plans to induct his own kids into the business just yet, however, they have taken up roles as product testers from the family home for the interim period, ensuring that consistent high standards are met across the board. The Clarke brothers are a wealth of expertise in their field, with modesty to match. “We try and give people the best service we can give, doing everything possible to satisfy the customer. We’re very open with our clients when working with them to establish their exact needs, which we will always endeavour to accommodate” Gordon said.
Gordon’s advice to families working together in business is that “It’s ok to disagree on things, but not to be disagreeable, otherwise it won’t work.” The Clarkes’ ability to read industry trends and predict demand stems from years of experience that has trickled down from one generation to another through knowledge-sharing and co-operation as a team. Day-to day, Gordon takes charge of paper work, administrative duties and processing orders, while Neville is involved with customer liaison, with a lot of overlap between their duties. According to Gordon, “customers are always asking ‘what’s new’, and we have to be very responsive to new product arrivals in order to keep our customers informed.”
Having spoken to Gordon, it is clear that TW Clarke is a company with a deep-rooted conscientiousness around the quality of the products they supply. The end-user experience is as important to them as it is for the retailer to whom they provide their products. This extra level of care is an undeniable element of their success as a company. The brothers have a discerning eye for the calibre of the products they sell. “We’re very particular when it comes to choosing a supplier. We look for consistent product quality and a market leading brand name before bringing a new supplier on board” said Gordon. Their growing list of customers, some of whom have been with them since the business first began, acts as a testament to their reliability and care in all areas of their trade. Gordon is passionate about the products that he supplies, which is evident as he talks his way through the contents of the warehouse, with each section having its own anecdotal snippet of personality to it.
TW Clarke has recently started a business relationship with the Italian security manufacturer, VIRO. “Their ethos of supplying quality products fits perfectly with our approach to servicing our customers needs. We supply these in full confidence, so that our customers – the hardware stores, locksmiths, key cutters, engineering merchants and industrial suppliers can all supply their customers, knowing we stand over everything we sell”, Gordon said.
In recent times, the pair have created their own brand of letterboxes and safes named ‘NGC’ (Neville and Gordon Clarke). They stand over their own brand in the same way they would for the other brands they supply. “Quality is extremely important to us. It took us six or seven samples to find the right letterboxes to put our name to”, said Gordon. Their beautifully crafted ‘NGC’ brand letterboxes are named after Irish rivers; one of which is a hat-tip to their father’s home county of Cavan, ‘the Erne’. The economic downturn was tough on the company, as it was for many. The family bolstered their business by increasing the amount of stock that they held to stay ahead of the competition, maintaining their reputation of reliability that they had carved through decades of trading. “It’s rare for us to be out of stock for items that our customers need. The key to our business is having stock on the shelves. We and our customers can’t function if we haven’t got the right stock in the warehouse at any given time”, Gordon reflected. There was a time when the company supplied 30 or 40 types of keys, but that figure is now in the thousands, which serves as another indicator of their exponential success over the years.
TW Clarke is an excellent example of a great Irish family business. A well-oiled operation with a comprehensive level of service, forward-thinking ideas and a diverse range of products. The enthusiasm of the men behind the business is one of many signs that they have kept a fresh, unwavering approach to their company, which will keep them moving onwards and upwards for many years to come.
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