Smyth’s: An Enniscorthy Hit

In this issue of The Hardware Journal : Editor Adam Byrne visited Smyth’s Homevalue of  Enniscorthy to check-in with owners Dermot and Betty Kavanagh after a recent store expansion.

Situated on Enniscorthy’s Rafter Street at the heart of the town, Smyth’s Homevalue is a store steeped in history. It’s been in the Kavanagh family since 1979, when current owner
Dermot Kavanagh’s parents acquired the premises. Dermot and his wife Betty later took the reigns in 1990, and proceeded to further develop the bustling business. The whole family has worked with the store in one way or another, with each of the pair’s five children having spent time employed there also, which represents the central role that Smyth’s plays within the Kavanagh family.

From the outside, Smyth’s appears as any other shop on Rafter Street; decorative, quaint and befitting of Enniscorthy’s rich character. Entering the store reveals a far more complex
operation than could ever be imagined from the exterior. The remarkable amount of space inside is but one of the hidden charms that Smyth’s has to offer. The premises comprises of
various levels and different buildings that surround the original store, all of which were incrementally acquired by the family. This, in Dermot’s words, took the store “From a traditional hardware outlet to a department store with six clearly defined departments now in place”. Inside, the store is busy, with arrays of eye-catching products speckled far and wide.

The store has recently undergone a considerable expansion, where an extra 5,000 sq. ft. was added on to the existing space, bringing the store to a total of 16,000 sq. ft. The new development was unveiled on the 15th of July 2018, and has been a resounding success since. Dermot said that “since the expansion, more and more tradespeople are beginning
to take note of the range of paints we have to offer. They no longer have to travel long distances to get the same products.” Access to the store is available through multiple entrances and the store has the benefit of a 200-space car park on its doorstep.

Smyth’s bears an untold sense of familiarity, which, accompanied by a homely atmosphere, draws customers in and invites them to stay. There’s an untranslatable Dutch term
known as ‘gezelligheid’, often used to describe an intangible, cosy, and sociable atmosphere, which, can be safely used here to describe Smyth’s Homevalue. The recent installation of a coffee machine on the shop floor, albeit a minor inclusion, has proven as a catalyst for customers to feel at ease and spend more time relaxing and browsing in-store. “We want Smyth’s to be a destination store; something along the lines of the Avoca of hardware”, Dermot said. The family’s ethos is visible throughout the shop floor, with both tradespeople and DIY customers engaging with staff and not appearing rushed to leave.

The store is multi-faceted to say the least. There’s a creative use of space throughout the store, which houses a product selection ranging from cookware to white goods, tools of all types, lighting, garden and an award-winning paint section, which recently took the ‘Best Paint Store in Ireland’ award at the 2018 ‘United in Excellence’ awards. The paint department covers a large area of the upper-section of the store, with a ‘colour hub’ paint mixing area and a colour consultation area both acting as focal points of the department.

Despite the seismic selection of products, the entire store maintains an airy and spacious feel. The lighting section is alive with layers of lamps and a warm walkway of bulbs leading to nostalgic photographs on the way down the stairs, giving a further sense of history to the building.

Dermot describes himself as a people person, and it’s easy to see why. As he exhibited the store, he greeted and chatted with patrons, handling customer queries with admirable
fluidity. His friendly approach to all who enter the store is demonstrative of the passion he has for his business, which is certainly favourable, as Betty describes their work as “a 24/7
job” for them both.

Dermot and Betty place a high value on their staff. They currently employ 15 team members, some of whom have been part of the company for 40 years and others for several decades. The low staff turnover in Smyth’s is a testament to the owners’ conscientiousness towards their team and towards in-store working relationships. Despite the expansion of the business, Dermot and Betty still take a hands-on role, often covering lunch shifts in the store. They emphasised the importance of being out on the shop floor, interacting closely with staff and addressing many customers on a first-name basis, which patrons place huge value on. The pair have passed the majority of the day-to-day store-running duties over to the manager Keith Sludds, which, they say, “is mutually beneficial”, affording learning opportunities to staff and freeing themselves up to spend more time on business development. Betty mentioned that her experienced staff play a central role in ensuring that all customer questions are answered correctly and that the best possible service level is achieved all the time. The store is carefully planned, with customer engagement as a priority. This means that the space is designed “so that customers will meet face-to-face with a member of staff when entering the store” and a seamless journey enfolds from department to department. This layout of the store underwent various incarnations, according to Dermot, who said that he “tore up several plans on the way to finding the one that worked best”. It’s refreshing to see that after all their time in charge of the store, Dermot and Betty still keep their finger on the pulse of the business, “constantly tweaking things” and never becoming complacent; an undeniable secret to their success as a family business.

The journey through the store itself tells a story, taking the customer from old to new, or vice versa, depending on the entry point to the building. The Rafter Street side of the store
is effectively the ‘old’ part of the shop, with a vintage shopfront that reflects the history of the store, while the Lymington Road entrance at the rear shows off the modern and polished exterior. This fusion of old and new is executed with excellence, preserving the store’s traditional heritage, while projecting the message that Smyth’s means business. Smyth’s is a member of the United Hardware group and Dermot was quick to mention the pivotal influence of United Hardware in the company’s continued growth. Dermot said
that their design expertise, ongoing support and business guidance has been an invaluable asset in Smyths’ expansion process. Betty said that utilising the help of United Hardware alongside her and Dermot’s extensive experience has been an incentive to keep things fresh and avoid stagnation in the business. It’s difficult to argue with the results that the store presents, with several awards won last year, including South East Radio’s ‘Best Hardware Store of 2018’ and a runner-up slot in Wexford Chamber’s ‘Best Family Run Business’.

Another facet of the business comes in the form of the classes that they offer. Betty offers sugar paste and cookery classes in a purpose-built upstairs classroom area known as ‘The Cook Shop’. There’s a fascinating display of detailed cake designs on the approach to the classroom, some of which are award-winning and can only be described as artistic. The provision of classes is not only demonstrative of the community element of the store that Dermot and Betty value so highly, but also of the intelligent business minds of the pair, who say that the cookery classes can also influence the sale of cookware in the store. As well as this, the pair have worked closely with upcycling expert, ‘The Revamp Tramp’ to provide  instructional classes on upcycling furniture, which has also proven beneficial for sales in the area of decorative materials.

In terms of online presence, the store is well represented and active across various social media platforms, providing regular product and store updates. In accompaniment to this
the Smyths operates a comprehensive website whereby all of their products can be purchased online and delivered nationwide. The store is open from 9am to 6pm Monday to
Saturday, closing Sundays.

A fascinating store, run by real people who are passionate about their work. The future is limitless for Smyth’s Homevalue Enniscorthy.