Sligo charm, nationwide acclaim

In this issue of The Hardware Journal, editor Adam Byrne spoke to Karl Kelly, Branch Manager of Brooks Sligo to find out more about the long-standing Sligo stalwart.

The Brooks Sligo store originated as Hanley’s of Sligo. Hanley’s are a well known name in Sligo since the turn of the century, according to Branch Manager, Karl Kelly, who said they were acquired by the Brooks Group in the 1960s. The company has been situated at its  present site for nearly 50 years, since the early 1970s. The premises itself sits on a five and-a-half acre site, with two acres covered-over by a roof. Brooks was acquired by the Premier Forest Group six years ago, who are traditionally timber importers, so the ownership change resonated well with Brooks Sligo’s business model, Karl said.

Karl, who has been with the Brooks Group for five years, said, “I was lucky to arrive into the company at the end of the recession, which the north-west of Ireland has only felt recovery from in the past year or two.” Having worked his way up from the sales counter to his current position as Branch Manager, Karl is well-versed with the ins-and-outs of the company and the community in which it operates. “We’re seeing a lot of great capital  investment into this region now, and it’s evident with the recent investments into the Sligo/Dublin road that things are looking up again economically. There have been over 1800 jobs announced in Sligo since January 2018, so it’s good news for the West”, Karl said.

As multi-faceted businesses go, they don’t come much more diverse than Brooks Sligo. “At Brooks, our heritage lies in timber. From the 1960s to the early 2000s, we would have imported Scandinavian timber directly onto the dock here in Sligo, adjacent to our premises”, said Karl. “As well as this, we are a distribution hub for Brooks for the entire west coast of Ireland, which is certainly an advantageous business position to hold. Something else that we feel sets us apart from other stores is the fact that we have a
dedicated timber shed. All of our timber is kept inside and out of the elements, which is in contrast to some retailers, who store theirs in outdoor racking in a yard. We stock both
native and imported softwood and hardwood timbers, with joineries accounting for a large part of our client base.”

In 2017, Brooks Sligo undertook a full revamp of the shop. As part of the revamp, an entirely new layout was installed, with no corner left untouched. It was at this time that a
new plumbing department was added to the store, which is now manned by two staff members, and operates as a fully independent section in its own right. Karl commented on
more recent developments, saying, “This year, we’ve also successfully rolled-out our new tool-hire department, which we’re immensely proud of. We’re the first Brooks in the
country to have a tool-hire section, so it’s great to be leading the pack in this regard. This will be a large focus for us over the course of the next 12 to 18 months to establish tool-hire as a bigger part of our business.”

There are four separate counters within the store, each assigned to an individual area. These range from plumbing to general sales and everything in between. The store also
boasts a beautiful showroom for floors, doors and sanitary ware, among other products. “We cover a vast array of customer needs under one roof, and with a 19-strong team
of staff, with three sales representatives on the road at any given time, we’re well equipped to provide our customers with assistance on everything we supply.”

Of late, Brooks Sligo is pushing its sustainable side of the business with its sister company Bromur. Bromur are based out of the nationwide Brooks branches and are able to give a full ‘Part L’ compliance certification to customers. Bromur supply renewable energy products, specialising in air-tightness, air-to-water heat pumps and ancillary works. “This is a big part of our growth plan going forward. We feel that our close connection to the renewable sector through Bromur gives us an edge over the competition, we have also recently been appointed sole distributor for Pro-air Heat Recovery ventilation, and it will certainly be a focus for us in the years to come”, Karl mused.

Karl believes that the key to the success of the Brooks Sligo store has been the staff. “We have three members of staff with over 128 years of service in Brooks Sligo between
them. Contrastingly, we have another three members of staff with only seven years of experience between them. We’ve got new and old employees in the store, which further diversifies our customer service offerings. If you ask any customer why they deal with Brooks, they’ll say it’s because of the staff and their interactivity within the store. We’ve cultivated a highly knowledgeable team over the past number of decades, and their expertise, as well as their approachability has translated into happy customers. Our staff know what they’re talking about, and that’s what people want when they walk into a store like ours.”

Speaking about customer engagement and retention, Karl said, “We run an annual breakfast morning for our customers in order to keep them up-to-date with regulation
changes and any developments in the sector, working with them in order to achieve these new regulations as they arrive. On top of this, we run various competitions year-round;
the biggest of which allows any of our customers the chance to win a van annually. We also run exhibition mornings, where we have suppliers in store to display their new innovations.”

Remarking on the customer base that Brooks Sligo holds in the region, Karl said, “Within Sligo, we’d have three main customer types. We deal with joinery and builder’s merchants covering ten counties surrounding Sligo, from Donegal to Westmeath and everywhere in between. We also have a fantastic flow of self-build and DIY customers. The mainstay of our business, however, would be from general builders and contractors.” The company  launched a brand-new E-commerce website in the last 12 months, allowing for a widening of the customer base to those that prefer to shop online, and the developments have proven fruitful this far, according to Karl.

The company is also proudly involved with the Sligo Tidy Towns initiative, as well as being supportive to various local sports clubs, Karl said. “We’re part of a large community here in Sligo, and it’s very important to us to remain closely involved with the townspeople and those in the surrounding areas.”

As is the case for most companies at the moment, the main topic of concern for Brooks Sligo surrounding Brexit is the uncertainty of it all, but Brooks are doing everything they
can in preparation for any outcome, said Karl. “We definitely have a fear of the unknown with the dawning of Brexit upon us, but these fears are shared with everyone in this industry at the moment. Everyone is essentially in the dark about the ongoing  developments and negotiations. We’re in strong communication with our suppliers and our customers about this issue via newsletters and organised talks, both of which are ongoing. We’re satisfied that everything is perfect from our side in terms of paperwork etc., so our main provisional actions throughout this period have all been related to increasing our stock to avoid delays in the short-term, should any issues arise in the supply chain.”

The Brooks Group head office in Bluebell affords a great level of autonomy to individual Brooks stores, Karl said. “We’re very thankful for this, and the support that we receive from head office is absolutely indispensable. They’re behind us every step of the way and we work closely with them, discussing and planning any developments that we have in the pipeline. It’s a fantastic partnership, and we look forward to the future.”