Telfords has the winning formula

Telfords Portlaoise has scooped the coveted Octabuild National Builders Merchants of the Year for 2019. Managing Director Liam McEvoy tells HAI how teamwork and customer focus gets results.

Coming first is a habit for Telfords Portlaoise, Octabuild 2019 Builders Merchant of the Year. Not only did Telfords top the National Excellence Awards; this is their fourth win since the award’s 1986 launch, (three for Portlaoise and one for Mountrath). Judges were impressed by the premises, commercial savvy and professionalism, commending the systems, service,
promotions and community involvement.

The panel also cited Telfords’ openness to change, and the market-leading employee share scheme and health and safety standards.

For 2019, Octabuild set the bar even higher, championing excellence in management, service, sales, marketing, innovation, leadership, diversity, partnership and communications. In Telfords, these factors combine to create a store that’s the best in the business.

Excellence since 1885

Telfords Mountrath began as a general merchant, explains Managing Director Liam McEvoy, but from 1970 specialised in hardware and building materials.

After refurbishment in 1986, the Mountrath store won Octabuild ‘89. Further National trophies followed in 2001 and 2007 for the Portlaoise Store.

In 1990, Telfords opened a new store in Portlaoise. The present seven-acre site, on the towns outskirts, was acquired in 1993 when lending rates were in double digits and rising. But foresight paid off. The location offers ample free parking, M7 access, easy commuting from Dublin and growing space.

Telfords Portlaoise completed a major extension in 2006. 2007 brought a new standalone electrical store and Trade separated from DIY.

Today Telfords consists of Electrical 12,600 sq. ft., DIY 19,200 sq. ft., and Trade Centre 4,800 sq. ft.: offering Household, Workwear, Power Tools, Garden, Paint, Fuel, Seasonal, Floors, Doors, Bathrooms, Stanley Centre, White & Brown Goods, Appliances and a Kitchen Design Centre.

Layout is designed for easy shopping, access and deliveries. “The one-way system in our trade yard accommodates large trucks and a designated bay handles all outgoing deliveries, which is very important for Health & Safety in our organisation” says Liam.

Going the extra mile

Customers drive constant improvement. Liam explains,“We keep a close eye on our customer base, which covers the general public, trade and DIY, and evolve to meet their needs.

We restock daily and are always on the lookout for new, innovative products. Branded products are crucially important; coming with a guarantee and customer recognition. We’re also proud to support many Irish and local manufacturers.

Customers are an excellent source of market intelligence and feedback on ways Telfords can do even better. Buyers now receive invoices electronically before they leave the store, and we’re introducing a paperless e-invoicing portal this February. We have extended our opening hours in Portlaoise, and are open from 8.00am to 6.00pm weekdays, 9am to 6pm Saturdays and lunch time opening.

We expanded our paint range, are bringing more sustainable products onstream, and now design and sell kitchens.

Customers value our competitive prices and the expertise and flexi-finance offered by our kitchen design centre.

Customers also appreciate extra services, like Next Day Delivery, and, for heavier or awkward items, the convenient carry out service at the DIY Store”.

“The complimentary Tea/Coffee Station in our Builders Centre is very popular,” adds Liam.

The Power of People

Liam credits Telfords’ 70 employees for this level of service and for the Octabuild win.

“By empowering people to take responsibility, we bring out their best.

We develop managerial capacities by involving staff in the day-to-day planning and running of our business.”

Each Department Manager looks after their own team, merchandising, stocks, service and purchasing. This encourages them to be aware of customer demands and trends, buy smart, choose quality at competitive prices and grow sales.

Liam’s role is to support his managers. “I communicate with them daily, providing encouragement and motivation. I help them secure better prices to retain customers and attract new
business.”

Telfords’ team is further motivated through personal development reviews, share options and social events. Employees have a stake in success and feel valued. “We believe in an open-door policy, communication and cooperation.”

Continuous training, in-house and outside with suppliers, is vital, “developing the specialist knowledge within our team, many of whom have been with us over 20 years. We also organise training to keep Trade Customers updated, by having
breakfast mornings and open days.”

Getting the word out

Sales and marketing activities mix traditional and new platforms. Local papers, parish newsletters and signage instore and locally highlight new products, discounts and events.

“For major sales we distribute 60,000 flyers. We also maintain an active e-commerce electrical store and Facebook page, updated daily with news and information, offers, seasonal products and competitions to develop a strong relationship with customers.”

Instore events include trade breakfast mornings and customer training with suppliers. Dulux Paint Hero, Holly Bryan, visits monthly to provide hints and tips.

In 2003, The Grafton/Chadwicks Group acquired Telfords. Liam credits CEO of the Chadwicks Group, Patrick Atkinson, for his continuous support given over the last number of years. Membership of Euronics also boosts profile. Telfords benefits from more competitive pricing and Euronics marketing for the electrical store.

Survival and success

Despite unpredictable times and a competitive sector, then and now, Telfords thrives. Looking after staff and customers is the key, reaping increased sales, bigger margins and some years, double-digit growth.

This strong performance defies current challenges: including suppliers selling directly to end users, online trading and access to banking finance.

Telfords creates opportunities by playing to its strengths: extended range, quality brands, competitive pricing, exceptional service and ensuring the goods customers want are available now. Their USP: a one stop shop staffed by skilled people.

Being agile also helps Telfords stay relevant. Liam notes, “We’re constantly on the lookout for new markets and opportunities. Research is important to stay ahead, so we depend on the likes of Hardware Association Ireland.”

“Having a strong, knowledgeable staff is an important asset that will set us apart and keep us current with the demands of an evolving marketplace and empowered customer.”

Technology plays a major role in driving Telfords forward and boosting efficiency. Sales reps use tablets to take orders onsite and expedite collection and delivery. The'My Hub' portal streamlines HR administration.

Evergreen

“Sustainability matters,” states Liam. “We’re doing a lot to make Telford’s clean, green and efficient, and helping customers with products and services that minimise environmental impact.”

“As WEEE Ireland and Repak members, we’re totally compliant with waste management legislation. We’re educating and enabling staff and customers to achieve best practice too.”

Telfords’ sole electricity provider Energia is powered by 100% renewable energy. All lighting is being replaced with LED. Light detectors and cold hand dryers have been fitted. New forklifts reduce carbon emissions. Telfords is also cutting paper use.

Eco product lines now include: ground/air source heat pumps, solar thermal and PV, energy-saving lighting, solar lights and household waste composters.

Giving back

Telfords has deep roots in Portlaoise. Most staff are local, the business uses local tradespeople and buys local as much as possible.

The store supports dozens of community activities for all ages at local and county level: sports, civic events, services for the homeless, elderly and disabled. Charitable giving is supported by the staff tuck shop (a voluntary project set up by the Telfords staff), and is making a real difference.

Positive prospects

Rapid population growth and plans for a major inland port/ distribution centre at Togher on the M7 motorway nearby, offer real potential. So Telfords’ development never stops. 2019 saw the launch of a new Stanley showroom, electrical store updates, Sony wall and yard improvements.

Liam is confident about 2020 and beyond. “We have a fantastic skilled staff and a solid brand, trusted for quality, range and service. Our one stop shop format and extended hours should drive increased sales for customers seeking convenience and service.”

“With our National Octabuild Award, our profile is boosted even further. It’s a great motivator and source of pride for our team.”

So what’s the secret to being Ireland’s best Builders Merchant? Liam’s top tips: “Treat staff with respect. Treat customers with care. Provide a great shopping experience and operate in a safe environment.”