100-year-old is a top performer

Irish International Trading Corporation PLC (Cork) achieved a 50% increase in revenues across the board over the past five years. Managing Director David Heffernan tells THJ how it’s done.


This July Irish International Trading Corporation (IITC) celebrates a landmark anniversary alongside an impressive current performance. The Cork company will mark 100 years of trading.

IITC is a wholesaler and retailer of agricultural and building hardware, steel, wire, salt, plumbing materials and bathroom supplies. Based at Tramore Road, Cork, the company has additional distribution centres in Tivoli, Cork, and Naas, Co. Kildare.

As Managing Director David Heffernan explains, “The company was founded by pioneering Cork businesses wishing to establish viable trade links with companies in the US, Europe and further afi eld. These family firms sourced products from abroad to sell in Ireland and exported products produced in Ireland.

David Heffernan, Managing Director.

Since then IITC has continually grown and widened its portfolio. In 1935 it expanded into general hardware and plumbing materials, followed by the formation of a steel and wire business in 1966.

By 1990 IITC boosted their expansion with the purchase of a Dublin depot, facilitating entry into new markets.

In 2002, IITC relocated from Cork City Centre to a purpose-built €15m+ facility at Tramore Road. The head offices and main distribution centre provide 210,000+ sq. ft of warehousing on a seven-acre site.

Hibernian Salt was purchased in 2004, making IITC one of Ireland’s largest salt distributors.

Further growth and investment took place in 2017, with the construction of a €6m distribution centre in Naas, creating 20 jobs. This state-of-the art facility on a seven-acre site with 90,000 sq. ft of warehousing services IITC’s growing business in the midlands, Leinster, the west and north.

That same year IITC acquired Irish Salt Company Ltd, selling primarily to the food processing industry. “This acquisition was an ideal fit for our existing salt business and consolidated our position as a leading salt distributor in Ireland,” says David.

Four-part harmony

IITC comprises four divisions. Their Plumbing, Heating & Sanitaryware divisions operates one of Ireland’s largest, most modern plumbing, heating and bathroom showrooms at Tramore Road and offers a trade plumbing and heating sales and advice service. Their specialist staff are renowned in the industry for extensive product knowledge and experience.

IITC’s Hardware department distributes agricultural and light building products, supplying some of Ireland’s largest companies, including all major co-ops, and independent merchants in virtually every town and village.

The fast-growing Steel division supplies the agricultural, construction and R.M.I sectors nationwide from its Cork and Naas facilities and is a leading Irish steel stockholder and wire distributor.

Steel Yard, Naas.

In 2019 IITC attained ISO 9001:2015 Quality Management Systems Certification and EN 1090 for steel certification from the National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI).

The Salt department helps keep roads safe, by supplying winter road treatment salt to motorway operators and councils. Other salt types are sold to food manufacturing companies and for water treatment.

All-Ireland marketplace

IITC’s target markets span many of Ireland’s largest and fastest-growing sectors: Agriculture; Repairs, Maintenance & Improvements; Construction; Local authorities and Semi State companies; Food processing. All looked after by a direct field sales team of eight. Between its distribution and storage hubs,

IITC is able to service every corner of Ireland. Efficient in-house transport and a courier network ensure orders are despatched swiftly. Trusted quality “Our success is driven by providing quality products together with quality customer care. Our customers trust us to deliver,“David confirms.

“From the start IITC established long-term trading relationships and agreements with key manufacturers. Our brands are among the most recognisable and respected in the trade. IITC will never compromise on the
quality of products we supply.”

Due to its diversified range, customers cover multiple industries; plumbers and builders, hardware & DIY retailers, agricultural co-ops, food processing companies, steel fabricators and manufacturers. The bathroom showrooms and retail hardware shop cater to the public.

Many IITC developments are customer-driven. In 2019 the firm launched their popular online ordering portal for wholesale customers in response to requests.

Survival, success

“Throughout our history, we’ve learned that good personal relations with customers and suppliers and a dedicated, experienced workforce is the cornerstone for successful long-term growth,” David says.

“Having weathered many economic cycles, IITC always kept its feet on the ground with steady growth and expansion. A fast-changing world presents opportunities and challenges that we’re well geared for.”

“We took a major shock during the last economic downturn, but it’s testament to our resilience that IITC was able to ride the storm. Since 2013 we have experienced significant growth, increasing revenues by over 50%.

Sustainable future

Today’s hot topics, sustainability, efficiency and climate, are taken seriously. “Our customers are becoming more concerned with the quality and sustainability of products rather than cheap, less reliable options.

Energy efficiency and reducing carbon footprint is motivating everyone to focus on their environmental impact. This will have a major effect on the hardware/DIY building trade,” observes David. NZEB regulations will determine the type of products and systems permitted in new builds.

“Two years ago, we replaced all lighting in our premises with LED,” David says. “This necessitated a substantial investment but has resulted in significant cost savings. More importantly, we’ve dramatically reduced
energy usage.”

As members of REPAK, IITC actively encourage recycling, reusing and reducing company-wide. Brexit and the outcome of trade negotiations between the UK and EU will affect the economy significantly. Heffernan outlines the issues. “Because we have nearly full employment, there is a labour shortage in certain sectors, while transport and shipping costs are rising substantially.”

For IITC the future brings opportunities too. “The economy continues to be very strong, and with a growing, well-educated population, has the potential to continue expanding at a steady rate in the short to medium term.”

David Heffernan believes continued innovation and investment is crucial to securing IITC’s future. “To remain relevant and future-proof our business, we must stay abreast of trends within all our sectors. We do this by attending trade shows here and abroad and engaging closely with suppliers and customers.”

John Lyons, Director with John O`Callaghan,
Sales & Support.

He values industry relationships for staying ahead of national and sector developments and building networks.

IITC is an active member of IBEC and Cork Chamber of Commerce. And, “Membership of Hardware Association Ireland is vital for keeping in touch with industry developments, new products and market information. The biennial Hardware Show at Citywest is a must-engage event for all in the sector”.

Raising profile

A smart marketing strategy also strengthens foundations for the future; building relationships with current and prospective customers. The new IITC website goes live in Q2, 2020.

In addition, David states, “We engage in direct marketing and offer seasonal
promotions. We hold regular customer events at our premises, where manufacturers can showcase their products.”

“Advertising in selected trade journals like The Hardware Journal, particularly when introducing new products, is a highly effective way to access our target market.”

And nothing gets attention like a major award, or two! In 2017, IITC won Cork Chamber of Commerce Company of the Year in the SME category, and this year, the Deloitte Best Managed Company award.

Giving back

IITC employs over 120 people, they are a loyal and dedicated workforce with many employees boasting 20, 30, and even 40 years of service. This low turnover exemplifies the core principles of the founders to provide local, quality employment and treat staff with respect and dignity.

“As a Cork company, we’re very proud of our heritage,’ affirms David. Proud too, to be a major employer and leading importer through the Port of Cork, contributing to the local economy.

Every year IITC donates to numerous local organisations and events. Since 2013 money previously earmarked for customer Christmas gifts, now funds local charities including chosen beneficiaries Marymount Hospice and St Vincent de Paul.

The difference

Asked to pinpoint the unique selling point of a company covering many sectors, David answered: “Diversity.” In addition to a vast range of quality
products backed by an expert team, nationwide distribution, and 100 years of experience, IITC is a one-stop-shop for general merchants and hardware/DIY stores.

Altogether a winning combination that sets IITC apart.