Good fencing makes good business

Especially EliteGarden SmartFence. Starting small, but thinking big, spotting opportunities and constantly innovating, yields stadium-scale success for family-run Irish manufacturer, EliteForm.

A garage, a welder and ingenuity. Everything Victor Whyte needed to make his name in sheet metal. Victor’s entrepreneurial story begins in the 70s, with the loss of his farm job when disease decimated the herd. In gratitude for years of dedication and as a wedding present, the farmer gifted Victor a site to build on. Asked about his plans, Victor replied, ‘repairs for the local agricultural community.’ Another gift from the farmer, Victor’s first welder, made it possible.

Victor began making car trailers in his garage near Castlebellingham, County Louth. In 1976, he built a workshop behind his house. Now he could hire one employee, build larger trailers for tractors and move into farm machinery repair.

Everything changed one day in the 80`s with a visit to a hardware store to buy gutters for his shed. The selection was disappointingly poor.

Spotting a gap in the market, Victor spent the next decade perfecting machines and processes to manufacture gutters for farm buildings. His designs were revolutionary. Spouse Georgina was busy too, combining the school run with deliveries to shed erectors.

Fast forward to the late 80s and the way ahead was clear: expanding into industrial and commercial gutters, led by customer demand and growth in the sector. In 1990 their last trailer rolled off the workshop floor.

Ten years on, staff numbers reached 20. Victor and Georgina had retired, leaving daughter Sandra at the helm of a fast-growing enterprise.

EliteForm is born

New sheds and offices were constructed in 2002. The year after, the business rebranded to EliteForm Manufacturing Ltd and invested heavily in equipment and software. By the decade’s end, EliteForm’s team of 95 was handling major projects such as the Aviva Stadium and the Google Building and getting into bespoke fabrication work, facilitated by further upgrades to skills and equipment.

Then the downturn hit, prompting another pivot. EliteForm had the machinery and skilled team to produce fencing, thus EliteFence, now EliteGarden, came into being. They’d got it right again.

Today’s line-up
The firm operates from a 20,000 sq. ft. state-of-the-art manufacturing facility near Castlebellingham. The EliteGarden Products showroom is in the village itself. Both sites feature eyecatching outdoor and indoor displays. With business expanding every year, the company plans to double its site. EliteForm now manufactures multiple ranges of fencing and garden products, including SmartFence, for hardware stores nationwide. All made from quality, durable materials.

As Patrick Byrne, Facilities Manager, explains, “We also make and export sheet metal components for datacentres, recycling facilities and cruise ships. Our biggest milestones are the Aviva Roof Panels and interior panels for the Tottenham Hotspurs Stadium.”

Masters of precision metalwork
The facility is equipped with an impressive range of cutting-edge machinery. “This ensures we have the perfect tools for any job,” says Patrick. “We can confidently take on any sheet metal project with ease.”

EliteForm produces custom sheet metal work for major international and Irish clients, including Audi, Turmec and Ardmac, who require components in different sizes. “What matters is the standard of our products as they leave our premises. Our reputation is founded on quality. Customer relationships are vital too; the names we work for are testament to our capabilities. We want to exemplify the best in Irish
manufacturing and support Irish jobs.”

Garden transformation
EliteGarden serves a very different market: homeowners. Created in early 2010, this division caters for existing and new builds with a wide choice of fencing and accessories produced at the EliteForm plant.
“These days, homeowners seek maintenance-free solutions. Products are expected to look the same as the day they were installed. With the recent storms people want to replace wooden fencing with a more permanent, wind-resistant solution that doesn’t require regular painting,” says Patrick.

“Originally our fencing was bespoke, reworked from scratch for every customer. In 2019 we launched the SmartFence range to cater for properties with standard concrete H posts in place. This makes the process more affordable and installation easy.”

SmartFence was a hit, demonstrating the value of market and product research to stay ahead and compete. Some innovations are the result of consumer feedback and requests, like more colours, trellis designs and even mounting systems.

“If a customer comes with an issue, we always find a solution. We’ve created systems for mounting fencing to walls, for dealing with diverse ground conditions, and even a non-invasive facing bracket system that allows two neighbours to have different fences back-to-back using the same posts.”

Survival strategy
Resilience comes from innovation, especially given the unpredictability and challenges resulting from worldwide events. Rising materials costs, particularly steel, due to supply and demand issues are among other contributing factors. EliteForm continues to thrive. Patrick puts this down to good customer communications and the push to innovate, redesign, grow stronger and adapt.

But above all, we uphold “Our commitment to quality assurance and positive customer relationships.”

Looking ahead, EliteForm will continue to benefit from sourcing material in the UK and manufacturing in Ireland. “This gives us the best chance to stay ahead of the curve and weather any future supply crises brought on by global events.”

Smart and sustainable
Asked the secret of staying relevant and agile, Patrick cites continual market research and monitoring opportunities in the many sectors the company serves. “We visit trade exhibitions for inspiration and we’re always discussing fresh ideas.”

The most exciting recent innovation is a bracket for fixing SmartFence designs to a flat surface, transforming possibilities for customers to clad unsightly walls.

“It’s ideal for situations of a retrofit fence between neighbours. Attach the fence to your side of the original shared fence and enhance your garden while leaving the original fence in place. This has been an incredibly popular product.”

Technology being “the fulcrum of today’s economy,” is a major focus. “We are always working to stay ahead of the curve and improve efficiency and the manufacturing processes. As the demand for SmartFence panels grew, we brought in new fabrication technology to produce faster. This made a huge difference to packing and product delivery. “Eliteform constantly investigate new cost-effective materials, but never compromise on quality.

Sustainability is also driving change. EliteForm’s strategy includes investing heavily in the renewables and recycling sector and bringing customers sustainable solutions. Including post cover options in the same eco-friendly recycling steel as the fencing.

All packaging is made of cardboard and using QR codes reduces paper waste on instruction leaflets. One big family Patrick credits the 70-strong team for this forward-thinking attitude and adaptability. Especially the key players in this family firm, who have built a solid reputation and company culture.

Managing Director Sandra Byrne oversees the business, while Martin O’Hare, Operations Manager, runs the workshop floor. Facilities Manager Patrick Byrne looks after efficient workflow. As Head of Sales, Paul Fagan liaises with stockists and buyer groups.

Eduard Bartkevics heads up Purchasing, and Brendan Hughes manages fabrication and production for big projects. The firm has a policy of recruiting, developing and ensuring the highest level of skill and commitment. “When hiring, we look internally and wherever possible, upskill and encourage staff to progress within the business. We regularly check in on our people and ask if they wish to change department or try something new. We source courses and run training days to help them upskill. We reward initiative and reliability.”

It’s vital to create an environment where everyone feels comfortable working at the peak of their abilities.” In return, EliteForm staff are dedicated to excellence and teamwork. “The family ethos is central. We encourage staff to bring family on board. This instils trust and dependability. Many of our people have
been with us since the 90s.”

Fence posting
EliteForm is a busy presence on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and LinkedIn to engage different markets. Facebook reaches homeowners; TikTok, the DIYers. Some SmartFence videos have gone viral, attracting over half a million views.

LinkedIn is followed by landscapers, architectural and construction professionals, it is most effective for securing building projects and housing developments and for showing retrofit ranges for housing estates.

Networks net results
EliteForm works closely with Guaranteed Irish, Hardware Association Ireland, and the Irish Association of Steel Fabricators, essential relationships for potential collaboration. “Guaranteed Irish recognition means everything. We’re proud to manufacture our products here and it enhances our profile and builds confidence that customers are receiving outstanding products.”

Winning The Hardware Show Innovation Award 2019, “catapulted SmartFence into the limelight for stockists and gave us a fantastic launchpad for product promotion.”

Unique Selling Point
All fencing is manufactured at parent company, EliteForm, with each element made by hand and every batch consistently quality checked to ensure no errors. These attractive, hardwearing Guaranteed Irish products offer one of the longest guarantees on the market.