Below is an interview with Martin and IKTG Magazine in 2022:
Having been in the manufacturing business for more than 30 years, there are not many people in Ireland who know more about kitchen retailing that Martin O’Connor. Here, he tells IKTG why he’s seeking out opportunities in uncertain times.
Martin started his trade in 1979 producing cabinet doors for the industry before moving into the manufacturing and retailing of kitchens in the early naughties.
“Sometimes you have to stand back and look and that’s what we did in the early recession in 2000,” says Timbercraft owner Martin O’Connor. “In much the same way as back then people’s lifestyles are going to change now. There’s going to be a new way of living but the world’s not going to stop.”
Currently Timbercraft is gathering momentum to introduce German-brand Hausen into the Irish market. Launching in January 2021, the new brand offers world-class manufacturing at an affordable price point. Available nationwide, the launch will be supported by a national advertising campaign which promises to generate talkability about Hausen in the marketplace.
Some may say that launching a new brand in the middle of a global pandemic is a bold move, but for Martin, constant change and innovation is the best way to thrive in a challenging situation.
Having survived all of Ireland’s economic downturns over the last four decades, Martin recalls a popular fable he read around 20 years ago titled, ‘Who Moved my Cheese?’ that changed his mindset regarding the business.
“It’s a really good story that can be applied to any business. When our cheese was taken away in the recession we went out and found new cheese and we’ll do that again if we have to,” he says.
Thankfully, the kitchen industry, and the wider home improvements sector has continued to trade at optimum levels with many, Martin included, reporting record levels of business since being able to reopen their stores.
“People have been looking at their old, tired kitchens for the past three to four months and are now ready to do something about it. They’ll also be working from home more so they’ll want their home to be nice and at the same time they won’t be spending as much money going abroad”.
In 2005 Martin brought German brand Nobilia to the Irish market. Today he has 24 retailers both North and South who stock the brand.
“We met Nobilia at a trade fair in Cologne and rang Matthias Keuoal who is now Director of Exports on the Monday to say we were interested. By Wednesday we flew back to Germany to tour the factory.”
Despite only having a few hours at Nobilia’s production plant in Verl, East-Westphalia due to delayed flights, within two weeks a showroom in Ireland had been designed and revealed to the trade at an exhibition in Punchestown.
“We invited some potential dealers down to have a look and they all liked what they saw,” says Martin. “It was really spontaneous but successful!”
Now, Timbercraft almost exclusively retails Nobilia kitchens with little manufacturing on the side.
“After two to three years you could clearly see that if we paid €4,000 to Nobilia for a kitchen we were able to get €8-9,000 retail price. It was obvious the contribution Nobilia was making to the business, it couldn’t be compared with the manufacturing side of it.”
However, the majority of Martin’s dealers have retained their manufacturing business selling Nobilia alongside it as a more contemporary range.
“We wouldn’t tell anybody to discontinue their manufacturing business and go solo with Nobilia if they don’t want to,” he says. “But if you run them parallel, you have a good formula for making money.”
Through investing in a Nobilia showroom on top of an existing manufacturing business, Irish retailers can expect to increase turnover between €200,000-400,000 without any great expenditure or extra staff, Martin believes.
“In fact, you can probably convert a few of your existing staff to become kitchen fitters. You’re going to increase your turnover without increasing your overheads; it’s a very good situation to be in”.
When a retailer signs up to stock Nobilia in Ireland, the team at Timbercraft oversee the journey from start to finish. This can include training staff on the brand’s chosen software; Winner Design and checking all initial orders before they are sent off.
The process, Martin reveals, can take anywhere between six to 12 months.
“We spend time training and guiding the dealers until they’re ready to launch on their own,” he says. “It gives them confidence especially if they come from a manufacturing background as it’s a whole different way of doing things. There are many disciplines when manufacturing your own product but if you apply German disciplines instead you can come up with a tremendously cost-effective product as you can bypass rates, insurance etc.”
The Future is Bright
While COVID-19 may have overshadowed 2020’s retail landscape and created challenging trading conditions for all, Martin is hopeful for the future.
Plans are in place for the launch of Hausen in January and all hands are on deck to create a marketing campaign that will set the standard for kitchen retailing going froward.
Recently, Aine O’Connor Martin’s daughter has returned to the business. A qualified architect and interior designer, her vast industry knowledge will help propel Timbercraft forward in an uncertain marketplace.
“We’re pretty excited about going forward and going where some people are afraid to go. Always in the past it’s worked to accelerate out of a current crisis and that’s what we’re going to do now,” concludes Martin.