A new chapter for T O’hUiginn, where all are welcome

After more than 70 years as a builders’ providers T O’hUiginn in Shantalla has built up a wealth of experience, becoming a leading supplier of building materials and products, but this year it took a new direction, renovating the store with the aim of becoming much more retail-friendly, a place where now everyone, not just industry professionals, can come and benefit from expert advice and top quality products in everything from timber and cement to paints, stoves, bathrooms, and other household products.

There are many who, while attempting to do a bit of small DIY, find themselves for some unknown reason timidly entering a hardware/DIY maze and suddenly losing the ability to speak the ‘lingo’. It is often a case of asking a frowning expert for the ‘thing’ that does the ‘thing’ for the ‘you know what’. Embarrassment doesn’t even begin to describe the situation, but thankfully many places have grown accostumed to this, indeed, they encourage anyone to come in and simply ask, and T O’hUiginn in Shantalla Road is such a place, having recently redeveloped the business to cater for retail customers. Granted there are many DIY enthusiasts who could put a pro to shame, but it is nice to know that if in doubt there is a place where it is possible to avail of some good honest friendly advice and be assured of getting quality products.

Over its long and impressive history T O’hUiginn has gone through many changes, adapting itself to suit the times and thrive in an ever changing industry. Speaking to the Advertiser, managing director Micheal O’hUiginn recalled how the business started as far back as the 1930s and that the ‘T’ in the company name stands for his uncle Tom. “Tom was a stonemason and carpenter by trade and he later went on to become a Franciscan monk, going off to Africa, only to return in the 1950s. My father Michael, who won two All-Irelands in the 1930s, took over the business. It was a small builders’ contractors, mainly building county council housing. Then during the war we opened a joinery shop for windows and doors, moving on to make school furniture. By the late 1940s/50s we opened a small hardware shop and everything grew from there. The building industry at this time was changing to fill opportunities in the market and this was the real start of the business as a builders’ merchants.

“In 1964, my father passed away and I was just 21 years old when I took over the business but there were some great fellas working here which was a great help. I bought land from a local farmer, 10 acres at the time, up the road - the Seamus Quirke Road is now built on a portion of the land. A factory was opened there in 1972, that element of the business grew and by the 1980s we were supplying 80 per cent of the primary school furniture and 50 per cent of the secondary school furniture in the country as well as being a builders’ joinery. The builders’ merchants and that factory grew together during the 1970s, and the 1980s/1990s. We were in the top eight in the country and remained an independent business all along.”

Mr O’hUiginn, a Galway native and three-time former mayor, said the success of the school furniture-making side of the business came to an abrupt halt in 2000 during the Celtic Tiger, when the Department of Education began importing cheap furniture from abroad, resulting in the factory closing and the loss of up to 50 local jobs. “We still get calls from reverend mothers looking for old furniture because they don’t like the quality of the new ones. The department left the principals of every school to decide on the costs and design of the furniture so that affected the quality of it,” said Mr O’hUiginn, who added that it wasn’t all bad news for the business as a whole as the Celtic Tiger meant the construction industry thrived, therefore increasing activity for builders merchants and providers. However, this was soon followed by yet another slump, the end of the boom was the end of the building industry, and brought with it a massive reduction in the demand for products and supplies. With this sudden and dramatic fall in business builders’ providers such as T O’hUiginn have had to look at new ways to re-invent themselves and attract a new and diverse customer base.

“I’d say it [the construction industry] could stay that way for a number of years to come. So now we have to change directions again, we’ve now invested in a more retail-friendly outlet which was finished in the middle of this year. Our staff have undergone retraining, and are learning quickly, in dealing with retail customers, not just trade customers. What I now find is that there is a cohort of smaller operators who come in and they know what they have to do, but with retail customers you need to provide more customer service and offer advice, build up new business. It’s not enough anymore just relying on the old trade business. Eighty per cent of the business had been historically on credit, when the Celtic Tiger was over we lost a huge amount of money due to uncollected debts when many builders went bust. Now our cash business has gone to 50 to 60 per cent which is a new and happy experience for us. There’s cash coming in straight away, now that we’ve changed direction.

“We’re now starting to campaign to attract customers who would not have traditionally shopped in our premises. We have a whole range of building and DIY products with competitive prices. The business is being developed so that when people pass by they don’t just say ‘that’s for builders only’ and they might be fearful to come in. We’re changing that perception, all customers are welcome here. We stock everything to do with the building and household industry, be it building materials, heating, plumbing, bathrooms, showers, finishes, paints, locks or door furniture, and some electrical. Our friendly staff have the intuition and the knowledge to know what they are talking about and in the unlikely event we don’t have what they want then we will find out where to get it,” said Mr O’hUiginn who praises his staff and the team-work ethic for the continued success of this family business and which also allowed him to pursue other interests, resulting in him spending more than 40 years as a member of Galway City Council and being elected three times as mayor, a chairman of the VEC and GMIT, as well as being a member of the governing body of NUIG since 1967. With these new changes in place Mr O’hUiginn is looking forward to the future success of the business.

Indeed, the changes made on the shop floor in T O’hUiginn are noticeable with the addition of a Christmas stand, complete with trees and various decorations, one of the most obvious changes for the festive season. As a member of Homevalue T O’hUiginn stocks plenty of household accessories such as Addis Seal Tight food containers. There are also great deals such as 60 rolls of toilet paper for just €12.99 as well as important products for the winter months such as Frost Watch for the attic which, using a thermostat, turns the heater on when the temperature drops to zero. On the shop floor customers will also find various products in garden equipment and tools, silicones, glues, and grouts, locks and hardware, paints, and bathroom accessories. A large showroom to the side of the building boasts various floors and doors, solar heating - tubes and panels, Blacksmith stoves, showers, mirrors, sinks, and bathrooms. Although T O’hUiginn has rolled out the welcome mat for retail customers it still holds true to its builder provider roots, constantly sourcing and stocking the highest quality products in order to cater for the needs of builders and other industry professionals.

For more information and advice contact 091-522411 or email [email protected].

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