9 months (excluding the COVID lockdown) from breaking ground after a Herculean 18-month struggle with planning issues, one of the towns oldest successful firms moved from its original premises in Brackernagh and a depot in Athlone in mid-summer to their new home.
A total staff of 55 are now enjoying a 40,000 square foot, €6 million state of the art premises in Poolboy in one of the country’s leading bespoke fitted furniture manufacturer.
Alan O Grady, MD and Proprietor of the firm explains “we took a decision to remain anchored in the town with our new build because we love our staff and for 40 years I and my family have really enjoyed doing business in town. If I was a new investor however I would not have had the patience to deal with obstacles and indifference that surrounds the place”
Critically for him the town is devoid of suitable zoned, accessible land with either huge banks owned by state agencies or worse has bank charges on it – which effectively means potential investors looking at a 36-month delay.
“ We can have units and crews to the three fastest expanding building markets on the island in jig time – an hour and 30 minutes to the M50 , an hour and 15 to Limerick and 2 hours 30 to Cork – I can’t understand why there are not more logistical or supply companies hubbing out of here but – it’s down to the real business obstacles on the ground “ states Alan.
The factory shell and site cost in order of €3.2 million to build and another €2.8 million of machines, plant, offices and presses to fit out, key to the O Neill O Malley Architect design is the cutting edge us of sustainable energy features that Fitzgibbons Construction of Ennis built. “ We have BER A 3 rating – which is hard achieve for a private house never mind a factory of this size, we have a very lean carbon footprint and we have all movement sensitive LED light fittings installed and are using an Italian Bio Mass Boiler which extracts the dusty air and maintains the cosy temperatures in the plant “ , states Alan.
The plant has no oil or gas costs – the Air handling Unit and Bio Mass Boiler cost €260,000 to install but stops their average 5 skips a week of off cuts heading landfill. It is truly a clean sustainable factory of the future and Alan believes that between efficiencies and cost savings the unit will have paid for itself within the decade.
Assuming this is cutting edge technology there are no brass plaques to the Dept. of Environment, or the EU acknowledging the pilot project with a grant “ Don’t talk to us about SEI , we signed up to their advanced programme we went with higher specs on everything and they denied us the grant over a procedural error on their part, even Denis Naughton TD who was Minister in that area and worked very hard on our behalf could not get them to budge; so there is not one cent of grant or subsidy to the technology”.
Brexit holds no fear for this operation as they have moved all their material sourcing to Belgium and Spain and all their precision engineering comes from Italy. COVID however is the issue –“if Europe or we go into a long lock down again we can’t delay delivery on the scale of contracts we have in the pipeline so we have to stock pile timber and components up 6-8 months in advance” notes Alan.
Its one of the reasons that the old plant is being used as a warehouse for Western Postform although Alan and the team have plans for it down the road, which may still involve a bit of leasing.
From doing individual fitted kitchens, wardrobes and then housing schemes the firm is now concentrating its operations on large scale apartment complexes in the bigger cities, student residences, Hotels, Schools and the new co – living apartment blocks; where the fit out the complete accommodation pod.
The technology has come along way in 4 decades where formica top edging was applied with an iron and plans were sketched and costed on graph paper by hand.
The software behind the automated processes at the plant is NASA like in complexity and precision. Once the client for the 450 kitchens and bedroom wardrobes and vanity desks signs off on the materials, the design and delivery the production team takes its cue from the “War Room “which is the Production / Design Control suite – like an Air Traffic Control Room in an airport. It sends the instructions to all the main cutting machines which are skillfully operated and the pieces of furniture mover to different parts of the floor for assembly and finishing under the watchful eyes of the Master Craftsmen.
The ambition behind the investment and move is not to ramp up employment numbers but rather increase the scale and volume of jobs that the firm can tender and bid for. “When my father Michael & Seamus Shinners started 40 years ago, we were lucky to make 7 kitchens a week; now we have to make and install multiples of that and undertake the new fitout of apartments, schools, hospitals, hotels and washrooms.
The biggest project this year for the firm has been the Rhatigans/ OHL 450 Apartment Public Private Partnership Block in Dublin which is worth in order of €2.5 million. They still do estate build fit outs for new builds but don’t do once off furniture for customers anymore.
The backbone of Western Post Form is however the amazing staff and many of them have been there since the early days , Davey Farnon, Philip Gilesnan & Seamus McEvoy here since doors opened and Maura Barret manning the phones and reception for 38 years & Triona Hurley keeping an eye on the accounts for 25 years its really like one big family.
When asked about State Support for this huge private investment Alan rolls the eyes, confirming that they have yet to see a grant aid since they are not exporting to the EU - every cent spent here came out of Company funds.
Western Postform have also invested heavily in a New ERP system We spent a lot of time researching this system during lock down and sourced a Canadian partner called Cienapps to design and develop this for us.
He can’t believe how there appears to be no one in charge or no go - to place to have the interconnected problems solved in the town, ” no one darkened the door from any agency or any public representative to see how we were getting on while we were struggling to get it over the line, I can see why its hard for new companies to begin in the town", states Alan.
“I must say though that all the business people in the town have been very supportive of us and we have had a great welcome from all the neighbours here“ notes Alan. I do believe that Ballinasloe town has a lot to offer and hoped to see many new companies set up in the town in the further.
He is planning a post COVID welcome ceremony and 40th Anniversary for family, staff and retired staff .
When not relaxing at home in South Galway with his wife Olivia from Loughrea, son Simon and daughters Saoirse and Madison he and his workforce are very happy in their new surroundings and are looking forward to many years of successful operating.
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