Innovation and flexibility are important principles in running any business, no matter how small. It is an approach that is serving Bangor’s Darren McKee very well and helping him survive the recession.
Darren started running his own business as a self-employed tiling contractor in 2002. After three years, he realised there were opportunities to diversify in supplying and fitting stone, marble and other natural floor materials – so he formed Stone and Marble Solutions Ltd.
However, with the impact of the recession on the construction sector, demand for the floor tiles fell dramatically and Darren’s sales collapsed by half. As well as these difficulties, McKee also had to combat the effect of the fall in the value of sterling. He was importing the products directly from Turkey and paying in US dollars – which had appreciated strongly against the pound, making Darren’s products much less competitive.
“This time last year was the quietest I have seen it,” Darren says. But as one market becomes more difficult, other opportunities emerge. McKee with his years in the tile trade had become aware of customers asking to have their grout cleaned, as it had become dirty and lost its lustre. Replacing grout was an expensive and dirty process so Darren began looking for another solution.
Darren researched the market worldwide and sourced a product in the United States – which cleaned the surface of the grout, recoloured it, sealed it and made it stain resistant. When Darren began importing this to Ireland, he found it quickly became popular and generated significant demand. “I believe I am the only guy in Ireland that offers this product,” he says.
But operating two existing lines of business – both the natural floor products and a tile fitting operation – was enough for Darren. He has combined with a friend, Sam Craig, who runs the Aquatech-NI business, a hard surface cleaning firm. Both Darren and Sam have invested significantly in Aquatech- NI to import both products and the necessary equipment to use them.
Now business is developing strongly – a recent large contract saw the firm clean-up and seal the grout in a fitness centre where mould was causing unsightly problems in the shower areas. With a product and service that is claimed to be both better and cheaper than alternatives, it is not surprising that the story of the downturn is now going upwards for Aquatech-NI