Sister act offers new style of business
BELFAST BRIEFING:A group of Fermanagh sisters are leading a firm focused on exports
Neither Tracey Hunter nor her seven sisters are likely to burst into song during the course of a normal working day.
But according to the judge of one national UK business awards competition, nobody would blame them if they were to hum the odd line from a 1970s disco hit from time to time.
In fact Roger Wolens, organiser of the British Business Awards, believes the success of their family firm – GT Exhausts – is encapsulated in the words from the Sister Sledge song “We Are Family”.
It may sound just a little too cheesy to be true but the Enniskillen company’s “unique female organisational structure”, combined with its successful track record, were among the reasons it was selected as the 2012 Overall Best British Business out of thousands of other competitors.
GT Exhausts manufacturers a wide range of exhaust systems for every type of vehicle imaginable from family cars to sports cars, commercial vehicles and plant machinery.
It specialises in both replacement exhausts and also manufactures original equipment and genuine parts which are exported to Europe, the United States, Brazil and Japan.
The company was originally established by Gilbert Tunney 38 years ago in Fermanagh.
As they were growing up each of his eight daughters worked in the family business across a variety of roles.
When he retired they took over the running of the company, relishing the opportunity to shine in the “typically male-dominated world of precision engineering”.
At first, according to sales director daughter Tracey Hunter, they had to get over the hurdle of potential customers always asking to “speak to one of the boys”.
Today Tracey, Jolene, Claire, Edel and Gail are the driving force behind GT Exhausts, which employs more than 100 people.
It operates from a purpose-built manufacturing plant in Enniskillen, and the management team pride themselves on having been able to “self-finance” their continued expansion over the years.
They are finalising plans to expand their Enniskillen factory and headquarters in the Carran Business Park, just down the road from the former Quinn Direct centre.
Hunter says being based in Fermanagh is one of the company’s strengths but it is also a major challenge.
“Our heart is in Fermanagh but from a logistics point of view there are easier places we could operate from. All of our manufacturing is done in Enniskillen – that means we have to bring in all the raw materials into Northern Ireland and then ship the finished product back out as the majority of our sales are UK-based,” she said.
The Tunney team have a company policy of reinvesting profits into research and development and continually expanding their distribution network across the UK and Ireland.
“Reinvesting and building the business was very important to Dad. For him, it wasn’t about the money, it was about making the company better and that’s something that is as important to us today as it was to him.
“He taught us never to give up – to put all your time and energy into the business and that’s what we have done, particularly when during the boom time everyone was changing their cars and the second-hand car market was in trouble,” Hunter said.
The dip in consumer spending could not have come at a better time for GT Exhausts. Now that people are not changing their cars so frequently, there is more demand for replacement exhausts.
Plans include further expansion into Europe, which could lead to more jobs for Northern Ireland.
In the meantime their latest award has pride of place in the Enniskillen headquarters.
“It is nice to be acknowledged for what you have achieved,” Hunter said.