Five years ago, Christy and Jenny Fitzsimons handed over the reins of their 34-year-old insulation business to the next generation. Fitzsimons Insulations is now run by their daughter Michelle and son Peter, with a little parental guidance.
“I’ve seen a few downturns in my time, but this one has been particularly tough for the business,” Christy says.
“We actually started the business in a recession but there were always ongoing local authority housing schemes that kept us ticking over. This has not happened this time. The construction industry closed down almost completely.”
Christy left school at 16 and worked in the construction industry here and in the UK. His area of expertise was stippled ceilings and dry lining. When he returned to Ireland in 1973 with his new bride, he went around cold calling on building sites to get work.
It was around the time that insulation was becoming mandatory in all new housing and the couple decided to add an insulation service to their existing business.
“I took a chance and ordered a 40ft container of fibreglass that got dumped in my front garden,” he says. “Our first big site for insulation was in Malahide in Dublin. Then we got the contract with McInerney’s for the Darndale development.
"At that stage, we had two people working for us and this rose to 19 people during the boom. We now have five full-time but this can go up to about 12 when we're busy. Over the years, we have worked for most of the big building companies here."
Jenny says the company has had its difficult moments during its long history. “We borrowed to buy an industrial premises in 1985 and, when interest rates started climbing dramatically, it was a real struggle for a young company to service the debt,” she says.
“I think the business has endured because, first and foremost, we are good at what we do.
“But there are a number of other factors that have helped ensure its longevity. For example, we made the Revenue a priority and set up a direct debit with them.
“We were also meticulous about keeping our paperwork and tax affairs in order and staying abreast of the changes in tax, building and employment law that affected us.”
In the mid-1980s, the company diversified into building curvilinear conservatories. Between 1984 and 1992, it built them all over Ireland, but Christy says the return did not justify the time and effort involved.
The company, which has been profitable for virtually all of its trading life, subsequently withdrew from this business.
“Insulation is something people need. Conservatories are something people want. We decided to stick to insulation because that offered the best financial security,” he says.
“The lesson we learnt was that if the business is going alright, leave it alone. What you’re doing may not be glamorous or exciting, but it’s steady and gives predictable returns.
“I probably drop in to the office most days to see how things are going. I try to be reassuring to Michelle and Peter because this is their first recession in charge and naturally they worry. I try to keep their confidence up and assure them that things will get better.”
Peter has been in the business since 1998 and is sales and contracts manager. Michelle joined the company full time in 2006 and looks after accounts and administration.
“The insulation business has changed quite significantly since the company was founded in 1980,” Peter says.
“It has become far more technical and more thorough. For example, an attic floor today would get 12 inches of insulation. In 1980, the acceptable depth was four inches.
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"It has been great for Michelle and I to have Jenny and Christy around. Their advice on how to survive has been invaluable.
“We have been able to keep going by keeping overheads low, never going into the red and paying our suppliers promptly.”
Michelle says the firm has recently become certified by the National Standards Authority of Ireland for international quality, environmental, and health and safety standards and is working with the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland on a number of projects.
“We get huge pride as a family from making people more comfortable in their homes while helping them to reduce their heating bills,” she says.