Counter intelligence helps Wicklow pair survive recession

Small Business: FutureProof - Rhatigan & Hick, Wicklow-based kitchen-makers

Rhatigan & Hick is a specialist kitchen manufacturers based in Aughrim, Co Wicklow. Over the past 10 years, the company has established a reputation for bespoke kitchens that combine design aesthetic and functionality in equal measure.

Owned by Ed Rhatigan and Gary Hick, the company was established in 2005 by the two friends who are both qualified cabinet makers and who previously owned separate businesses.

“We decided to combine the two businesses, pooling our resources and taking on bigger jobs as a result,” says Rhatigan of the early days of the business.

He says that the pair remains great friends and that their connection remains key to the company’s success.

READ MORE

They are both co-designers, Hick runs the factory while Rhatigan handles the sales and marketing side of the business.

“I suppose there is always a risk going into business with someone you know but, on the plus side, it gave us the confidence to make bigger and bolder decisions than we might have made on our own,” says Rhatigan. “I think it has been the strength of the company – having two different people with two sets of ideas, two goals and different strengths and abilities. Gary runs a very tight ship in the factory and I run the showrooms but we both understand how they each work.”

In 2005, the company consisted of just four people. “It was very much a hands-on job at the time,” says Rhatigan.

By the end of the boom, the pair had established themselves as fine furniture-makers, making bespoke studies, libraries and wardrobes. But a trip to an interiors expo provided the impetus for them to narrow their focus.

“In 2009 we did the Interior Design and Art Fair where we showcased a style of kitchen which we called our New York Loft kitchen. It went down very well and that was our big turnaround point. We came back from the show, got new larger showrooms and put in three kitchen designs.”

Rhatigan says that a change in people’s attitude to their homes was a boon for their business.

“People were used to buying a house, ripping stuff out and then starting again, but the people we are working for are generally going to be staying in their homes for the next 20 or 30 years. We realised that there wasn’t so many of the trophy home projects but that people were going to spend money on their kitchens.”

Since 2009, the company has seen 100 per cent growth and now employs 10 people in design, manufacturing and administration.

Rhatigan says that while they were still busy with projects already commissioned for up to a year into the downturn, the company’s small size also provided the agility to refocus and to grow in a market which had contracted.

“While most people were trying to come up for air, we had a low outlay and were able to start growing the company and specifically building the brand.”

Branding has been critical for the business. Rhatigan believes that advertising is an “unquantifiable” aspect of brand building and places huge value on reputation and referral.

“You spend a lot of money on marketing over the years and you wonder is it coming back to you at all. When people come to us, it is generally because they have seen an ad or their architect has worked with us before or somebody they know has also done a project with us,” he says.

“That gives them confidence that buying a Rhatigan & Hick kitchen actually means something. Seeing the company in a magazine just adds a little brand confidence – that the company is there and has been there for 10 years.”

Rhatigan says relationships have always been central to the company because they “provide a product but also provide a service”.

“The referral is one of our strongest marketing tools. Advertising is unquantifiable and it generates a very random inquiry whereas a referral generates a very specific enquiry. Generally when people are referred to us by someone it is a much stronger lead. People who underestimate the power of that are really missing out.”

In 2011, the men approached Wicklow County Enterprise Board for grant funding for new staff and machinery and signed up for the owner manager development course with tutor Blaise Brosnan.

“He was an incredible help and still is if we ever need to run anything by him,” says Rhatigan.

The company went on to win Wicklow Small Business of the Year. "This was a massive boost in confidence for us and spurred us on to further growth but with a much more stable footing to grow from."

While 2014 can be described as a “phenomenal growth year” with a increasing number of design-savvy couples returning to Ireland to set up home, looking to the future Rhatigan and Hick also want to investigate the UK market where they enjoy good relations with architects and designers.

“There would be some interesting projects over there,” says Rhatigan. “We have all learned before that it would be silly to keep all our eggs in one basket which is why we are looking at the UK market. At least if things slow down here we will have laid the groundwork over there.”

rhatiganandhick.ie