When Kevin Coghlan’s father Joe bought MRCB in 1989, colleagues in the paint industry said it was folly, that it was a dying brand and a dead business. Yet 80 years after it was founded, MRCB is s one of Ireland’s premier paint and wallpaper specialists, stocking more than 8,500 products for the retail and trade market.
MRCB stands for the initials of the two founders of the company – Frenchmen Marcel Regent and Charles Bigoud – who opened a store in 1927 (officially in 1936). By 1989, the company had been bought and sold many times. By the time Joe Coghlan bought the business, it had gone downhill, not least because traffic restrictions meant no one could park outside the shop on Lord Edward Street in Dublin city centre.
His contemporaries in the paint business – Coughlan had worked in HGW and Dods of Mary Street – told him he was taking on a dying brand. The business was insolvent but Joe felt he could turn the company around and he relocated the business to a premises on nearby Cornmarket.
The first thing that had to be done was to get cash in the tills. "We started to focus on retail," says Kevin Coghlan, who is now managing director of the business. "We started putting in promotional offers in the window and developed a good balance, which we've retained to this day whereby 50 per cent of our business is retail and the other 50 is trade."
At the same time, the family was running another business, Coghlan's Paints, a stone's throw away on Meath Street. It catered for domestic customers. This closed in 1994 due largely to difficulty in finding enough qualified staff to operate the two stores.
“We did great business in Meath Street. The business there was at capacity, my mother Nora ran the shop and we literally could not sell any more paint from it,” says Coghlan. “There was potential for growth in MRCB and the Meath street business was at capacity and we couldn’t get staff for either of the shops so it made sense to bring over the excellent staff from Meath Street and close the Meath Street store.”
The need to retain this expertise meant no one lost their jobs in the most recent recession. The company currently employs 17 people – 11 of whom have been there over 15 years, with one boasting more than 40 years’ service.
Depth of knowledge
“There’s quite a depth of knowledge that is required. We knew if we lost the staff that we would be losing all the expertise. We didn’t think the recession would last as long as it did but we knew that, if we could retain the staff, we’d be in strong position when the economy did pick up,” says Coghlan.
Tight credit control has been key in the business’s longevity. Coghlan’s wife Joan has been credit controller for 25 years and he credits her with keeping a tight rein on customer credit during the recession.
“You can imagine the discussions at the dinner table. I’m a salesman so I wanted to sell, sell, sell and she was saying that certain people were too risky. We did get hit during the recession, Overall sales dropped by around 40 per cent at the worst stage in 2012, but very stringent credit control meant that we weren’t hit as badly as we might have been.”
The company had just given the go-ahead for an upgrade and redesign of the Cornmarket store to the tune of about €400,000 when the recession hit.
“We were about six or seven months into the upgrade and had to see it through,” says Coghlan. “In hindsight, it was probably the best move because it elevated the shop in terms of creating a much more open and up-market environment.”
In 2001, the company merged MRCB with Colourtrend. “We felt somewhat threatened by the large shed DIY companies coming into Ireland and the fact that many of the paint manufacturers were opening their own trade centres.”
The company merged with Colourtrend opening two paint shops in Celbridge, Co Kildare and in Waterford, as well as promoting the brand in the MRCB store.
By 2006, the companies had decided to separate and MRCB took the Cornmarket store back under its own name. Coghlan says the main legacy of the merger was confusion whereby the consumer thought for a long time that they were running the Colourtrend shops.
“It was stressful trying to demerge but we had five fantastic years with them and I learnt a lot about the wholesale, marketing and manufacturing side of the business,” says Coghlan. “And it wouldn’t stop me collaborating with other people again. I’ve no regrets.”
While MRCB is still trading at about 30 per cent below pre-Celtic tiger rates, they expect to see 10 per cent overall growth in sales this year.
“I think that many people would take their hats off to my father for what he’s done for the MRCB name. But it wasn’t just buying the name, it was all the hard work we put into it when he it took it over,” says Coghlan.
“I think both my parents are proud that we’ve stood the test of time without compromising on quality and without cutting any staff or wages in the hard times.”