Starting a business is a great opportunity to put yourself in the picture
Small Business Inside Track Q&AMichael Hennigan, Hang Tough Framing
Michael Hennigan: “There has been a spike lately in orders from hotels and businesses, so we have to be quite dynamic and adapt quickly”
Michael Hennigan was working in a photographer’s studio in Rathmines in 2010 when he figured there was demand for framing services in Dublin. As his employers offered framing services only for their own clients, Hennigan conducted research into a service for individuals.
When presented with the research, his employers weren’t interested and let him go due to the economic climate.
For Hennigan, it was an opportunity to start his own business.
What sets your business apart from the competition? Hang Tough Framing offers a bespoke picture-framing service to artists, galleries, companies and individual clients. We focus on contemporary picture framing and we are on the tip of people’s tongues when it comes to quality framing service.
We’re innovative, offering things such as a colour-coded slip to increase the relationship between the artwork and the frame. We also interact with local artists and we facilitate collaborations. We take utmost pride in our work and our brand.
What’s the biggest challenge you have had to face? Starting out was difficult as it was just me. I was able to get a space above the Bernard Shaw pub to work in, but I had to climb up this vertical staircase, which meant carrying these sheets of glass and wood up what was basically a ladder.
From my window I could see a little derelict building two doors down, and I organised a viewing. It looked like a bomb had hit the place. There was a five-storey hostel next door, and water from the overflow tank had been flowing through the roof since 1997. It was also the nesting place for all the pigeons of Dublin.
After seeing all of this, I said to the guy, “I’ll take it”, and he thought I was mad. But I saw the potential. So we came to an agreement that I would renovate the space in return for a rent-free period for the first year, followed by a reduced rent rate in the following years. So that’s what I did: a couple of friends and I renovated the building into what it is today.
What has been your greatest success to date? Next January we reach our fifth birthday, and it’s great to see how we’ve grown. Being nominated for The Irish Times Shops Awards for Specialist Shop was great too, as it consolidated what we all were feeling about the business.
What is the biggest mistake you made? When you first start a business, you’re not immediately equipped with the skills to juggle everything from customers to staff, stock and suppliers. My biggest mistake was not prioritising certain elements, like letting the accounts’ duties slip and then we’d have a huge bill to pay later on. I have since delegated these duties to an accountant. This is all part of setting up a new business, and you learn very quickly from each mistake.
Who do you admire in business and why? Passion in what you do is the most important thing for anybody starting a business. For this reason I really admire Forest Avenue’s owners John and Sandy Wyer. Their passionate dedication to seasonal ingredients and reasonably priced food is a real experience, and John is more than happy to come over and chat to you.
What’s the best piece of advice you have received? My dad has been a fountain of advice from the start, and everything he said has stuck with me. I get a lot of ideas about the business and the direction I’d like to take it, and he is careful to keep reminding me to “take one step at a time until you’ve reached your current goal”.
Are the banks open for business? Absolutely. My business relationship manager was great since day one. He took the time to explain everything to me and gave excellent advice.
What advice would you give Government to help stimulate the economy? I would call on the Government to review the commercial rates – they’re quite high at the moment, and perhaps should be means-tested. If it’s possible for the Government to facilitate what I did, it could really help. Not long after we finished renovating our building on Richmond Street, Aussie BBQ opened a couple of doors down and all the other shops on our street spruced up their facades. Another cafe opened beside us, and Sister Sadie, O’Falafel, Sushi Aoki and a health food shop opened too so our renovation helped to spark interest in the area.
What does the future hold for your business? We’re still quite a young business and still growing. There has been a spike lately in orders from hotels and businesses, so we have to be quite dynamic and adapt quickly. Our next step is to update our machinery and increase output.
How much is your business worth and would you sell it? I’m not even thinking about that at the moment. I love what I do. I think it’s more likely that we would buy other smaller framing companies to increase our position in the market. In conversation with Gráinne Ní Aodha