Future Proof: Seeing the benefits of a testing location
Small Business: Karl Dunne, owner of the Design Emporium
Karl Dunne, owner of the Stone Emporium in Deansgrange, Co Dublin.
As any estate agent will tell you, location is everything in business. Set up shop on the wrong road and it could make the difference between success and failure. Karl Dunne, owner of the Design Emporium in Deansgrange, Co Dublin, knows this only too well.
Handily located opposite the Deansgrange NCT centre, he’s in the enviable situation of having hundreds of potential customers hanging around outside his business premises every day with little to do while their cars are being tested but to pass time.
With the added enticement of free coffee for anyone who passes through the entrance, Dunne has plenty of opportunities to showcase the goods he has to sell.
The Design Emporium, which recently rebranded from The Stone Emporium, supplies and fits wall and floor tiles, including marble, granite, porcelain, ceramic, mosaic and travertine.
In recent years it has expanded and now offers countertops, bathroom fittings, carpets, wallpaper, wet rooms and wooden flooring.
“The NCT centre has just been extended to become the biggest such centre in Ireland and so there are literally around 600 people standing outside our shop every day for about half an hour with nothing to do, which is obviously great for our business because most of them will venture in,” says Dunne.
“Another great advantage of being so close to the centre is that, because everyone has to get the test done, it’s a great leveller so we get full exposure from both the rich and the not so rich,” he adds.
“I was in London for five years managing a pub and then moved back to Ireland in 2002 and spent a bit of time floating about wondering what to do with my life.
“A friend of mine owned an olive farm in Sienna, Italy, and so I used to go over for a couple of weeks each year to help him during the harvest. We got the idea of importing organic foods to Ireland and started supplying the top delis in Dublin, but we were a couple of years ahead of the market here so it didn’t work out,” says Dunne.
“My pal then approached a couple of local quarries and we started bringing stone over from Italy. For a while I was selling tiles from the back of my car and it was great because the margins were so good but as the boom began to peter out I wanted to do something more so I opened up my first shop in Foxrock on my own and really started to learn about the business inside and out,” he adds.
While expanding a business might have seemed somewhat daunting, particularly as the economy began to slow, he was convinced he could make a go of the shop.
“I was never really worried when the recession hit because, at that time especially, I was in a small store on the Leopardstown Road that was probably only about 30sq m in size. And with just one employee, my overheads were low and I didn’t feel the sting.
“Having moved to the current premises four years ago and recently expanded here, I’m now in a situation where my overheads are about €50,000 a month. I’ve got 14 members of staff and 10 vans on the road, so it would be a different story now.”
“There are plenty of tile shops selling cheap and cheerful tiles in bulk but that’s not how we work. Our service is generally bespoke and a normal sale for us could be between €80,000 and €100,000 with a client,” he says.
“The high-end market was always there during the recession and, while people were a little more hesitant about being seen to spend a lot of money at that time because the county was in the depths of despair, there was still plenty of it about and we benefitted from that. I’d say our turnover has pretty much doubled for the past 10 years,” Dunne adds.
He has seen a noticeable rise in business over the past year as the economy gets back on track and he’s now weighing up his options as he looks to expand.
“There are a few routes I could go in terms of future growth and I’m deciding whether I should concentrate fully on the retail side of things or to increase what we’re doing on the fitting side of the business and expand into building houses and doing extensions and so on.
“I have a team that is capable of doing that which is something of a rarity because you don’t often get companies that are good at both the structural side of things and can do the finishing,” he says.
“I have an investor on-board and he wants to come in and open up six more shops nationwide beside NCT centres as it has worked so well for us where we are now. It’s definitely a dream to build up the business further over the next five years or so and then maybe sell it and get out because I can’t keep working 80-odd hours a week forever. But what direction we’ll take next remains to be decided,” Dunne says.