How KDL’s service offering succeeded in the recession

Futureproof: Customer focus helped Ken McCabe’s glassware and hygiene firm thrive

Ken McCabe started KDL in 2010 after the company he was working for went into liquidation. The company is a distributor of glassware, tableware, kitchenware, barware and buffet display units for the hotel, restaurant and catering markets. They are also distributors for janitorial and hygiene products.

McCabe explains: “I got a loan of €50,000 from a member of my extended family and that was it, we had a standing start. But the encouraging thing for me, particularly starting a business in a recession, was that a number of my colleagues from my previous employer came to work for me. They’re actually still working for me and our turnover has doubled for the past three years. Last year we had a turnover of €2.3 million.”

KDL tries to differentiate itself through the level of service it provides to its customers.

“What really differentiates us from our competition is the service we provide and that’s what we’ve built our business on,” says McCabe. “There are a lot of big competitors out there and at times they will offer products at prices we can’t compete with. But the advantage of being a small business is that we aren’t restricted by the systems those larger companies have in place. We can be flexible and therefore meet the changing needs of our customers easily”.


Pint glasses

To illustrate the point, McCabe tells the story of a call from a hotel one Friday – it needed a supply of pint glasses for a wedding the next day. Their normal supplier had told them he couldn’t deliver until Monday.

“That was too late for them so they called me and I had the glasses to them within an hour. That hotel hasn’t stopped doing business with us since.”

However, despite building a loyal customer base in a short time, McCabe realised that hotels were busy surviving the recession themselves and didn’t have the budgets for upgrading their glassware, tableware, barware and so on. The majority of business was in the area of “essentials”, such as hygiene and janitorial products.

“We realised we needed to be able to offer our customers a one-stop shop where they could purchase their cleaning products and supplies as well as the hygiene and janitorial lines we already supplied”.

So, two years ago, McCabe and his friend Jo Harrison started Four Leaf Chemical Distributors providing the Clover Chemical range to the already existing KDL customer base and beyond.

“KDL wouldn’t have survived if I hadn’t done this”, says McCabe. “Like any business during a recession, cash flow was a difficulty for us it was sink or swim. I had a young family at the time and I have a lot more grey hairs now!”

Via one single ordering process, customers now have access to the Clover Chemical and KDL ranges . Customers include the Dáil, the Dean Hotel and the Press Up Group.

Family business

KDL employs nine staff, including McCabe and his wife, and the feeling of a family business is very important to him.

“The people who came with me when I started are still with me today and they go the extra mile for us all the time. Likewise, we look after them. I believe that small to medium businesses are the life blood of this country and we need to be supported by the Government but also by anyone doing business in this country. We need to be encouraging people to do more business with Irish businesses”.

However, with the current buoyancy in the hospitality industry, does McCabe feel KDL has come through the difficult years?

“Well there’s light at the end of the tunnel. The average life of a bedroom in a hotel is five years and we are seeing hotels investing in refurbishments now and there are new properties being built,” McCabe explains.

Seeing this trend, KDL has just launched a new range of in-room products. These are things like mini-bars, ironing boards, hairdryers, waste bins and travel cots.

"It is a huge area of growth at the moment," says McCabe. "A hotel doesn't just re-do one room so we can get orders of 100 rooms and more. We also have new ranges in RAK porcelain ware and an exclusive range to us of cutlery by Robert Welsh. " McCabe continues, "This is a high-end line of cutlery and the Gibson Hotel, the Westbury and the Press Up Group have taken it up already."

However despite the trends that come and go in terms of products ranges, it is the idea of being able to provide the best service possible to their customers that remains the most important aspect of KDL’s business. McCabe says, “My warehouse is outside my office door. If my customer wants a test sample of anything I can get it in 48 hours and that service and flexibility is what we want to be able to deliver to our customers.”