Considering that ETAG Fixings was established almost by accident, the fact that the Anglo-Irish company is celebrating its 15th anniversary shows that sometimes the best ideas come about by chance.
“At the time we had another company that specialised in site supplies and consumables and some of our clients began asking if we could source fixings for them, so we created a separate arm of the business to speclalise in this area,” explains Damien Lynch, Managing Director of the Irish operation. “This business ended up growing so rapidly that it gave us the inspiration to create a dedicated fixings company, which was ETAG. The fact that we’re now 15 years down the line and have been able to successfully compete in the market is a great source of pride and yet is quite humbling at the same time.”
This level of progress doesn’t come about by chance, however, and ETAG’s success can be attributed to a number of factors. Firstly, from the very start the company has strived to set itself apart from the rest of the market by focusing on its product offering.
“We’ve always strived to differentiate from our competitors by having more products,” adds Mr Lynch. “As a consequence, the vast product range we’re able to offer is unique. If we identify a need within the marketplace then we have no qualms about diversifying our product categories to make the most of that opportunity. This is an approach that our customers really appreciate, particularly as we add value to their supply chain by doing so.”
In order to make such a comprehensive range of products possible, ETAG has built a wide network of international suppliers, some of which have been providing the company with products since Day One. “We know the principle people in those suppliers very well and in turn they’ve got to know us and what our quality requirements are. You can’t sell a product right if you don’t buy it right, which makes the relationship with suppliers very important, particularly as it then extends through to our customers. It means we’re able to add more to our armoury.”
As comprehensive as its product range is, the success that ETAG has enjoyed wouldn’t have been possible without the strong focus the company has also placed on customer service.
“Myself and my business partner Paul started off ETAG as a small concern with strong ambitions to grow the company and the only way we could achieve this objective was by getting to know our clients, both personally and commercially. As the business has expanded and become less ‘hands on’, we’ve taken on sales reps that have in turn developed their own relationships. We remain committed to not only maintaining the original relationships that we developed initially but also getting to know the new clients that our sales reps have brought on-board as well. Having a strong product range is very important but so is getting to know your customers.
“While we have systems and standard operating procedures, we’re also very flexible because certain clients have different needs, especially if they’re working on certain projects that have unique requirements. For instance, there might be a restricted access issue that we will work around. Perhaps it’s a development at a school and deliveries can only be made once the pupils and staff have gone home. It’s all about being as flexible as possible to overcome these types of issue and this approach has served the company well over the years.”
As a result of the growth it has seen, ETAG now has a workforce of around 80 employees, which are split equally across its Irish and UK operations. The company is in no mood to take its foot off the accelerator either, as it pursues further growth opportunities.
“We are continually looking to diversify our product range and one area where we’ve recently become very active is supplying the Mechanical & Electrical industry within the construction market. We are a major distributor of Unistrut products, while we’re also promoting a lot of cement board products as well at the moment. Again it all stems back to our core objective of trying to diversify add new bolt-ons to our business.
“For us it has always felt very natural to evolve so even though the market environment might change and an element of uncertainty is introduced, we’re able to remain nimble and look at different markets that not only present additional opportunities but are also interesting to us because it’s always exciting to try new things.”
Although ETAG’s 15th anniversary is certainly reason enough to pop out the champagne, the company almost had even more reason to celebrate after just missing out on a Construction Supplier of the Year Award. For his part, however, Mr Lynch rightly points out that getting nominated was an achievement in itself: “At the end of the day we were in good company with several of our competitors having been around a lot longer than us. There was certainly no disgrace in missing out on the award. Ultimately we were in the top ten and to have been nominated is a compliment enough.
“While we didn’t win the award, it was still a great pat on the back for everyone within the company, as it demonstrates that we’re on the right track. It definitely validates the fact that we’re doing things correctly and shows that even as a medium-sized company we are able to punch above our weight with the international presence that we’ve established thanks to our strong operation, product range and customer service. We’re able to manage how we grow the business and do so in a sustainable way.”
Despite the positivity behind its 15th anniversary and its award recognition, like all companies in construction ETAG is in the same boat as everyone else when it comes to Brexit and the challenges it’s creating. “It’s just the uncertainty that’s continuing to prove problematic. Business owners and operators like stability and when it comes to Brexit there’s an element of fear as no-one knows what’s around the corner. Thankfully No Deal seems to be off the table and hopefully a solution is developed that suits everyone. We’re hoping for a win-win situation. We’ve noticed a lot of our UK companies are expanding more into Europe and further afield and at the same time we’re getting opportunities to supply them with solutions in those markets too.”
Given how much ETAG has achieved over the past decade and a half, Mr Lynch’s optimism is understandable. Unsurprisingly he’s looking to keep the company’s momentum going throughout 2020. “Looking to the year ahead, I hope we’re still growing and that we’re still dealing with the lovely base of clients that we currently have.
“Most of our customers are very resilient. They’ve seen the hard times before as construction tends to be quite cyclical in that when it’s good it’s a very good industry to be involved in but the downturns can be difficult.
“Ultimately we want to see our customers continuing to succeed so we can grow with them. I’m therefore optimistic about the prospects after Brexit because people in business tend to be able to find a way. Our market in the UK is a resilient market, particularly London, with resilient people in it. We’re just getting on with it.
“Another challenge away from Brexit is sustainability and we’re always looking at ways of being a greener business and how we can play our part in making the wider industry a greener industry. This is something that we have to work on. Construction has spent a lot of time in recent years improving its health and safety standards and it’s made great progress in this regard, particularly in terms of mental health support. It’s a much more open industry and hopefully this approach will be replicated in terms of sustainability.”
Such a forward-thinking approach has served ETAG Fixings well over the past 15 years and its philosophy is sure to pave the way for future growth too. You wouldn’t bet against it getting further award recognition along the way either.