When Conor Cahill became Johnston Shopfitters’ Managing Director in early January 2020 he could have had little inkling of the difficulties that lay ahead for the construction industry and the world at large. It’s therefore to his immense credit that the Dublin-based company has not only traversed the Covid-19 related challenges that have come its way since but recently came third in the prestigious Irish Construction Industry Awards 2020 in the Sub-Contractor of the Year (Small) category.
“After taking on the role Managing Director at the start of January 2020 having been a director in the business for a number of years, it has obviously been a difficult time for both myself personally and for the company as a whole,” outlines Mr Cahill. “However, the support of an extremely strong management team and a very loyal and dedicated workforce has made my life an awful lot easier. It has therefore been more about steering the ship, while the hard graft has been done by the rest of the team working with me. That said, there’s nothing like a crisis to set the tone. Having come through the challenges that have been involved we’re certainly looking forward to easier times ahead!”
The company was originally set up in 1947 by Charles Johnston, the father of Conor’s co-director, Andrew Johnston, and it has traded under a number of different guises over the years. Today it currently has around 70 staff supporting its operation.
Due to the years of experience it has under its belt and the well developed infrastructure it has build up, Johnston Shopfitters is able to turn its hand to a wide range of different projects. “We have quite a varied workload, although we have a number of specialist areas including food and beverage, convenience retail and pharmacy, whilst clothing is a strong area for us. Given our size and scale we’re able to operate in all markets.”
With such a strong order book it is clear that Johnston Shopfitters is doing something right, as its third place in the Sub-Contractor of the Year category at the Irish Construction Industry Awards underlines further. So what does this recognition mean to the business? “We have had quite a few nominations for specific contracts that we have worked on and across various different categories,” explains Mr Cahill. “It is good to get the recognition for the team who put all of the hard work in on the ground, but to be nominated as sub-contractor of the year is particularly pleasing as it highlights the high standards we operate to right throughout the business rather than just focusing on one specific job or aspect of the company.”
What makes the success all the more impressive is that it has been achieved in these pandemic ravaged times, as Mr Cahill outlines: “Covid-19 has been difficult for us – just like it has been for everybody else – and we have had to adapt very quickly in terms of marketing, brand development and the introduction of safer ways of working, both for the retail and commercial sectors. For example, many offices need safety screens to protect their staff to get them back to work and specifically in the retail sector we have a substantial range of Stay Safe products and services on offer for employers to safeguard their staff and customers alike. These systems have helped us to maintain the operation of the business.
“The month of April was very difficult and a lot of tough decisions have been made with the communication and support of everybody in the business. We made quick decisions to safeguard the company and help protect the future of the business for everyone. On the 19th of May we returned to full operation.”
In terms of specific projects that Johnston Shopfitters has been involved in recently, its strength in the pharmacy sector was reflected in the completion of an Allcare Pharmacy in the Merrion Shopping Centre, Dublin. “This project started prior to lockdown and we had to bring in extra crews right at the finish because they were an essential store and were required to remain open throughout. Thankfully we were able to rise to the challenges and the customer was delighted with our ability to do whatever it took to get the project completed on time and within budget.”
This willingness to go the extra mile is something that Johnston Shopfitters has always been renowned for as its approach has always been about building lasting relationships with its client base. “We’re all about building strong links, both with our customers and with our suppliers. As a consequence many of our clients continue to approach us with business even during these difficult times and because of the relationships we have in place with them we have been very successful in securing work. There is a high degree of trust due to our track record, which is always extremely important for any business.”
The strong links Johnston Shopfitters have with its client base is mirrored by the relationships it has forged with suppliers. “We work closely in specific niche areas, such as our joinery raw material partners, metal work, and sub-contractors in terms of building contractors that carry out a lot of our dry lining, etc, right through to the electricians and suppliers and also internally with our production facility that provides our joinery.
In-line with the construction industry Johnston Shopfitters have just completed the high-profile contract of refitting and rebranding the Heiton Buckley store in Gorey to Chadwicks. “We refitted the store over a period of three months and again this project had to be put on hold due to the lockdown but has since been completed. We have a very happy customer, who is delighted with the project and specifically with the Retail Fitout experience we brought to the overall project.
With Covid-19 continuing to wreak havoc across the industry, 2020 has been something of a year of consolidation for Johnston Shopfitters but it’s fair to say that they have more than held their own considering the unique challenges they have had to overcome. “We have endeavoured to maintain the business with existing clients, while at the same time striving to form new relationships, which we have managed to do even during the lockdown. There has even been some customers that we have worked with in the past that we have managed to reignite our relationship with. Old or new, it’s all about demonstrating to our customers the quality and consistency we can provide thanks to the size and scale of our operation.
“We have the ability to react to this pandemic and give our customers these products during this period and it has allowed us to develop relationships further. With Brexit and being in the middle of a pandemic, we want to take stock of where we are and weather the storm so to speak. We are now in a better position to forge ahead in 2021. As they say, ‘What doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger!’”