Trading Stories: O'Donnell Furniture has 50 years of experience

Trading Stories: O'Donnell Furniture has 50 years of experience
Some of the staff of O'Donnell Furniture.

Who started the business and what was it like in the early days?

O’Donnell Design was started by Jim O’Donnell in 1968. They were manufacturing pine furniture for the domestic market initially. Then in the early 80’s they commenced making occasional furniture for the US and UK market.

What have been the big changes since then?

The company moved to Skibbereen in 1988 and bought a 25k sq ft factory. We doubled capacity in 2006 when we bought the premises next door and renovated it. In 2008 as the recession impacted it was difficult times for O’Donnell’s. There were a number of staff layoffs and a number of projects that we were working on were either cancelled or reduced significantly. Our managing director Aodh O’Donnell secured a large contract in London in 2013 that contributed significantly to the survival of the business. We worked with Enterprise Ireland on a number of their programs including, introducing lean principles, a strategic and market review and did the International Selling Program. These programs have contributed greatly to the Operational effectiveness of O’Donnell’s resulting in a return to growth and prosperity.

Today we are proud to say that we have survived the recession and have reached activity levels that have not been seen previously in O’Donnell’s.

How did you get involved and what's your background?

I qualified as a chartered accountant in 2005 and joined O’Donnell’s in June 2007 as a financial accountant. I worked in the accounts department from 2007 to 2014 progressing to the position of financial controller. Our finance department has experienced some of the most exciting and challenging times globally dealing with both the banking crisis and foreign exchange exposure. Thankfully the strength of our relationship with Bank of Ireland has been a significant support throughout the past 10 years. In 2014 Aodh O’Donnell gave me a golden opportunity to progress to a general Management role where through our combined efforts we are strengthening management and strategic planning within the business.   

Tells what kind of products and services you offer.

We manufacture, supply and install hotel, luxury apartments and cruise liner furniture and accessories. We supply product and services in Ireland, UK and mainland Europe.

Furniture elements consist of wardrobes, desks, desk credenzas, nightstands, tables, headboards, and vanity units etc. Owing to over 40 years of experience and a large portfolio of prestigious projects completed we can offer technical and practical expertise and knowledge to each of our clients from tender stage through to the final installation of the case goods. When we secure a purchase order for a project we assign a dedicated project manager who will ensure that we deliver the project and meet the customer’s requirements which include timelines, phased deliveries and on-time program metrics.

Tell us about your staff.

We have increased our staff levels by 50% over the last two years. We employ 50 staff currently, 47 in Skibbereen and 3 in the UK. There are highly skilled staff across all aspects of the business. A vital element of the success of O’Donnell’s is the can-do attitude of the team. Many of the staff have worked with O’Donnell’s for a number of years and have much invaluable expertise. Each staff member is vital to the O’Donnell’s team.

Tell us about your customers.

O’Donnell’s have a number of important established relationships with many customers. Our customers include Hotel Groups such as Hilton, Marriott and Sheraton. We are currently supplying case goods to Hilton Tower Bridge, London and have recently completed Sheraton Park Lane, also in London. We supplied furniture to Cunard Liners such as Queen Mary II. We also work with main contractors such as John Sisk and Sons both in Ireland and the UK, Galliard Homes and Ardmore. We have recently completed a site in Wembley for Sisk for which we received a Pride in the Job Award 2016. We are currently working on Apartments in Greenwich for Ardmore. In Ireland, we have recently supplied case goods to the four-star Red Cow Moran Hotel in Dublin. We are always very proud to work close to home having recently worked on a number of Dalata Hotel Group projects such as the Clayton Silver Springs in Cork and Aghadoe Heights in Kerry. In West Cork we are also supplying bedroom case goods to the Trident Hotel in Kinsale in the coming weeks and supplied furniture to Westlodge Hotel in Bantry in 2016.

Katherine O'Sullivan, general manager of O'Donnell Furniture
Katherine O'Sullivan, general manager of O'Donnell Furniture

Was the recession difficult for your business and how did you get through it?

We saw the recession early and battened down the hatches and worked only on financially sound projects. At this time I worked in the accounts department so would have worked closely with the board and Aodh with regard to financial decisions. During this time we were grateful for the continuing support of Enterprise Ireland and also our bank, Bank of Ireland. Our strong and long established relationship with both the aforementioned parties was essential to the survival of the business financially. We are also thankful for the support of our staff, clients, and suppliers.

What sets you apart from similar businesses?

We focus on our expert knowledge, our reputation of over 500 projects, our ability to work with clients and all other parties involved in multi-disciplinary projects. We understand and live complex furniture projects. Quality is our priority and we also solve problems as they arise, we operate and manage complex ISO based systems and these are essential in ensuring projects stay on schedule and on budget.

What have you learned working there?

I have developed my management skills from pure finance to general management which includes sales, project management, staffing and recruitment and client development. I have also learnt the importance of teamwork, collaboration and that there is always a way and to trust my instincts.

What are your favourite and least favourite parts of the job?

My favourite part of my job is when one of our team tell me we are doing a good job or when we are contacted by a very happy and satisfied client. There is little better than when a client acknowledges our efforts.

My least favourite aspect of my work is when we lose a major project which we would have invested a lot of time and effort in trying to secure.

What's in the future for the business?  

Skibbereen is on the Map in the last 12 months. The O’Donovan Brothers, Ludgate/1GB Town and Digital Week are all contributing to Skibbereen becoming a great place to live and work. No doubt there are economic and political challenges however we will continue to look for expansion opportunities both here and in Europe.

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