Brooks – Future-proofed

Think of Brooks and you think of timber. The long established Group is synonymous with softwood, hardwood, flooring, doors and decking but these days they’re equally recognised for heating & plumbing and sanitary ware.

Diversification has been key to Brooks’ survival following the recession, not just in terms of products but also in terms of customer base. In February 2012, the group announced that the Brooks brand was part of a group of brands that entered examinership. In May of the same year, Welsh timber importer Premier Forest Products came on board and took over the historic brand.

“They were intrigued with the heritage of Brooks and they realised the brand would be a great addition to their business. It made it so much easier to find that investment when I was informing them of a respected and known brand,” says Mark Lohan, Managing Director at Brooks. Seven branches are now operating and staff numbers are climbing all the time.

“The Glasnevin branch opened in September 2013. People thought we were mad but I figured it was important we had a north Dublin branch in preparation for when construction kicked off again in Dublin. We hoped it would work and thankfully, it did.”

The years 2008 to 2013 were extremely difficult; recovery was hard won but lessons have been learned. “Nice steady growth is the name of the game. Control the cost base and prepare for the next recession because, guess what, its coming!

The slogan for our five year plan is ‘2020 – Brooks preparing for the next recession’. That kind of realisation really focuses the mind. It’s not just about profit or sales for us, it’s about the quality of the sales and the source of the profits that are so important.”

The brand’s credentials have been cemented with both FSC and PEFC registration. “That’s about assuring our customers that the timber they see in our yard has been responsibly procured, from sustainable sources. We have also worked really hard to become the RIAI accredited experts in timber and timber-based products. We provide CPD courses to architects throughout the country.”

The Group hasn’t shied away from changing things around either. It isn’t reliant on any one customer; builders, architects, plumbers and Mr & Mrs Murphy can all get what they need in branch.

“Although building materials and timber is still the mainstay of the business, plumbing for example is a very useful add-on and brings a different type of person into our stores. Hardwood flooring is also a diversification for us and provides an offering to the retail customer. We always had credentials in flooring; we just needed to make sure our customers knew.”

Memories are short but keeping people focused on where we are now and where we’re trying to get to is crucial. “The central point behind our five year plan is about keeping people focused on where the risk is.” That risk could appear in four years’ time or in one so preparation is key. “Why are we diversifying? Why are we demanding a better service for our customers? Why are we saying we need to get paid on time? It’s all about getting our armoury together so that when the next cold breeze blows, we’re able to defend ourselves.”

Suppliers, staff and customers are what led the charge to recovery says Mark. “We retained as many staff as we could and our supply base never stopped supporting us. As regards our customers, they visit us for the range and quality of the products but they also like to come in to the branch for a ‘break’. The branches are bright, there’s action and activity and quite often we have a coffee and a breakfast roll for them. They like the chat and the arguments about prices!”