For the majority of businesses in Ireland, the recession resulted in a struggle for survival, with many forced to cut staff numbers as a result. However, for Jim Toal, founder of Fairco Window s & Doors, in Dublin, the opposite was true – his company expanded and thrived during the economic collapse.
“Even in the middle of the recession, we were able to turnover €4m a year,” he reveals. “As other companies went out of business, we ended up with more and more market share – and we were expanding and hiring staff when everyone else had to laying off people.”
Toal set up the company in 1999, following an 11-year career in sales, much of which was spent in the domestic windows market.
Having secured a lease on a property in Clontarf, he opened his first showroom on a small budget with the help of his wife, Suzanne. With just a van and a handful of students hired to ring on the doors of homeowners in the surrounding areas, Toal spent months driving around Dublin making house calls to potential customers.
“From an early age, I just wanted to be an entrepreneur,” he says. “My parents went ballistic when I was working in sales at 18. They felt I should be in college, and that I should get a paying job instead of working on commission – but it was something that I wanted to do. I enjoy meeting people and I like the challenge of selling something.”
By designing windows that were both attractive and safe – a combination that was unheard of during the Nineties – the business soon grew to be the leading brand that it is today.
“Typically the PVC windows that had come into Ireland in 1984 were from Germany. They were good but were aesthetically unappealing. They had very heavy chunky frames and people wanted a slimmer look.
“I was lucky to work with a company that were big in the UK, and with my help they designed a window that was designed and moulded to look like a timber window. We specced it up with the best locks and it did really well.
“Through word of mouth and recommendations, we soon went from doing about £240,000 in our first year of trading, to breaking a million pounds in our second year – which was phenomenal,” he says.
These days, innovative design is still key to the company’s success. It recently launched Ireland’s first burglar-proof window and door system – which is backed by a large insurance company.
Toal is passionate about offering customers a high-quality product at a fair price.
“From the day I started, I have always believed that if you are going to sell something, it has to be the very best or you are wasting your time. If I had come along in 1999 with a regular windows system, I wouldn’t be in business now.
“It took us about a year to get the burglar-proof window to the market, as we had to pass all the tests to make that claim. In the first month of it being launched last November, it made up about 1pc of our sales. Now it makes up 30pc.