Getting into Yale was one of the achievements which helped the Monaghan brothers bring this year’s National Enterprise Award for Exports home to Mayo.
Manufacturing furniture for pubs since the 1980s, their company, Monaghan Bros Bar Furniture got into Yale University with a consignment of chairs and stools which are used in a dining area in the medical school.
“It was one of our first exports to the US and is a significant reference customer for us because of the prestige of Yale,’’ said director Peter Monaghan who, with the help of the Ireland West International Trade Centre in Rhode Island and Mayo Enterprise Local Enterprise Office, began targeting US exports three years ago.
“We have now opened a showroom the Centre with a sales agent and this month we have signed a distribution agreement with the US’s largest restaurant supply company Trimark – which has named us as preferred vendors for New England,’’ says Mr Monaghan.
Currently employing a staff of ten, Monaghan Bros has, through developing new markets in the UK, Australia and Europe as well as the US, doubled sales in the last three years and is now aiming to increase its turnover by a further 20% this year.
For the four Monaghan brothers, Peter, Richard, Michael and Paddy, setting up a furniture company “between two bogs” in Claremorris was a means of avoiding emigration in the 1980s.
Finding a niche supplying bars and hotels around Ireland, their business thrived in the boom but suffered in the recession.
The company’s recovery was boosted by the setting up of the Ireland West International Trade Centre.
It is a collaborative partnership involving members of the Irish diaspora in the US and Mayo Local Enterprise Office.
It was designed to help small companies in the west of Ireland develop exports.
“It was through a contact at the Centre that we got the Yale order as well as one to supply furniture for a large Irish pub in North Carolina, another in New York and a restaurant in New England.”
Since it began courting new business in the US, the company has also been experiencing growth in a number of other areas.
Petrol forecourt retailer Applegreen became a customer in 2014 when it put in an order for cafe furniture for an outlet in Swords.
“Since then we have provided furniture for around 50 Applegreen outlets – we are now working on seven orders – two in the UK and five in Ireland,’’ says Mr Monaghan.
An Australian architect who found Monaghan Bros on the Internet has also become a regular customer.
“In the last three years we have supplied furniture to around 15 hotels in hotels and restaurants in Australia and it is now one of our largest export markets,” he says.
The company has also supplied furniture for Irish pubs in France, Germany, Portugal as well as one in Hiroshima in Japan.
“Supermac’s is also a customer and we have done a lot of work for the John Duffy Design Group – an architect who specifies using our furniture,” he says.
In addition to signing an agreement with Trimark in the US, the company is now planning to take on distributors in both Germany and France, with a view to developing more Irish pub business.
In the last three years, exports have grown from zero to 30%.
The company has also seen a recovery in the Irish market.
“We are experiencing an increase in demand from hotels and restaurants – they are spending again,” Mr Monaghan says.
Noting that staff size and the turnover are back up to levels from before the recession, Mr Monaghan says the company’s growth shows that its West of Ireland location is no obstacle to exporting anywhere in the world.
“We compete by being able to provide quality bar furniture to the specifications set out by architects and interior designers and by being competitively priced,” he says.
He says that because of low overheads, Monaghan Bros can compete successfully on price in Australia and the US.
Aiming to grow exports to 75% this year, the company plans to use its newly won National Enterprise Export Award to win further export customers.