Neil and Paul Fitzgibbon both left school at 16 to set up the family business, Ard Ri Marble, with their father Noel.
They trained as monument sculptors - a craft as old as the stones they moulded and shaped.
Fast forward to 2020 and they have grown the Ard Ri group from a small craft marble and fireplace workshop employing six people to a global operation that boasts a staff of nearly 700 people. And the five Fitzgibbon siblings are all involved in the business.
The company has seen a 25% growth in sales since the Covid-19 pandemic struck and now has two large manufacturing plants in China; a large distribution centre in Dublin; two large warehouses in Tralee; and a headquarters and distribution centre in Cambridge, UK.
“Our father set up the business with the intention of providing employment for his children,” Paul told the Irish Examiner, before pointing to how “we weren’t academic at school but our father instilled a good work ethic into us and that has stood the test of time”.
“We had been building stone walls as youngsters; when we reached the age of 16 we decided to leave school and go into the business and we are still here today.” Meanwhile, the company recently announced the creation of 60 new jobs in their Irish operations spread between their base in Dublin and their headquarters on the Dingle Peninsula.
15 people have been hired over the past two weeks with a further 45 vacancies expected to be filled over the next 12 months.
Today, Ard Ri stands as a market leader in the homeware market, partnering with 1,200 retailers - all of which has been built up through hard work and determination.
The company’s leading brands, Deanta Doors and Henley Stoves, have kept ahead of the competition through careful supply chain management, continual innovation and a globally focused management team based between Tralee, Dublin, the UK and China.
“We started out with a small plant manufacturing monumental sculptures and then moved into marble fireplaces,” continued Paul.
“In those days we found we were working long hours and struggled to make a return so around 2002/2003 we started importing fireplaces from China.
“We moved then from manufacturing to selling; but before long we saw a niche in the market for timber doors and we started importing them.” That was to prove a defining moment for Ard Ri because the company took off and has been growing and expanding ever since.
The brothers started to diversify into stoves buying off major suppliers in China.
They reinvested all their profits back into growing the business and took full advantage of the Irish property boom.
Around 2010 - in the face of one of the biggest financial crashes in the history of the world - they gathered the newly formed board of the Ard Ri group to make a strategic decision that would change the trajectory of the company forever.
They opened their own manufacturing operations in Zhanjiang in Southern China.
And, while the brothers admit that it was a risky strategy at the time, it was one that would pay-off in the long-run.
“When the crash came in 2008/2009 we had entered the UK market and then went into China - so it was a difficult time to be expanding,” said Paul.
“There were enormous challenges but like anything you keep on going; we were offering a very good product and a very good service and we got there.” Meanwhile, the Covid-19 pandemic struck and subsequent restrictions meant that people were confined to their homes.
The brothers realised very quickly that supply was key because demand was increasing for their products.
“Covid-19 has been a massive challenge; we were closed for two months in Ireland and we had to adapt then to allow people to work from home,” added Paul.
“But, what we found was, there was a massive demand for our products during Covid-19, and our sales have gone up by 25% since we came out of lockdown.
“There are two factors for this: there is a big demand for products because people are at home now, they are not going on holidays and are doing up their homes instead.
“Secondly, during Covid-19 we made the decision to ramp up production because we knew there would be supply issues further down the line and as a result of that we are meeting demand now.” And, while Paul admits that these are challenging times, the company’s strategic plan will see them through.
“We have a strategic plan in place and every year we set a goal for ourselves that we can reach.
“We are trying to grow by 20% every year; we operate in China, the UK and Ireland and have developed a template for success.
“We can scale a business much faster in the UK than in Ireland because of the population there and we are up 40% year-on-year in the UK.
“We are also looking at Europe now - Poland and Germany - and plan to move into those countries over the next two years and replicate what we are doing in the UK.” Ard Ri, meanwhile, is about to launch that ambitious expansion plan into mainland Europe starting with Belgium, Holland, Germany and Poland.
“By 2025, we will be one of the largest providers of quality doors and stoves in the EU market,” added Paul.
“By 2030, we will be one of the biggest door and stove manufacturers and distributors in the world.”