From a shed in 1970 to four dealerships in 2010, Pat O'Donnell & Co. has grown to become Ireland's most significant dealer for Volvo Construction Equipment - but it hasn't been an easy journey.
Not many companies make it to their 40th birthday, but for Pat O'Donnell & Co. 2010 marks a special year. Forty years earlier two young men, Pat O'Donnell and Fintan Kieran, set-up the Kieran O'Donnell dealership in Dublin for Volvo Construction Equipment. But it couldn't have happened at a worse time: the Northern Ireland crisis was headline news and Southern Irish banks were on strike. The upshot - there was no market confidence and no money. Despite this, Kieran O'Donnell sold 26 machines in its first eight months.
Fast forward to 2010 and Ireland is suffering the worst recession in living memory. The Irish market for construction equipment has been the hardest hit in Europe and the local CAT dealership has just gone into administration. But Kieran O'Donnell, now called Pat O'Donnell & Co., is determined not to follow suit. "You've got to keep your head down and keep going," says founder of the company and Managing Director, Pat O'Donnell. "We've survived the last 40 years by being optimistic rather than pessimistic and we've given it everything - you've got to give that bit extra if you want to be successful."
These are wise words from a man who used to work 17 hours a day and still gives 100% everyday in the office - despite now being in his 70s.
The company employs 100 people and has three branches - Cork, Galway and Portadown - with a head office in Chapelizod, Dublin. This is a far cry from how the company first began, with five employees working in a shed in Fairview, Dublin. "The company was very small then," says Pat "But we had an air conditioned office - mainly because the wind and air from outside was coming through the walls!" he laughs.
Pat grew up in the west of Ireland, in County Clare, and moved to Dublin in the 1960s where he became a plant and transport manager for a civil engineering company. It was here that he met his future business partner, Fintan Kieran. Fintan was the manager of the Ulster Plant, which owned the franchise for Volvo CE in Ireland. But the company lacked funds to continue with Volvo, so Fintan asked Pat if he would like to take on the business and together they set up their own dealership with the help of the bank.
However, three years later the partners went their separate ways and Pat made the company into a family business. "I decided we needed to keep the show on the road," says Pat. "So three of my children joined the company. Today, my son PJ is a Director of the company, my daughter Patricia is the communications manager and my other son Daniel works in the after sales department."
At first, Pat O'Donnell dealt exclusively in Volvo BM wheel loaders, including the LM218, LM620 and LM840 models. In the 1970s Volvo's market share was small in Ireland and demand lay in machinery for farming, light quarry work and timber handling. But towards the mid '70s the 860 articulated hauler arrived and slowly the market began to grow.
Today, articulated haulers are one of Pat O'Donnell & Co's strongest areas and the company sells and services these alongside Volvo wheel loaders, excavators, backhoe loaders, graders and Volvo Penta Marine and Commercial engines. "The network of motorways and dual carriageways over the last 20 years has played a major role in the growth of our business," says Pat.
But the recession was a tough time for Pat. "Last year we only sold 17 machines," he says, "But in our peak, between 2004-2007, we were selling 260 machines per year. This just shows what happened to the Irish market in the space of 12 months. Larger contractors are now leaving Ireland and going to Europe, taking their machinery with them, and this makes it difficult from a parts and service perspective," he admits. "The last two years have been very tough. We've had to make cut-backs in the business and several redundancies. That is very hard when people have been with you for years, it's so difficult."
But, as always, Pat remains optimistic about the future. "We are continually looking for new opportunities and most importantly we are being competitive," he says. "The cake is a lot smaller than it used to be, but that just means we need to get a bigger slice - and we believe we can do this."
It is this survivor spirit, more than anything, which has steered Pat through the last 40 years; and it is sure to see the company through the next.
Picture: From Left to Right: Daniel O'Donnell, Pat O'Donnell, Patricia O'Donnell, PJ O'Donnell.